Society as it exists is incredibly gendered.
From language to colors to bathrooms to names, everything has a gender. With the way that language works and the way it has been taught it is instinct for a lot of people to immediately gender everything, especially people. Unfortunately, this means that language is the number one way the gender binary is reinforced.
The gender binary is the idea that there are only two genders, male and female. As we evolve as a society it has become clear that this just isn’t true. Like sexuality, gender is a spectrum. You can read more about this spectrum here. Unfortunately, the English language hasn’t completely caught up with the gender spectrum, especially when it comes to referring to groups of people and to gender noncoforming individuals. So, here is a guide to addressing other humans in a way that is inclusive to all genders, not just male and female.
Addressing a group of people:
We’re all guilty of gendering groups of people. It is completely colloquial to address a mixed gender group of people as “guys,” or a mostly female-presenting group of people as “ladies.” It is these casual terms that reinforce the notion that there are two genders. What’s worse is that by addressing a group of people as “guys” you may be inadvertently misgendering a genderqueer person or a trans woman who has fought to remove male language from being associated with her. Here are a few terms that you can use instead when addressing a group of people (whether in person or online): “Humans, y’all, people, all, friends, folks, team, colleagues, coworkers, everybody.”
Addressing an individual:
When addressing an individual, especially somebody you have just met, never assume gender. It is easy to assume gender because we’ve been taught that certain traits (hair length, body curves, face shape) belong to certain genders. However, this is simply not the case. So, instead of assuming somebody’s gender and immediately using she/her or he/him pronouns use a person’s full name until they’ve offered their pronouns. If you’re worried about misgendering somebody, it is always safest to ask. And if they ask you to use gender neutral pronouns such as they/them or ze, respect their choices. They have to deal with being misgendered constantly, might as well be one of the good ones. Also, instead of referring to somebody as lady or dude you can use words such as friend, sunshine, or better yet just use their name.
Addressing significant others:
With such gendered language it is hard to break out of the norm of boyfriend and girlfriend, especially if your significant other (or somebody else’s) is genderqueer. Here are a few terms that can be used instead of boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife: “lover, partner, S.O., sweetie, honey, my person, and my personal favorite, bae.”
It is important to respect gender and pronouns. Figuring out who you are, especially when your gender is different than the one assigned to you at birth, is incredibly difficult. People spend years figuring out what labels fit them. So, do your part and respect the labels people choose for themselves and if you’re not sure what to call someone, always ask.
Do you have a favorite gender-neutral term for a group or a significant other? Let me know in the comments.