Watch your language – especially when talking about gender
BY PAT HANSON
We’ve all heard the admonition “it’s not what you say, but how you say it.” With the attention given today to a wide array of gender and sexual stereotypes, we need to watch, in addition to our tone, the words we use. There is still much confusion around labels for folks who fall somewhere in the range of what is presumed the majority.
Forty years ago, when I first taught human sexuality it was common to refer to people who were not in the majority regarding sexual choices and behaviors as LGBT. Now in many circles, the proper acronym is LGBTQIA. We may get many questions about this from estranged adult children and/or our grand or great-grandchildren. Let’s clear confusion up.
Gender is one of those things everyone thinks they understand, but most people don’t.
First, we must distinguish between Gender: the biological sex organs (male or female) one is born with, and how that is expressed. Gender is one of those things everyone thinks they understand, but most people don’t.
As of January 1, 2019, the California DMV began allowing individuals to choose a gender category of male, female, or non-binary on their Driver’s License ID card. What does Non–binary mean? It is the term for a spectrum of gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or exclusively feminine.
We must learn not to make assumptions about a person’s gender, sexual identity, or sexual expression. The concept of gender fluidity is now touted because changes in self-identified categories can occur over time.
Now let’s clear up the acronyms.
L refers to lesbians, women who are attracted to other women, and may or may not act on their feelings.
G refers to gay and improperly is thought of by many as only male homosexuals. It is often used pejoratively to refer to a range of typically feminine behaviors.
B has been used to refer to ‘bi-sexuals’ or persons whose preference can go either way.
T is a term for those who identify as transgender and whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex. Estimates range from .03% to .06% of Americas are transgender; that translates to 1.4 million people. Today these folks can take hormones, crossdress and even surgically undergo procedures to live the life they desire.
Q for queer is a term for anyone falling under any of the aforementioned categories. It is an inclusive identity that gay and lesbian individuals have taken back so they could remove the negativity from the word and use it to say they are proud.
I refers to Intersex, what in the past was used to refer to hermaphrodites, persons born with both male and female sex organs and hormones.
A is used for people who by choice or chance choose to avoid sex and its expression completely. Asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction to others or the desire for sexual activity.
So how do we watch our language in these days of increasing attention to a large portion of our society? First, we must learn not to make assumptions about a person’s gender, sexual identity, or sexual expression. The concept of gender fluidity is now touted because changes in self-identified categories can occur over time.
If you’re not sure what pronouns to use, ask. Different non-binary people may use different pronouns. Many non-binary people use “they” while others use “he” or “she,” and still others use other pronouns.
Depending on the age and maturity of our adult children and grandchildren or even great-grandchildren we should answer questions honestly even with statements such as ‘I don’t know, let’s find the answer together.”
Next, we must teach the terms not to use:
Such as ‘faggot’ or ‘dyke’ or ‘trannie.’ If you discover children of any age using offensive, dismissive, and judgmental terms, they must be cautioned to stop, to empathize with how other’s feelings can be hurt, even to the point that
41% of transgenders have considered suicide, and countless lives have been lost.
It is vital for us to tap into our heads and our hearts with compassion, seeking liberation from rigid definitions and labels that do not serve anyone.
And finally, we must ask ourselves ‘What has love got to do with it?’ If that means the connections between people at home and in their communities, my answer is ‘everything.’ The language of love and trust is universal and needs to be part of the conversation.
READ MORE FROM DR. PAT HANSON HERE
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – DR. PAT HANSON
Pat Hanson is a seasoned health educator, public speaker, and workshop facilitator. She is the author of Invisible Grandparenting: Leave A Legacy Of Love Whether You Can Be There or Not. She lectures nationally on Aging Positively and is a columnist for the magazine: Crone: Women Coming of Age
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