At the end of last year, my Local Quaker Meeting made a public statement, welcoming and celebrating gender diversity, including transgender and/or non-binary people. I’m delighted that this has since been adopted by our Area Quaker Meeting and came to Meeting for Sufferings (our national representative body) this weekend.
I’ve been asked to publish online the glossary and tips for welcoming gender diversity that I have shared with Friends in my area: please feel free to use these wherever they are helpful.
I want to take this opportunity to clarify that these words are not categories to divide us, but vocabulary to allow us to talk about ourselves so that we can know ourselves and one another better.
I am grateful that I’ve found words to describe myself (genderqueer, non-binary and transgender), because they allow me to move away from the mis-labelling that feels so very uncomfortable (when people guess my gender and get it wrong). Knowing words that describe this aspect of who I am also allows me to know that I am not the only one; that there are others like me in this way, which is very comforting.
So, as promised, here are some of the terms that might crop up in conversations about gender diversity, and their meanings. Please remember that these words carry a lot of emotional weight: only describe an individual in terms that they use themself. Some other practical tips for inclusion follow the vocabulary bit.
Some gender terms explained
Gender identity: An internal sense of being a man, a woman, neither of these, both, and so on—it is one’s inner sense of being and one’s own understanding of how one relates to the gender binary.
Gender binary: A system of classifying sex and gender into two distinct forms—male/man/masculine and female/woman/feminine—and assigning all bodies, identities, roles, and attributes to one side or the other.
Sex: A combination of features, including chromosomes, hormones, reproductive organs, and secondary sex characteristics; typically male or female, but a significant minority are intersex.
Transgender: An umbrella term for people whose gender identity differs from what is expected based on their sex characteristics at birth; includes non-binary people.
Transsexual: A term sometimes used for people who are changing their sex characteristics (i.e. their body) to be more congruent with their gender identity.
Transition: Changing aspects of one’s life to present oneself in a way congruent with one’s gender identity (could include name, body, pronouns, clothes, legal status).
Trans: An umbrella term for transgender and transsexual people, and an adjective:
- Trans man: A man who is trans (who has transitioned or is transitioning to be recognised as a man).
- Trans woman: A woman who is trans (who has transitioned or is transitioning to be recognised as a woman).
- Trans non-binary or genderqueer person: A person who is trans and doesn’t identify as a man or as a woman.
Nonbinary/non-binary; Genderqueer: Terms for people who identify as not exclusively a man or a woman, or as something outside of these two concepts.
Cisgender: Identifying with the gender that is typically associated with one’s designated sex; not transgender.
Agender: Identifying oneself as having no gender.
Gender fluid: Shifting between different gender identities or expressions.
Androgynous/Androgyne: Having both traditionally masculine and feminine characteristics and/or identifying as between male and female.
Intersex: Having physical sex traits that are not distinctly male or female. Intersex is a physical state, rather than a gender identity.
Some practical tips for transgender inclusion
Use inclusive and gender-neutral language – Quakers have the advantage here! Just call everybody “Friend”!
Don’t assume gender based on appearance.
Respect people’s statements of identity and call them what they want to be called. Ask, if you’re not sure. Practice offering your own pronouns on introduction. “Hello, I’m Fred – my pronouns are they/them’”; “Hello, I’m Sally – my pronouns are she/her”.
If you get someone’s name or pronoun wrong, apologise briefly and sincerely. Then move on.
Avoid asking about people’s gender history unless they invite you to. Do not share information about someone’s trans identity or gender history unless they have given you permission. Remember that for many people a gender transition is something that happened in the past to correct a problem and can now be happily forgotten.
Do refer to people by the correct name and pronoun when they’re not there! It makes it much easier to remember when they are there.
Designate a gender-neutral loo and label it as such.
Talk to others about transgender inclusion and about ways to be more welcoming. Practice thinking about it so it comes easily when planning events or publications.
Create expertise among non-trans people, so that trans people are not always the ones being asked questions, and so that others can ask questions that they’d rather not ask of trans people directly.
Make sure that women’s groups or events are inclusive of trans women, and men’s groups or events are inclusive of trans men, and consider how non-binary people can be included.
Thanks for reading!
Please feel free to ask questions here. The most important bit is to respond to each individual as an individual, and not to make assumptions.