March 13, 2017
Speaking of Gender — How to be Inclusive in your Messaging
As we all navigate this world with a need to feel normal, safe and accepted, media plays an important role in creating a culture of inclusiveness, especially at a time where current events are forcing us to question what this means. Stocksy’s LGBTQ identifying staff weighed in on the topic of gender inclusivity, from day to day interactions to being more aware of the language we use.
GENDER CULTURE EVOLUTION
The topic of gender has become forefront enough that even Katie Couric and National Geographic came together to cover the “Gender Revolution Journey”, a dedicated issue titled Gender Revolution in Jan 2017 that included a glossary of terms exploring how gender is being redefined. The first step towards being inclusive of all genders is being aware of the gender specific language we use, especially when describing people who identify as non-conforming.
Gender is a person’s deep-seated, internal sense of who they are as a gendered being. We call people cis (short for cisgender) when they have the same gender as their biological sex. We call people trans or transgender when their gender and biological sex are not affiliated. An easy way to remember the difference between biological sex vs gender is by thinking of gender as what’s in your head and sex as what’s in your pants.
A person’s gender can be expressed to others by the way they dress and behave (this is called gender expression), however, the pronouns they identify with (he/she/them) do not necessarily correspond. A person that dresses in male clothing, but looks like a girl could be gender neutral, but they could also identify as female, trans, or androgynous.
For example, if you physically and mentally identify as a woman but continue to be associated as “he”, this can not only feel hurtful but isolating. When it comes to the stock photos and videos you use, be sure to read the description and check the keywords if you want to ensure you’re properly representing that model/person.
They/them is a common gender neutral pronoun, and yes, they can be used as a singular pronoun. The American Dialect Society made they, in its singular form, Word of the Year in 2015, highlighting its popularity and common usage as a standard pronoun. A reminder that language is not stagnant but rather is constantly shifting and evolving.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
If the use of they feels a bit weird at first, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Those who identify outside of the gender binary will likely appreciate your awareness and acknowledgement that gender identity can’t always be discerned from physical appearance alone. If you have already met the person before and you want to check in to make sure you are using the correct pronouns, you could ask them the next time the two of you are alone — emphasis on alone because they may not want to have that conversation in front of a group of people.
Say something along the lines of “Hey, I just wanted to double check what your pronouns are so I’m sure that I’m using the correct ones.” In the LGBTQ community, asking this question and mentioning your pronouns while introducing yourself is pretty common and ensures that everyone is being addressed correctly.
BE INCLUSIVE AS A STANDARD
In media and marketing, sometimes the gender of an individual in a photograph or video is not clear and the opportunity to ask what pronouns or titles they use is not an option. In this case, what is the best language and practice to put into place?
Simply avoid using she/he in situations where it isn’t needed. You can easily replace she/he with they when talking about a person whose gender is irrelevant to the topic you are discussing (just like how she/he isn’t used to refer to some anonymous person in this post).
Another really easy way to make people feel included, from social situations to dealings with groups of people at the office, is to practice the language you use to address them. Rather than walking up to a group of people and saying “Hey ladies” or “Hello fellas”, say “Hey: folks, people, everyone or, (most common in the tech world) humans.” Really, referring to any group in a respectful manner that doesn’t assume a particular gender is a great way to practice inclusivity and reinforce standards of equality.
GENDER VS ORIENTATION
We use sexual orientation and gender identity to create a bunch of labels for people in the same way that we use biological sex and gender identity to create labels. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, straight, queer, pansexual or asexual are examples of labels that can be used to describe a person’s sexual orientation — but trans is NOT one of them. Being transgender means that your gender identity doesn’t match the biological sex you were assigned at birth — and a human being that is trans can identify as straight, gay, bisexual, pansexual, lesbian, etc.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST, TAKE ACTION!
If you made it to the end, we thank you for your care and interest in this topic. Now it’s time to go forth and be a conduit for inclusivity by ensuring that you have well informed messaging, marketing and design. Nobody has all the answers, but we hope that by unearthing unconscious bias and communicating with each other, we can take steps to use language that respects all humans and their right to be acknowledged as valued equals.