Last year, I started a conversation about gender inclusive terms to address groups, and the discussion kept going over Facebook and Twitter for a few months afterward. I told myself I’d update the list and publish it here. After a fair bit of pondering, here’s what I and others came up with.
What to Say When “Ladies and Gentlemen” Won’t Do!
Spoiler Alert: This is Every Time You Address People
Some of these terms are for more or less formal situations, as you might imagine. I wouldn’t necessarily say “people!” when in a formal professional setting, nor would I use “esteemed guests” when addressing friends at a movie.
It’s worth saying that you can add “Assembled” or “Esteemed” or “Gathered” in front of basically all of these.
Y’all or Yinz or Youse or You’ns
Friends and Foes and Neithers
Ways of Saying It
You can say things like “Hello!” or “Good morning!” or “Greetings!” These are entirely gender-inclusive ways of starting a conversation or a meeting. Have at it! I’m not a fan of “Hey, gang!” personally, but I know folks who use that phrase, as well.
Specific Relational Terms
Instead of brother/sister, you can say sibling.
Instead of husband/wife, you can say spouse or partner.
Instead of boyfriend/girlfriend, you can say partner or lover or beloved.
Instead of father/mother, you can say parent.
Instead of Miss/Ms./Mr., you can say Mx. (pronounced “mix”). (Note: You would ideally ask the person which title they use, rather than making any assumptions.)
I’m sure I’m missing many options, here. Feel free to add more in the comments!
What About “You Guys?”
I personally do not feel that “guys” is gender inclusive, even though many people use it to refer to groups of people including folks who aren’t male. I have a friend who only uses “you guys” to refer to people who are cisgender female, to try to buck the norm. My take is that language has historically used male-coded words to refer to groups of people, including people who aren’t male, because most cultures have prioritized male voices and catered to men’s desires. Resisting that, to me, involves using different terms that are actually more inclusive, rather than deciding an old term can be redefined, particularly when the term is still primarily used as it was historically (to refer to men).
Why “Gender Inclusive” vs “Gender Neutral” Bathrooms?
I am not getting into everything about the bathroom bills here. I can’t possibly do it justice in a paragraph or three. The terminology is something that has been brought up, though, so I’m editing this post to include it.
Previously, people used the term “gender neutral restroom” to refer to a restroom available to folks regardless of their gender identity. In practice, the goal of having bathrooms accessible to people of all genders is more clearly communicated by saying “gender inclusive” or “all gender” rather than “gender neutral,” so that’s what many people are using for terminology now.
How Is This Useful?
Most people who spend time socializing have casual opportunities to address groups of people. I’d especially encourage folks who regularly run meetings, give workshops, or speak in public venues to keep this post in mind, or even keep a copy of this list handy. Normalizing gender-inclusive language means including (or at least not actively excluding)
a) folks who aren’t “men” or “women,” but are instead non-binary or genderqueer,
b) people who aren’t public about their gender identity.
Over one third of participants in a 2013 study felt to some extent to be “another gender” or “both male and female” or “neither male nor female.” The 2015 study of transgender Americans demonstrated that the majority of trans people (68% of reporting individuals) have gender identities that don’t match any of their IDs or public documentation. An estimated 1.4 million transgender adults lived in the US alone in 2016, and the youngest adult category reported the highest likelihood of being trans. In other words, there’s a high likelihood that you speak with trans individuals at some point during your day, whether or not you know they’re trans, and the same applies to genderqueer or non-binary individuals.
If you use gender-exclusive language, you are very likely to be excluding someone around you, whether or not you’re aware of them. Please don’t do that. Work on using some of these terms, instead.
Already with me on this? The next step is to talk with others about it! Feel free to share this blog post, or write your own on the topic.
6 thoughts on “Gender Inclusive Forms of Address”
Niecephew (made-up) or nibling (real word) for your sibling’s children!
I have to write a sermon for church this Sunday. Culturally speaking, it’s tradition to being these with a salutation like, “Good morning, brothers and sisters.” I didn’t want to say that out of consideration for those in my congregation who want to be part of our church but who aren’t open about their gender identification. But I also didn’t want to be blatant about the term I used so as to be sensitive toward those who are still struggling to deal with this new social reality. I confess, I am not a huge fan of this whole revolution. However, I care enough about others that I want to be accommodating to them and put my beliefs and opinions aside so as to be considerate of them. So I was at a loss as to what to say. I Googled my dilemma and came across your page. It helped me pick the right terms that would not be out of place for our church’s culture (I normally would say “folks” in virtually any other setting, but that would be culturally out of place for this one). So, thank you very much for this page. I found it very helpful and got the right gender-inclusive term I needed that would not feel too culturally out of place.
I’m sorry for such a belated reply to your comment! I’m glad this post was helpful for you, and I’m glad you’re putting in the work to try to make people feel comfortable regardless of their gender identity. 🙂
Thank you for your post. I am a teacher in the UK and I came across your post after teaching speech writing to my grade 9 students. I realised I had been remiss in creating an introduction using inclusive terms of address when my students had attempted to do this themselves – some more successfully than others! I thanked them all for making me have to refresh my teaching as we all strive to be welcoming to all.
Happy to be helpful! Thank you for leaving a note — it’s always interesting to hear where folks are coming from. 🙂