I’ve assisted a few people now with questions around how to ensure a professional environment, or a project, is trans inclusive, and with the latest it became clear that setting some things down for easy reference would be helpful.
Before we start:
This isn’t an exhaustive list, much of it can also be incorporated into social environments, and I will likely give it occasional updates.
There are some specific instances to which the below don’t apply, but for most professional circumstances, they will. If you’re not sure if they apply, then they most likely do and you should act accordingly.
There are some offsite links at the bottom, which are worth following to expand on this piece.
I’m happy to discuss things further with anyone who has questions – but I don’t respond to bad faith actors.
Some of the things below may not apply to every trans person, so always remember to check with individuals what makes them most comfortable, and be sure to err on the side of caution.
There are links down at the bottom to follow up on everything below.
If you have any more questions, go ahead and drop me a line via the contacts page.
With that all said, let’s go!
What is your gender & honorific?
Most forms have this question on, and there are usually problems with it.
First of all, ask yourself why you need this question on your form.
If it’s for anonymous equality monitoring, ensure this (and all other questions) can be skipped if the person prefers not to answer.
If it’s a piece of research that does need gender information as part of it, make that clear going in, given the trans person you’re asking the chance to decline withut it being an issue.
If it’s for your records, ask yourself again why you need this information. Really ask. Then ask again. In many cases, you’re requesting informtion that you don’t need and won’t use, and if that’s the case I urge you to consider simply omitting this question from your form.
If you do need to know, or simply cannot bear not knowing, then the answers you need to offer are:
Other (write in box)
Prefer Not to Say
And here’s why. Male and Female are standard binary genders, but they exclude those who are non-binary, forcing them to check a box that doesn’t reflect who they are.
Other allows those who are neither male nor female – non-binary, fluid, etc – to say they are not within the binary, without being pressured into revealing more information than they wish.
Finally, Prefer Not to Say covers all those who don’t feel comfortable telling you information that might be personal or changeable.
With those four options you’ve given everyone a comfortable way of answering the question, and shown that you’re aware not everyone fits in the binary.
Under absolutely no circumstances include “transgender” as a gender or sexuality option. Ever.
I can already hear some people wondering how you therefore tell if someone filling out the form is trans.
You can’t. You don’t need to. They will check the box that fits their gender and comfort zone, and that is all you need to know.
The same basic idea is behind honorifics/titles. If you can leave off the question of whether someone is a Mr/Mrs/Ms/etc, do so. If you can’t or don’t want to, include “Mx” or a blank field as an option – thus easily including non-binary folk or those who don’t wish to say.
This gets a little more complex so stick with me. Not everyone is a binary male or female. Trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming folk often find themselves being unintentionally (or purposely, but if you’re the sort of person that does that you probably don’t belong here) misgendered. It’s important, therefore, to ensure you know and use the correct pronouns of the people around you – and that involves sharing your own. Especially if you’re not trans.
Put your pronouns in your socal media bios, on your email footers, on your business cards, on your name tags, and ask everyone else in your organisation to do the same – but do not force them to.
Doing so normalises the sharing of pronouns, which makes it safer for trans people to do so. However forcing everyone to may affect the safety and comfort of someone who is trans, but doesn’t want to reveal it – for reasons which are their own and should not be pried into.
Introduce yourself with your pronouns (“Hi, I’m Lee, my pronouns are they/them, it’s nice to meet you”), and abide by any pronouns you are given in return, but again, don’t force them out of someone who doesn’t offer them back.
If you’re unsure of someone’s pronouns, it’s good to use they/them until they feel comfortable correcting you – however, here you must understand that this in itself can be uncomfortable for some trans folk, so do not be offended if they seem upset, there are reasons and they’re deeper than you might be able to understand, and that’s ok. Just update their pronouns in your head and anywhere else required, and continue onwards using the right ones.
The point here is for you and other cisgender and comfortable trans folk to create an environent where it’s safe for trans folk to share and be who they are, without forcing the issue.
Again, just balance this act by offering your pronouns, then asking others to share theirs, but not forcing them to do so.
Gender Inclusive Terminology
There are a multitude of ways to address people – in groups or together – that do not denote gender. Use any of these. Simply enough, doing so ensures that the person or people you’re addressing are not misgendered, and you never fall into the hole of having to backtrack, correct yourself, and get it right the second time.
Don’t say, for example: guys, dude, or ladies and gentlemen.
Do say, for example: folks, chaps, people, everyone, distinguished guests
There are lots of options that include all genders, and it’s a good idea to start incorporating them into your everyday speech.
Absolutely do address someone by the pronouns they request, but if you don’t know or you’re addressing a group, use neutral terms.
Battle of the Sexes
Don’t do it. It’s gender divisive, and excludes anyone who might not fit neatly in one of the boxes, and frankly we as a society should be past that. Find another way to split people into groups, a small amount of imagination should cover you for that.
Getting it wrong
It’s ok to get it wrong, if you’re learning new things it takes time. If you mess up a pronoun or use gendered terminology, take a (mental) step back, say “sorry”, repeat the sentence using the correct term (which helps your brain to learn it properly), then continue.
Don’t overcorrect, don’t stand there apologising profusely like you just ran over someone’s puppy – in short, don’t make your error about you. Say sorry, correct, and move on.
Do acknowledge any trans folk that come to you and let you know if anything you said was hurtful. It is instinctive to defend yourself, but take a deep breath, understand that trans folk get a lot of hurtful things put upon them, and it is their right to be upset when these things happen.
What you can do to help is:
Listen to the trans person speaking to you, centre them in your apology – “I’m sorry I said that/I’m sorry that I hurt you, it was an error/I wasn’t aware, I’ll do better in the future” – and use it as an opportunity to learn.
Not your search engine
If you have questions about trans folk, especially after meeting a trans or non-binary person, use the internet. They aren’t there to be quizzed for your curiosity and if you really do need or want to ask them something, ask them first if it’s ok, and accept it if they say no.
At no point, and for no reason, ask them about intimate details regarding treatment, genitalia, etc. It’s not your business, and that goes quadruple for any professional environment. Anything they reveal, they will do so on their own terms, and because they trust you – not because you forced it out of them.
There are lots of resources to read for more information, so check out the below to read further: