And now, ladies and gentlemen, a very good reason to stop using the phrase “ladies and gentlemen.”
Here’s a fact about gender that you may not know: Being “male” or “female” isn’t the only way a person can be gendered.
(Confused? Don’t worry.)
If you’re hearing this for the first time, here’s some context.
You probably didn’t blink when I called you either a “lady” or a “gentleman” at the top of this post because most of us refer to ourselves as either “male” or “female.”
But the titles “Mr.” and “Ms.” don’t cover everyone. Some people don’t identify as either gender. The word for them is non-binary, as in neither “male” nor “female.”
Wondering what you say when referring to people who are non-binary?
It’s simple: Instead of using “he/him/his” or “she/her/hers,” you use “they/them/their” or other gender neutral words.
At this point, I have to mention…
Upworthy has a confession to make.
The staff here had a hard time understanding this concept.
At first, we didn’t know what to do. But, thanks to a few queer folk who work at Upworthy, we’ve learned more about queer identity and gender.
To those taken aback by it, it’s new to many of us too. There’s more to understanding gender in-depth.
Two things about us play an important part in our identity.
One part, our sexual orientation, is a big part of who we are. Whether gay, straight, bisexual, or asexual, our orientation indicates the gender we desire — or don’t, if you’re asexual.
The other big part who we are is our gender identity.
- Most of us are cisgendered: born as the gender we identify as.
- And transgendered people are assigned the incorrect gender at birth.
- Non-binary or gender neutral people don’t identify as either gender.
- And some — like genderqueer people, for example — identify as a combination of both.
As with orientation, gender has a broad range. It’s not a couple of boxes on a form. Gender is much more like a spectrum.
It seems complex, but it’s actually pretty simple.
But, Upworthy folks still had a hard time getting it right. Me included.
We employ a few queer and other LGBTQ folks here at Upworthy. One employee happens to identify as gender non-conforming. This was the first time others and I had met someone like them.
Since this was new to us, a lot of us failed at respecting this person and their identity by misgendering them. We failed miserably, and often. We had some pretty superficial reasons for it too:
“Calling one person ‘they’ is grammatically confusing.”
“It’s hard to remember to say the right words.”
Seriously — grammar, everyone!
Using neutral pronouns like “they,” “them,” and “their” with our colleague took a little getting used to, but we’re getting there.
(Justin Vivian Bond is a singer who is trans and gender non-conforming.)
Everyone’s orientation and identity are facts. They aren’t decisions. If someone’s telling you what they prefer to be identified as, make an effort to use the right words. Like Justin said above, life isn’t easier for those who don’t identify the way the majority does. Let’s try not to make it harder for them.
Watch the full video below for some more insight into how we learned from our company-wide mistake:
An Upworthy Original Video.