Gender Inclusive Language
Language matters. Gender inclusive language is wording that carefully includes people of all genders and sexual orientations. It’s important that all people feel included, especially when talking about sexual health.
Gender inclusive language is especially important when you don’t know the gender of the person. It’s also helpful when discussing a group of people of mixed genders. Gender inclusive language includes the use of ‘they/their/them’ as a pronoun for one person. It may feel awkward at first but using ‘they/their/them’ can help everyone feel included.
Gender is not a binary concept. Using s/he, or alternating the use of she and he, makes it seem like the only possibility is two (or binary) genders. This means we aren’t including all gender identities. We don’t want to leave people out, so we use gender inclusive language.
The point of inclusive language is to use words that include as wide a range of identities as possible. The intent is not to ‘ban’ the use of boy, girl, him, her, she or he. For example, when referring to a child who identifies as a girl, the terms she, her, and girl are fine. Using “Mother, Mom, Mama, Father, Dad or Daddy” to refer to yourself, if that’s how you see yourself, is perfect! The goal is to make sure everyone feels included when talking to or about groups of people.
For most people, using gender inclusive language is a shift and will take some time to get used to. Don’t worry about making mistakes, it’s about making the effort. Your child will appreciate your intentions! Here are some strategies for using gender inclusive language in your conversations.
- Use “they/their/them” as singular, gender-free pronouns.
- e.g., “You have a new student in your class? What are they like?”
- Remove gender labels from people, parts, processes and partners.
- e.g., “Is there anyone special you’re interested in at school?” instead of “Is there a girl/boy you like at school?”
- If it’s ever necessary to refer to assigned sex, use the term “sex assigned at birth” instead of the words “sex” or “biological sex.”
- e.g., “When your cousin Alexa was born, she had a penis and so her sex assigned at birth was male. When she got older, she told her family she was a girl, and that’s why we use “she” and “her” when we talk about her.”
- When talking about anatomy, explicitly acknowledge diversity.
- e.g., “You have a reproductive system with a uterus and ovaries. Other people have testicles and penises. Everyone is different, so some girls might have a system that’s a bit different from yours.”
Your child may need extra help to understand gender inclusive language. Giving them examples of how they can use the language in their lives may help.
- e.g., “Assigned male at birth means that when you were born, the doctor saw you had a penis and said, ‘It’s a boy!’”
- e.g., “People usually get their first period in puberty. You’ll get a period when you’re older because you have a uterus and ovaries.”
Using gender inclusive language is important for more than just talking about sexual health. It can and should be used in any conversation. Here are some examples of words that help make communication inclusive.
|parent, grown-up||mother or father|
|partner||boyfriend or girlfriend|
|spouse||husband or wife|
|class, students, everybody||boys and girls|
|artificial, synthetic, constructed||manmade|
|folks, you all, everyone||guys (e.g., you guys) – although it’s often a filler word and can be left out|
For more information, go to the Sexual and Gender Diversity section of the Additional Resources page.