The Gay Agender
Those of you searching for things like our reusable menstrual pads – or anything else usually marketed as ‘feminine hygiene products’ – how many of you think about the language used? I don't mean the implications that periods are unhygienic, or the other poorly-worded marketing ploys often used with regard to periods, because that's a whole other conversation for another time, but how much of it is unnecessarily gendered.
I'm going to go ahead and guess, from past experiences, that many people don’t really think about this while out and about. A lot of people don't seem to realise how much of our day-to-day lives are subject to gender rules and restrictions until some transgender (someone who identifies as something other than the gender they were assigned at birth) loudmouth like me points it out. But it's everywhere in our lives, influencing our behaviour, language, buying habits, and even interactions with others. Some of it is kind of ridiculous (like certain colours being meant for boys and others for girls) and I'm yet to see a gendered product that actually needed to be gendered, but for many trans folk it's a constant cause of discomfort.
Even on a good day I can usually recount multiple instances where I have been misgendered (having someone use the wrong gendered language for me) or made to feel excluded during everyday activities. Even small things like ‘morning ladies’ from our usual delivery driver – when I have literally never been anything close to a lady – can put a downer on the whole day, because it's just another little reminder that a large portion of society doesn't recognise me or others like me.
These things mostly seem to come from a lack of knowledge, rather than malice, and usually when I come out to people I also have to explain trans history and the appropriate language to use for myself and other transgender people. At this point I should probably explain that I'm non-binary (an umbrella term for anyone who doesn't fit the male/female gender binary). I use neutral they/them pronouns and usually prefer to present more masculine, but the majority of the time I am mistaken for a woman.
Currently in the UK, people like me don't legally exist so it can be hard not to take gendered language to heart, especially when it's so constant in our lives. At the moment there isn't even a universally-accepted way of identifying as 'other', and while the title Mx. is growing in popularity, many places still don't accept it. Because of this I get mail addressed to ‘None Conte’, ‘N/A Conte’, ‘Mr Conte’ or ‘Miss Conte’, to name a few. At this point it's become a game in my house to bet on how I'll be addressed and we're all doing terribly at it. Perhaps without a full list of the inconveniences day-to-day life throws at trans people, this might sound silly, but for many of us, even little language changes – such as using the correct pronouns when referring to us – can make a huge difference.
People usually use the same language as others around them. For example, I've found that around people who misgender or deadname (use the incorrect/old name for someone after they've changed it) me, even people who get it right the rest of the time often slip up and use the wrong language. This is why it’s important to talk about pronouns and what gendered terms do or don’t make people feel uncomfortable, even these conversations can be daunting. For example, the umbrella term 'queer' is a mixed bag, with some of the community accepting and reclaiming it as a way of encompassing the LGBT+ spectrum, while others see it as the slur against the community it used to be. With this in mind, it's important to remember that language is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal and one of the easiest ways we can prompt change.
There is so much to address when it comes to gender in our society – such as the notion you have to look or behave a certain way because of your gender, the fact that gender inequality is somehow still a thing in 2020, that gender isn't binary etc. Obviously one conversation won't make anyone an expert, or fix all of the ongoing issues caused by these things, or immediately perfect anyone's language. But it does open the floor for more conversations, and most importantly it raises awareness of these things.
I know multiple people, myself included, who weren't aware that they were LGBT+ (the plus stands for other minorities such as intersex people (those who have a combination of 'male' and 'female' sex characteristics) and asexuals (people who don't feel sexual attraction)), or that it was even an option, because they'd never heard anything about it before. They just knew they weren't cisgender (the gender they were assigned at birth) or heterosexual (attracted to the opposite sex) – which is, according to our rather cisheteropatriarchal society, 'the norm'. (Cisheteropatriarchal and heteropatriarchal are often used interchangeably, both referring to the social system that favours cisgender heterosexual men over anyone else.)
These conversations don't need to be big events; even the smallest of comments can be a huge help. In my case, it took years of being incredibly uncomfortable whenever anyone used gendered language to refer to me before a friend drunkenly asked what she should be using to refer to me and gave me some neutral suggestions. Before then, I hadn't even been aware that neutral pronouns or many other neutral terms were a thing, so obviously I agreed and looked into it as much as I could.
Sometimes it doesn't go well. I've lost count of the number of rude and invasive comments I've had, and I'm not about to pretend I've never accidentally done the same, but the most important thing is to keep talking. Keep using inclusive language, keep using your voice to support others, and keep sharing your knowledge and experiences.
Language is far more important than we give it credit for and a few small words of support can make all the difference.
Luch Conte is a sewist and cutter for Tabitha Eve, a keen activist for LGBTQ+ rights and the inspiration behind the PRIDE and TRANS facial pads. Go Luch!