What is Gender-Neutral Language?
What is gender-neutral language? Simply put, gender-neutral language is language that avoids a bias towards a particular gender. Before we can understand the importance of gender-neutral language, let’s talk about gender, gender identity, and gender expression.
What is Gender?
Gender is the social expectation of roles and how someone presents themselves in the world. These standards of roles and behaviour change across cultures. The two genders that are most recognized in our society are male and female, which is known as the gender binary. This recognition is typically based on someone’s anatomy – the genitals they were born with. Gender assignment is based on sex and the assumption that someone’s genitals match their gender. Gender is not related to anatomy and is not interchangeable with sex.
What is Gender Identity?
Gender identity is someone’s concept of self as male, female, both, or neither. Gender identity is how someone perceives themselves and what they call themselves and is not visible to others. Someone’s gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth. There are many different gender identities. Some of the most common are listed and outlined below. It is important to remember that gender is complex and that these terms may mean different things to different people.
Agender: Someone who does not have a gender or who does not identify with a gender. An agender person may also describe themselves as gender-neutral or genderless.
Bigender: Someone who fluctuates between traditionally male and female behaviours and identities.
Cisgender: Someone whose gender matches the sex they were assigned at birth.
Gender Fluid: Someone whose gender fluctuates over time, or who expresses multiple genders at the same time. This variation may be random or in response to different circumstances.
Genderqueer: Someone who identifies as neither male nor female, as in between or beyond gender, or as a combination of genders. This identity is often in reaction to the societal construct of gender, the gender binary, and gender stereotypes.
Intersex: Someone who is born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that does not fit typical definitions of male or female.
Non-Binary: Someone who does not identify as male or female or solely one gender. Non-binary is often used as an umbrella term for all identities that reject the gender binary and define their gender outside of those norms.
Transgender: Someone whose gender does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. Trans sometimes gets used as an umbrella term for gender diverse people, however, not all gender diverse people use it to describe themselves.
Two-Spirit: Someone with both a feminine and masculine spirit living in the same body and possess qualities of both male and female. Two-Spirit comes from the traditional knowledge of the Indigenous peoples and is used to describe gender identity, sexual orientation, and spiritual identity.
What is Gender Expression?
Gender expression is how you publically express your gender to others. This can be through physical expressions like clothing and accessories, hairstyle and body hair, makeup, voice, behaviour and body language. Gender expression can also be social expressions like name and pronoun(s). Words that typically describe gender expression are “masculine”, “feminine”, or “androgynous”.
It is important to never assume someone’s gender based on the way they look. Sometimes people express their gender identity in different ways at different times. Sometimes people do not express their gender identity the way they would like to because they do not feel safe or comfortable to do so. This can be very distressing. One way we can help minimize this level of distress is by using gender-neutral language.
Why Use Gender-Neutral Language?
Given that you cannot assume someone’s gender based on the way they look, and that some people do not identify with any gender at all, using gender-neutral language is a way to respect all gender identities. By removing gendered verbiage when speaking generally, you are being inclusive of all identities, rather than being affirming of only male or only female. This may feel trivial to someone who is not excluded by gendered language, but a simple change in language can make a big impact on people who do not typically feel included or represented.
Gender-based language is extremely prevalent in the wedding industry. If your couple identifies with gendered terms for themselves, use the terms they have chosen. When addressing groups or speaking about people who have not shared their chosen terms with you, best practice is using gender-neutral language. Below are some gendered terms, as well as gender-neutral alternatives.
Fiance, fiancee, bride, groom, husband, wife: partner, significant other, other half, better half, spouse-to-be, spouse, life partner, marrier, celebrant, [name]
Bride and groom, husband and wife: couple, newlyweds, partners, marriers, [name] and [name]
Bridal party, bridesmaids, groomsmen: wedding party, wedding crew, wedding squad, party people, best people, attendants, VIP’s, friends of honour, [name]’s attendants, [name]’s wedding party
Maid of honour, best man: witnesses, best person, person of honour, [name]’s best person, [name]’s person of honour
Girls, ladies, guys, gentlemen: everyone, folks, friends
Father of the bride, mother of the groom: parent, parent of [name], caregiver
Brother, sister: sibling
Bridal bouquet: bouquet, flowers
Bridal portraits: portraits
Bridal suite: getting ready suite, wedding suite, hospitality suite, private suite
Flower girl: flower child, junior attendant
Father/daughter dance, mother/son dance: special dances
Bridal shower: wedding shower
Bachelor party, bachelorette party: pre-wedding celebration, pre-wedding event, bach party
Are you using gender-based or gender-neutral language in your business? Go through the main pages of your website and look for gendered language. How can you change the verbiage to be more inclusive?
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