Trans* and trans*-inclusive word nerds, tally ho!
September 8, 2014 9:28 PM   Subscribe

I need some examples of organisations using trans*inclusive language in interesting and welcoming ways - particularly on the web and on social media. When I need to communicate that a group is open to women and trans* people, but not cisgender dudes, I feel like I'm using the same clunky phrases every damn time. Help me find new ways to say it without tying myself in linguistic knots.

I'm part of a community group for a pastime which has historically been dominated by cisgender men. As part of efforts to address marginalisation and increase diversity in the community, we run a regular night for and by women and trans* people.

The night's existence is relatively uncontroversial and supported by all genders in the wider group, so we don't really need ways of explaining why we need a cis-dude-free night. But I do a lot of the group's social media and communications, and I would like some more linguistically elegant ways of phrasing what the night is about and who is welcome - preferably ones that are positive, welcoming and fun.

Basically I'm looking for trans*-inclusive alternatives to the sorts of phrases that roll off the tongue when talking about women-only spaces - "For women, by women", "Women's night", "Women and girls". I often write, "Women, girls and trans* folk", but this can get a bit clunky when embedded in a longer sentence - and I'm not 100% sure if the word "folk" is okay.

Things we'd like to communicate:

- That this night is for women and trans* people - cis dudes should come to our other events instead.
- That we understand that trans* women are women - but trans* men and genderqueer people are welcome too.

If possible, the language should be not too confusing to people who aren't yet tuned in to trans* issues. It should also should be positive - we are for strengthening the participation of women and trans* people in our community, not against cis dudes in general. And ideally, it should be fun and playful - I'm writing flyers and social media posts, not a sociology essay.

I'm interested in learning how other groups are approaching this issue. If you identify as trans*, I would love to know which phrases make you feel most welcomed and which ones come across red flags. How important is language use in helping you decide whether to attend an event?

Tl;dr: - How can I best strike a balance between clear and elegant language, and the necessary identity-listing that trans*-inclusivity can require?
posted by embrangled to Writing & Language (30 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Transman here. I would not feel welcome or included on any event that specifically excludes the gender I identify with - males. I don't really see a way to change that just with the way you word it.
posted by HeroOfAnotherStory at 10:10 PM on September 8, 2014 [14 favorites]

Um, I am not trans but having read a bit on the subject after one of the great MeFi flamewars on the subject and learned a lot, you may want to leave the asterisk out. Especially if you are following it with a noun (eg trans women). Google trans asterisk and you'll see what I mean. I know punctuation seems little, but it really isn't.

By putting trans as a separate category from women and girls, though, it leaves the impression that that's how the group will operate. We have three categories of people here, women, girls and trans people. Which, you know, trans women are women, not a third sex.

So maybe try something along the lines of "women and girls, trans and cis" or "women (trans/cis)" or something to show that you're aware but you aren't going to be handing out little badges to show who's who.
posted by Athanassiel at 10:28 PM on September 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Cis female here, so I'm projecting, but it would read to me that if you welcomed trans men but not cis men, you might be unwittingly suggesting that trans men don't really count as men.
posted by Chrysalis at 10:41 PM on September 8, 2014 [12 favorites]

Nthing that it seems weird to include/invite trans men when you're excluding cis men. Trans men are men too.

Is it possible that what you really intend is to include people who have a non-binary gender expression?

If so, perhaps "cis women, trans women, and genderqueer people" would work?
posted by Jacqueline at 10:59 PM on September 8, 2014

Trans woman here. Lumping ciswomen, transwomen, and transmen into the same space but excluding cismen feels really really weird and kinda fetishizing. I'm pretty sure most of the transmen I know would feel similarly to how HeroOfAnotherStory feels - they tend to be pretty adamant about being a GUY, DAMNIT, and get pissed if you treat them as Kind Of A Guy But Not Really A Guy.

Maybe just consider a "LGBT Night" or "Queer Night"? Although a while back I went to a comics con that advertised itself as for All Queers and ended up being a sausage fest. Dunno.
posted by egypturnash at 11:03 PM on September 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Friend of trans woman here, listing "women, girls and trans women" makes clear you consider the latter as a seperate category, and the exclusion of cis men also translates to "trans men aren't actually men". I see no need to put "WE ACCEPT TRANS PEOPLE" on flyers if it's clear this event is LGBT friendly. If you want it to be for female participants only, point that out. That's really the only seperation you need.
posted by MinusCelsius at 11:16 PM on September 8, 2014

In my neck of the woods, there was a "Trans and/or Women's Action Camp".
posted by thug unicorn at 11:27 PM on September 8, 2014

Response by poster: Whoops, you're right, Athanassiel - that asterisk in "trans men" should not have been there. Sorry, my mistake. I am aware that the asterisk has become the subject of debate, but I'm not really clear on where things are currently at - is there enough of a consensus now that groups not specifically part of the trans community (but welcoming to trans-identified people) should stop using it? Australia is often quite a bit behind the US in these things - I worry that if we lose the asterisk, people might interpret it as being less progressive, not more. (On the other hand, it might stop cis people from pointing out the "typo" on our flyers…)

HeroOfAnotherStory and Chrysails - I see what you mean - and wow, that is definitely not our intended message. If that's the way it reads, maybe we need to rethink. Basically, our group began as an alternative to the blokey culture of similar groups, where women were often made to feel unwelcome, condescended to, or treated as sexual prospects. This behaviour made it really hard for us to actually learn the thing we were there to learn.

So there was a real need for a women-friendly space - but since the kinds of behaviour that marginalised women can also marginalise trans people (of any gender) and genderqueer people, the people who started the group wanted the space be explicitly trans-inclusive. And "women and trans" nights are quite common among other similar groups around the world - it's not some weird tokenistic thing we came up with ourselves.

We definitely understand that trans men are men. And I imagine that a trans man who is consistently read by others as male would face no marginalisation in a male-dominated group - so maybe we're not really the right space for them. But for people who are genderqueer or trans people who are read by others as ambiguously gendered, that's maybe not the case. And given that there may be people of many genders who feel unsafe in those male-dominated spaces…we would like them to feel welcome in ours. It's a tricky thing to communicate - the more I read, the trickier it gets.

egypturnash - I get what you're saying, but speaking as a Queer woman, I would say that marginalisation of Queer and LGBTI people in this particular community has been nowhere near as significant as marginalisation of women and gender non-conforming people. So although I LOVE Queer and LGBT nights in other contexts (queer swing dancing for the win!), this is a space that probably does need to be women and trans (*?) focused. Or maybe just women-focused? But then…somehow also signalling that we welcome trans women and genderqueer people? Um, yeah…it's complicated.

Thanks for all the answers so far, folks, especially those setting me straight where I screwed up. Obviously what's considered appropriate inclusive language changes really fast and I guess I need to put more effort into staying up to date.
posted by embrangled at 11:33 PM on September 8, 2014

To clarify - the wording has little to do with it. I simply will not feel addressed by a flyer for an event for "women and girls", no matter if it clearly includes trans people. I understand there already are events about the same subject and they are male dominated. What stops transmen from going there? Usually, the "non-informed" stereotype cis man only has a problem with "men in dresses", all the usual bullshit about "tranny traps". (If that's the kind of male participant you have, you have bigger problems than the wording of a flyer.) It's really rare to meet men who have a problem with transmen sharing "their spaces", even in the good old restroom debate.

As a solution: How about two events/flyers? One for girls and women, one for LGBT/non-binary/allies? The second one would not exclude anyone, and appeal more to various groups you seem to want to address: transmen, non-binary/genderqueer/genderfluid people, transpeople who don't pass (haven't started transition or are in early stages). And it would be welcoming to cis people who happen to be gay, lesbian, bi, partners of trans or non-binary people. Especially the latter - cis male partners of transwomen face more prejudice in male dominated spaces than transmen, at least in my experience.
posted by HeroOfAnotherStory at 1:12 AM on September 9, 2014

Can you just bill the event as something for "gender identities underrepresented in [your activity]"? That seems to be the common link between cis/trans women and trans men and should signal to everyone but cismen that this is the event for them
posted by horizons at 1:27 AM on September 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think why this is so difficult is that you're trying to impose binary constructs of gender upon concepts that necessarily require you to acknowledge that gender is a spectrum. Perhaps what's making it so clunky is that you're trying to point out each instance of gender identity as a discrete point.

What about "we welcome anyone who has experienced gender-based oppression under our patriarchal society", and then you can go on to list your examples?
posted by Conspire at 2:05 AM on September 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I participate in a group for a past-time that is traditionally white, cis-het male dominated. The word we use is 'under-represented', as in, 'We welcome women, LGBTQ and people otherwise underrepresented'. This allows people to self-select to some extent.
posted by atlantica at 3:08 AM on September 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Bike shops sometimes use "women/trans*/femme" as a catchall for people left out of a culture that tends to prize a certain kind of masculinity. It's definitely not perfect--I know trans guys who feel able to go to these things and trans guys who don't (because they'd be seen as possessing the 'correct' masculinity, even if they're still experiencing the same sort of exclusion) and may not work for your purposes at all because it's at least notionally including some cis men.

"Women and trans men" is notorious for being used to mean "cis women and trans men [who we don't think of as men with some bonus transmisogyny]".

I actually don't mind "Woman- and/or trans*-identified [people/folks/no noun]", though it's clunky and depending on what "not yet tuned into trans* issues" means, may not go down so well with cis people. There are a few bonuses to talking about identity. 1) It doesn't signal 'women's space' quite so heavily, 2) you dodge the 'trans women in some other category' issue, 3) while some trans men are going to tell you they aren't 'trans*-identified', they weren't going to come anyway and it clearly includes pretty much everyone who might be inclined to go.

Mostly, though, I think what you call it or advertise it as matters less than what actually happens at the event. It doesn't matter how trans*-inclusive your flyer was if the actual event is totally aimed at cis women. In some ways, I think the questions to be asking are "Who are our trans members?" and "Are they showing up to these events (more than once)?" .
posted by hoyland at 4:53 AM on September 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think this is an important discussion, but, to answer the original question, here's a link to an organization in my city (in Canada, FWIW) that I think tends to do a good job using inclusive language when they want to, and denoting what types of folks events are intended for, when they're for some people and not others.
posted by ITheCosmos at 5:36 AM on September 9, 2014

This sounds to me like the distinction is more about patriarchy and power structure then trans/cis issues, so maybe there's a way to address it that way. Or maybe not. "Anyone whose identity doesn't put them at the top of the hetero-normative gender patriarchy welcome" isn't exactly catchy. But maybe there's a more elegant way to express it.
posted by alms at 6:18 AM on September 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Can you give it some kind of name that is a pun on "margins" -- like "doodling in the margins" if an art group or "playing in the margins" for gaming or "expanding the margins" or something more clever? Then you could have a "Who is this for? Cis women, trans women, trans men, and genderqueer people -- who have traditionally been marginalized in our activity. We like to call ourselves the Marvelous Margins." or something, and use that throughout the post.

I mean obviously some people wouldn't want to be called "marginal" so run it by your group and see if that feels like a strong reclaiming of the term, or if it feels like a further marginalization. Or find another word than "margin" that captures the same idea of non-traditional participants for your hobby.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:46 AM on September 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

And "women and trans" nights are quite common among other similar groups around the world - it's not some weird tokenistic thing we came up with ourselves.

True — but there's actually a lot of complaints in the trans community about events that bill themselves that way. On the one hand, as a few people have pointed out, the phrasing is problematic because it hints that trans men might not be seen as real men.

On the other hand, there's some fucked-up history there (which you had no way of knowing about, and I don't blame you for tripping over it) where events have been billed as "women and trans" but it's turned out that they're really not open to trans women — that what the organizers really meant is "this is an event for people who were assigned female at birth." Because of that history, I as a trans woman wouldn't automatically assume that I was welcome at a 'women and trans" event — though if I was really interested and motivated I might call ahead and ask.

Like I said, I would not have expected you to know about this ahead of time, and I'm not at all offended. But yeah, tread carefully there.

If I was writing this flyer, I'd go with Eyebrows McGee's suggestion: a catchy title followed by a longer list of people who are explicitly welcome. I might say something like this:
We think this hobby/industry/community/whatever needs:
  • More women: cis or trans, gay or straight, butch or femme.
  • More trans and genderqueer people: trans men, trans women, agender, bigender, gender fluid, etc.
If you see yourself in either or both of those categories, we'd love to see you here.
But hoyland's point about the actual event is an important one. The thing that would make me most likely to show up at an event like this is not seeing an explicit mention of trans women on the sign (though that would help) — it's knowing that other trans women were involved with the event, or had been in the past, and had had a good experience. In fact, even if the text on the flyer said something problematic, if there were actual trans women who I knew and trusted and they were like "yeah, this is a cool event" then I'd definitely feel comfortable showing up. So that's a thing to keep in mind too.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:23 AM on September 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

If what you're really trying to do is shelter people from attitudes, why not focus on that?

This is Not Yo' Macho Night

No Bro Tango

No Patriarchs Allowed
posted by sparklemotion at 7:26 AM on September 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

(Rereading the thread, I also really like the two-fliers solution...)
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:28 AM on September 9, 2014

We use 'women and gender minorities' in these situations. It works well.
posted by robot-hugs at 10:37 AM on September 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is the language off of Code Liberation Front's page which I feel is pretty clear:

"*if you identify as a woman, you're in"

Maybe add the phrase or gender minotity as suggested above by robot-hugs to adapt it to suit your purposes.
posted by edbles at 11:56 AM on September 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Since you asked for examples from other groups: ClojureBridge (a Clojure programming workshop with similar intentions about attendance) says "This workshop is for women interested in learning programming with Clojure. Men, you are welcome if you know a woman who would like to attend and come to learn Clojure together. ClojureBridge is emphatically queer and trans* friendly."

That's fairly verbose, and not exactly the meaning you want, but I am fond of the "emphatically queer and trans* friendly" part.
posted by lisp witch at 5:42 PM on September 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I imagine that a trans man who is consistently read by others as male would face no marginalisation in a male-dominated group - so maybe we're not really the right space for them.

So you admit that you might just not want to offer anything for trans men, or at least certain kinds of trans men (based on how others view them, not how they self-identify). Otherwise, have you considered asking any trans men how they feel about the idea that the right "space" for them is one that's female-dominated by design? It seems like you're picturing trans men being marginally welcome in what's mainly a women's group, almost as if they're honorary women. Have you tried looking at this from the point of view of a trans man, after everything he's been through in life?
posted by John Cohen at 9:21 PM on September 9, 2014

Response by poster: As I said in the original question, the women and trans* night welcomes women and trans-identified people of any gender who feel that the space is right for them. This is uncontroversial both among trans-identified members and among members of the all-gender umbrella group of the women and trans* night is a part. Trans* people of any gender are also wholeheartedly welcomed on the all-gender nights that we run.

No-one is telling trans dudes they have to hang with the laydeez. No-one is saying that trans men are not really men. They are welcome on any night. If trans men want to self-select themselves out of the women and trans* night because they don't feel comfortable in that space, that's okay. Anyone who identifies as trans* or gender-diverse and *wants* to access the women and trans* space is welcome to do so.

I'm really grateful for those who have pointed out potential ways our phrasing might cause unintentional hurt - I take these considerations seriously and they are exactly the kind of advice I was hoping to get. But the existence of the women and trans* night and is not really up for debate - there is a demonstrable community need for this space, and everyone wants it to be explicitly trans-inclusive. It would be really great if people could maybe tone down the grar and keep their answers constructive, and maybe a little more focused on answering the question that I actually asked.
posted by embrangled at 9:52 PM on September 9, 2014

Response by poster: Just to clarify further why the group feels that welcoming trans-identified people of all genders is important: the thing we do is something that boys have traditionally been given many more opportunities and encouragement to learn than girls. Unless a trans man has been living as his affirmed gender since birth, it is likely that his opportunities to learn this thing have also been affected by misogyny - even though he is not female. The women and trans* night is one way of ensuring that anyone who experiences or has ever experienced gender-based barriers to their learning has access to extra time and a supportive environment in which to learn to do the thing we do. Acknowledging that some trans men may have a lived experience of misogyny is not the same as saying that they are not really men - quite the opposite.
posted by embrangled at 10:36 PM on September 9, 2014

"For all people identified as women."
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:52 PM on September 10, 2014

Or female; you know your crowd better and which word would be more appropriate.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:53 PM on September 10, 2014

“All women (trans- and cisgender) and other trans-identified people welcome"
posted by SomePerlGeek at 1:53 PM on September 10, 2014

...or, to tweak that a bit for clarity: "all women (trans- and cisgender) and all trans-identified people (women, men and others) are welcome."

Which would emphasize that you're aware neither group is a subset of the other group, and maybe ward off some of the "but doesn't that imply that trans men are women?" etcetera.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:18 PM on September 11, 2014

When we have to talk about this in an academic/legal context, we use "Gender and Sexual Minorities," or GSM, though that also includes LGB people. "Gender minorities" would be apt, but is a little vague and I can see women not getting that they're necessarily included.
posted by klangklangston at 2:10 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

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