Radicalization of Gender Inclusive Language On Both Ends of the Spectrum
Gender inclusive language is intended to promote acceptance, yet society is struggling to embrace this inclusivity. It acknowledges the gender identities of those who do not fit the socially-constructed 'traditional' gender definition. Although many people associate acceptance of inclusive language with left-wing liberals, there are groups across the political spectrum that use transphobic and gender-exclusive rhetoric that further marginalizes the trans and non-binary community.
It is generally assumed that right-wing conservatives are less likely to accept gender inclusive language in comparison to their left leaning counterparts. This assumption is supported by the fact that as of 2021, 68% of Republicans stated that they would feel somewhat or very uncomfortable using gender-neutral pronouns, while 67% of Democrats responded saying they would feel somewhat or very comfortable using those pronouns .
Legislatively, Republican leaders have also been expediting efforts to discriminate against, harass, and strip the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals. In early 2023, many Republican-led states introduced bills specifically aiming to restrict healthcare access to transgender individuals. For instance, the GOP-controlled legislature in Tennessee announced its first priority to prevent medical providers from performing procedures on or altering the hormones of minors, specifically in reference to procedures that would help them present themselves physically in alignment with their gender identity . As of March 22nd of 2023, TN HB0001, a bill that would allow for such medical discrimination, was enacted . Senate Bill 129 in Oklahoma will ban those under the age of 26 from receiving gender-affirming healthcare and further ban such care from the state’s Medicaid coverage [2, 4]. These bills are detrimental for all who fall under the trangender umbrella within these states and beyond, as this discrimination becomes more broadly normalized. A 2019 survey done by the Trevor Project reported that 54% of transgender and nonbinary youths have seriously considered suicide within the past year, 29% of whom have attempted it . Having access to gender-affirming medical care is vital for these youths to feel comfortable in their lives and bodies, and it may help diminish the rate of self-harm. The Trevor Project also reported that the use of hormone blockers was able to reduce emotional and behavioral issues and suicide rates in youths . In addition, in 2021, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health stated it would be unethical to withhold hormones and certain surgeries from teens due to the significant positive impacts it can have on their mental well-being .
The subject of pronoun use ties into the discussion of gender-affirmative medical care since medical transitioning is just a part of one’s gender identity transition. Social transitioning is an equally important aspect that involves changing an individual’s name, gender presentation via haircut or clothing, or the use of specific pronouns. For young adults socially transitioning to their preferred gender identity within trans-accepting families versus non-accepting families, attempted suicide rates differ by over 20% (31% of those in accepting families attempt, and 57% of those in non-accepting families) . It can be dangerous for transgender youths to live in an unaccepting society due to their lack of medical and social acceptance. The bills introduced by some red states are not a reflection of Republicans wanting to “protect children,” but rather wanting to strip the rights of the LGBTQ+ community away. With the introduction of discriminatory bills against transgender and non-binary people being introduced across the nation, the question remains whether their problem is with pronouns or with the ability to uphold the current oppressive gender identification policies.
Although left-leaning organizations are often thought of as more socially accepting than their conservative counterparts, there are factions within the ‘left’ that oppose the use of gender-inclusive language. One example of such a group is Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs), who believe that transgender women and non-binary individuals are hijacking the feminist movement, infiltrating women’s spaces, and posing a threat to womanhood . These groups employ propaganda tactics similar to those of right-wing populist opposition.
Surprisingly, there are many left-leaning groups that are vocal in their opposition to the adoption of gender inclusivity. Another such group is the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RevComs), which strives to “emancipat[e] all of humanity through revolution and advanc[e] to a communist world, free of exploitation and oppression” . Here at UCLA, representatives of RevComs distributed fliers entitled: “WOMEN should they be ENSLAVED? ERASED? OR EMANCIPATED?” which criticized gender-inclusive language. The flier claimed that by acknowledging “people who can get pregnant” rather than exclusively referring to women in discussions of reproductive rights, women are being reduced to their body parts and dehumanized. Terms like “chest-feeders” and “menstruators” were aso deemed problematic as they erase the concept of womanhood. However, it is important to note that pregnancy, abortions, and birth control are not exclusively relevant to women, but non-binary and transgender individuals as well. By normalizing the use of gender-neutral language and expanding the English lexicon to more than “women” or “mothers” when discussing people who get pregnant, we can affirm the gender identities of individuals who do not identify as women.
Despite the efforts of groups like TERFs, the term “women” has not been erased in discussions surrounding reproductive freedoms. In the American Civil Liberties Union’s statement on the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, gender-inclusive “classic” language (i.e., women) was used throughout the press release . Furthermore, NARAL Pro-Choice America defended their choice to use gender-inclusive language in a tweet, stating that “it's not just cis-gender women that can get pregnant and give birth. Reproductive freedom is for *every* body” .
Gender-inclusive language is not just beneficial for transgender and non-binary individuals, but also for cisgender individuals. By breaking down gender binary barriers and using gender-inclusive language, all individuals are able to live and act as their true selves, regardless of gender identity. Although the fight against gender inclusivity and the use of gender-neutral/inclusive language may be perceived as a battle between conservatives and liberals, it is important to recognize that there are left-wing groups that do not support the trans community. It is crucial to identify the propaganda and fear-mongering used by all groups, rather than assuming that all left-leaning organizations prioritize LGBTQ+ interests. Transphobia has real-world consequences, and only serves to harm marginalized communities that are already under attack.
1. Minkin, Rachel, and Anna Brown. 2021. “Rising Shares of U.S. Adults Know Someone Who Is Transgender or Goes by Gender-Neutral Pronouns.” Pew Research Center. Pew Research Center. July 27, 2021. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/07/27/rising-shares-of-u-s-adults-know-someone-who-is-transgender-or-goes-by-gender-neutral-pronouns/.
2. Schoenbaum, Hannah. 2023. “Republican States Aim to Restrict Transgender Health Care in First Bills of 2023.” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service. January 7, 2023. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/republican-states-aim-to-restrict-transgender-health-care-in-first-bills-of-2023.
3. “TN - HB0001.” Bill Track 50. BillTrack50. https://www.billtrack50.com/billdetail/1496311.
4. “Bill Information for SB 129.” Oklahoma State Legislature. Oklahoma State Legislature. http://www.oklegislature.gov/BillInfo.aspx?Bill=SB129.
5. “Gender-Affirming Care for Youth.” 2020. The Trevor Project. The Trevor Project. January 29, 2020. https://www.thetrevorproject.org/research-briefs/gender-affirming-care-for-youth/.
6. Bassi, Serena, and Greta LaFleur. 2022. “Introduction: TERFs, Gender-Critical Movements, and Postfascist Feminisms.” TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly 9 (3): 311–33. https://doi.org/10.1215/23289252-9836008.
7. “The Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.” Welcome to the Revolution. RCP Publications. https://revcom.us/en/revolutionary-communist-party.
8. “ACLU Comment on Supreme Court’s Decision to Overturn Roe v. Wade.” 2022. ACLU. American Civil Liberties Union. June 24, 2022. https://www.aclu.org/press-releases/aclu-comment-supreme-courts-decision-overtur n-roe-v-wade.
9. NARAL. Twitter Post. May 6, 2021, 12:41 PM. https://twitter.com/naral/status/1390391199077437443?lang=en.