Where to draw the line on inclusivity?
March 21, 2017 10:40 AM   Subscribe

I'm part of a recreational sports team. Since the election, some of our members have been very enthusiastic about the idea of creating a safe, welcoming space at practice for all people (particularly gender non binary people) and making that our number one priority. It's difficult to set boundaries about this because we all do care about our teammates' feelings and safety. It would be useful to have some resources that could help us figure out what is reasonable:

-- Is it appropriate to have a zero tolerance policy on accidental gender/race 'microaggressions' like using a gendered pronoun for a person who prefers gender neutral pronouns, or talking about the "black team" instead of "the team wearing black shirts"?

How much "training your brain" can we expect of people who want to be part of our community and are trying but struggle with pronouns, unconscious biases, etc?

How much practice time is it reasonable to cancel to discuss gender/race type issues as a team?

what would be a reasonable response for an organization to take if there are teammates or volunteers who do not respond to educational workshops, opportunities to talk to a coach, etc that are offered about these issues with gratitude and curiosity (what if they see it as a waste of time, feel defensive, etc).

I would like any articles or resources or other similar information on how a well-meaning organization that is already doing pretty well on these issues can balance priorities and determine how much diversity/gender/inclusion education to require of students/employees/volunteers/community members in order to create a safe and welcoming space but also have time to play sports, conduct business etc.
posted by redorangeyellow to Society & Culture (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What's "reasonable" is whatever everyone on your team is happy with.

That said, as someone who plays rec sports and is all for creating safe spaces for nonbinary (etc) people there... I would not stick around if a team cancelled any practice time at all to talk about gender/race issues if they're on the level of "the black team" and/or not actually hurting anyone on the team.

Microaggressions that are hurting people on the team, absolutely, bring them up as they occur and expect a real effort to avoid the behaviour in the future. It doesn't need to be a huge deal with hours of sensitivity training for everyone. A thirty second comment once in a while will be far more effective. Absolutely, anytime someone uses the wrong pronoun, correct them, and talk to them or even consider banning them if it's a recurring issue. But zero tolerance is pretty extreme if it's genuinely accidental, and the person is clearly making an effort to improve.

Demanding that people never ever ever do (in your own words) *accidental* microaggressions, or making them take an educational workshop before they can play sports (wtf) is likely to alienate quite a few people, including many people who otherwise support your cause. If you/your team don't mind that, go for it.
posted by randomnity at 11:06 AM on March 21, 2017 [39 favorites]

Is it appropriate to have a zero tolerance policy on accidental gender/race 'microaggressions' like using a gendered pronoun for a person who prefers gender neutral pronouns, or talking about the "black team" instead of "the team wearing black shirts"?

Honest answer: I am a liberal, non-white person on the West Coast and am pretty careful about how I say things. If I knew this, I categorically would not join your team, and frankly, probably would be wary about interacting with your team members at all. As careful as I try to be, this level of sensitivity means that I am inevitably going to anger someone. I think a sense of perspective is important. In an era where banning people based on religion is effectively national policy, pronouns are not a safety issue.
posted by cnc at 11:09 AM on March 21, 2017 [27 favorites]

It sounds like you're trying to make an existing sports team evolve into a hybrid sports team/social justice discussion group. It'd probably be easier to start in the opposite direction. Form a separate, independent social justice discussion group and then after the group has established an agreed-upon set of values, see if any of the members are interested in forming a sports team.

For the existing sports team, I don't think you can do much more beyond developing a code-of-conduct that clearly states expectations around mutual respect among team members. This would have to be something that everyone has input in and agrees to, which could be challenging, especially as some of your examples ("black team" vs. "team wearing the black shirts") will no doubt be difficult to achieve consensus on.

As far as "zero tolerance," I don't see how that would work unless the team has a very clear hierarchical structure that would be empowered to judge and expel members, which seems unlikely for a recreational team.
posted by mpbx at 11:10 AM on March 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

I am a queer (albeit cis) person of colour, and while I applaud your intentions, I think your demands are unreasonable.

People fuck up. Hell, I'm queer and a person of colour and I fuck up sometimes, because we live in a deeply racist/sexist environment and that shit is damned hard to unlearn. By all means, boot anyone who's being a dick on purpose, or someone who falls foul of, say, a three-strikes policy, but zero-tolerance for *accidental* violations would feel like the opposite of a safe space to me, as I'd forever be watching what I said.
posted by Tamanna at 11:11 AM on March 21, 2017 [23 favorites]

Some people have already left over these issues. In the heat of the moment, sometimes it's hard to remember which 4-6 people prefer they vs she. We do have a COC and a board of directors who can enforce rules.
posted by redorangeyellow at 11:12 AM on March 21, 2017

Is it appropriate to have a zero tolerance policy on accidental gender/race 'microaggressions' like using a gendered pronoun for a person who prefers gender neutral pronouns, or talking about the "black team" instead of "the team wearing black shirts"?

I think a zero tolerance policy is overly-restrictive. Being conscientious of these things is extremely important to me, but I'm a human and will slip up occasionally. I hate to be that white liberal cis and (mostly) straight lady saying "It's just impossible to completely avoid microaggressions!" but like I am going to accidentally put my foot in my mouth sometimes. Hopefully very, very rarely, and never maliciously, but it's going to happen. If you kick people out for a single slip-up you aren't giving them a chance to grow.

I would implement a 3-strikes policy as described by Tamanna above. To avoid taking up too much practice time with these (important) discussions, I would periodically devote a pre-determined amount of practice time explicitly to these discussions. Then when something comes up, assuming it's not dire, you can say, "Great point Ellen. Let's make sure we talk about this on Tuesday when we have our inclusivity check-in."
posted by schroedingersgirl at 11:21 AM on March 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm just going to say that I actually snorted aloud at the idea of kicking someone off a team because they used the term "the black team" instead of "the team wearing black shirts." Calling that a "microaggression" reads like a parody of the left, and really, really does not help the cause.
posted by holborne at 11:22 AM on March 21, 2017 [65 favorites]

Who are "some people" who have left? The cis people or the trans people? It certainly is a micro-aggression, but if I were going to cut everyone out of my life who momentarily forgot my pronouns (he/him) I would be almost totally alone. I don't agree with a zero tolerance policy. I would educate people to briefly apologize when they catch themselves messing up.

Example 1: "So I was talking to Alex and she said... oh, I mean they, sorry... they said practice is at 7 tonight"

Example 2: "Hey Bob, this is Alex, I know him, oops, them, sorry! from kickball last year. They're an awesome goalie!"

If anyone's ignoring pronouns maliciously, or you get a complaint from the trans person, of course take the offender aside and ascertain what's up. How do you handle other interpersonal disputes?

The You Can Play project addresses homophobia and transphobia in sports teams. On a brief look through their site, I don't see a resource specific to this issue, but you can definitely contact them or someone on this long list of sports and other organizations.
posted by AFABulous at 11:24 AM on March 21, 2017 [19 favorites]

Oh - and do you have a written policy that new members have to sign? They probably have to sign some sort of liability waiver, right? Just add another page and throw stuff on there about respecting people regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity blah blah blah so you have a leg to stand on if someone complains. I myself would not join a group that specified race, religion etc but left off sexual orientation and gender identity.
posted by AFABulous at 11:27 AM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'd be interested in a stronger sense of where the problem is coming from. A neurotypical person who wants to remember to gender people correctly can do this pretty quickly and consistently (and will be able to do this more quickly and consistently the more often they do it - it's a matter of teaching your brain how to remember to switch); someone who kind of resents it and is half-assing it will always be fucking up. Is there a culture of respect or do you feel like there's grudgingness/lack of investment?

Can you build in some stuff about the teams? And is there an alternate short form? "The black shirts" probably wouldn't work for historical reasons, but could you foster the habit of using another formulation? Would "Team Black", "Team Red", "Team Silver", etc work? It seems like it will be easier for people to substitute a two word formulation.

If someone actually sees using correct pronouns, etc as "a waste of time", then yeah, ask them to leave. You can probably tell, a lot of the time, whose "I haven't trained my brain" is just "I don't want to bother because this is PC bullshit".

In terms of trainings - a lot of trainings are super tedious! I'm sort of not into trainings. What about beer-and-videos night, if people really need the basic "here is why you respect people's gender identity" thing - get everyone together, order food, have whatever people like to drink and watch a mixture of, like, funny cat videos and short, fun educational videos?

I will say that the best trainings I've ever taken in terms of social justice were not directly about social justice stuff - they were group skills trainings through Training for Change. It might be more effective for your group to foster a group identity/bond through spending time together outside of practice than to do actual, formal "here is diversity stuff" training.

Also, I think it would be worthwhile to identify the specific problems you want to solve through trainings. IMO, a lot of the problems people try to solve through trainings are really not training problems - they're access problems, assholism problems, group culture problems, economics problems, ethics problems, but not problems of not knowing enough. If you want your team to be more diverse, what steps are you taking to address this besides trainings? A bunch of trained assholes who secretly think that your gender is your junk are a less-good option than a bunch of people who actually want to recruit a diverse team and take steps in the community to make that happen.
posted by Frowner at 11:33 AM on March 21, 2017 [7 favorites]

I am a cis-het person who participates in a moderately cognitively intensive hobby with a couple of trans and/or genderqueer acquaintances. And in the heat of the moment while distracted by something else, I often screw up their pronouns. If I catch it in time I apologize, and I like to think that I've gotten better and more thoughtful about this over time, but since I only see these people every few months, it never quite becomes second nature, and I have to think about it every time, (which means I occasionally fail to think about it).

If it were made clear to me that screwing up in this way, even occasionally and unintentionally, was unacceptable, I would preemptively remove myself from the group, and I would expect any well-intentioned person who isn't steeped enough in the non-cis community to have this stuff be second nature to do the same.
posted by firechicago at 11:41 AM on March 21, 2017 [5 favorites]

[Moderator here. Couple comments deleted; redorangeyellow, AskMe's not really a space for back-and-forth from the OP. You've asked, people are answering, you can mark the answers you find to be most useful.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:50 AM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Another thought: is there a way to do introductions/check-in each time you meet and do a pronoun check-in at the same time? "I'm August, she/her pronouns, my favorite popsicle flavor is coconut", that kind of thing? This would be especially good if your team only meets monthly, or there's a lot of turnover, or it's a team more likely to attract people going through gender changes, etc, since it reminds people what pronouns to use, and since it normalizes the idea that asking for someone's pronouns is better than making them feel bad.

If your team meets weekly, people need to get with the program. I say this as someone who has been in a number of groups which meet weekly where people have changed their names and/or their pronouns. A pronoun check-in/intro would still be fine, but I'm a lot more suspicious of people who routinely "make mistakes" when they're seeing someone several times a month.
posted by Frowner at 11:57 AM on March 21, 2017 [10 favorites]

As long as we're talking about pronouns, probably even more important to most trans people is not using their former name (also called "deadnaming") if they've changed it. So please address this in your code of conduct or trainings or whatever.

And yeah, people are going to fuck up, but IT'S REALLY NOT THAT HARD. I came out at work after people had known me for a year, and literally had three or four fuck ups in the year after that, among dozens of people. The only person who still fucks up consistently is my mother and I think it's passive aggressive at this point.
posted by AFABulous at 12:20 PM on March 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

I literally cannot figure out what rule of civility or maxim of social justice is infringed by calling a team wearing black insignia "the black team." The pronoun issue is obviously substantially more compelling, but that one of the two issues you identified sounds like it was dreamed up by an overenthusiastic teenager on tumblr makes me wonder if you have really thought through what your goals are and what conduct interferes unacceptably with those goals. I'm a pretty far left person, but if someone told me I couldn't say "the black team" to refer to the folks in black jerseys (without some other context) I would quit, not because I thought the team was too sensitive to social justice issues but because some shame-eating fanatic seemed to be setting arbitrary rules for the purpose of catching people out doing actually, truly harmless things in the name of justice.
posted by praemunire at 12:25 PM on March 21, 2017 [20 favorites]

I really sympathize with what you're working through here - I'm sort of involved in a similar effort currently to drag a group that has traditionally been extremely cisheteronormative, into a more diverse and inclusive group. (In this case it's a support group, which adds some tricky things compared to your situation but removes some others.) It's definitely going to be A Process for us, and probably for you. A couple of thoughts, though:

1) Do you currently have trans and nonbinary team members? (It sounds like you at least did, but I'm not clear on whether they've left.) If so, ask if they would be willing to provide some advice/input here - I would at least *start* with what they think a reasonable set of guidelines would be about pronouns, etc., and work from there, rather than presenting "here is what some cis people think is reasonable" as a starting point. Or maybe they'd prefer you do that instead of having them do that work, and if so that's cool, but maybe ask.

2) Are there some places where you can simply make an issue go away? The shirts stick out for me. I wouldn't have thought of "the black team" as a microaggression, but on the other hand I am pretty committed to believing people of color when they tell me something is a microaggression, so if you've been told that people in your group perceive it as such, that needs to be addressed somehow. But is this a place where you could buy yourself an easy solution by getting new shirts in other colors, if budget allows, to save the real emotions/negotiations for things you can't work around as easily?
posted by Stacey at 1:42 PM on March 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

I play a lot of recreational sports (including some in "gay" leagues, even though I'm straight), and damn, your team talks a LOT more than any team I've ever played on. I've gone entire seasons without learning my teammates' names. The last hockey team I played on, I literally knew one person's name (and, amusingly, I always referred to him as "Random Guy", for different reasons). There have been times when I've played on teams of co-workers, people I see in the hallway or break room every weekday, and still never interacted with them beyond saying something like "hey, nice catch, pal" or "good game last night".

I will say that, in all the years I played youth sports, all the semesters I played intramurals in college, and all the years I've played in adult rec leagues, I don't think I've ever referred to a team wearing black uniforms as "the black team". Although, come to think of it, I don't think I've ever called a team "the team in the black shirts", either. Don't these teams have names, like the Flyers or the Bears or Jimmy's Pub All-Stars or something?

How much practice time should you cancel? Zero. If you've got time to practice to begin with, it must be a fairly competitive league with players who take the game seriously. They're there to play the game. If this absolutely must be discussed, do an email listserv or a Facebook group.

"Is it appropriate to have a zero tolerance policy..." I'm just going to stop you there. The rest of the sentence doesn't matter. There are very few times when a zero tolerance policy is a good idea. Maybe if one of your teammates is a serial killer and murders another teammate after each game, that's a good time for a zero tolerance policy. But otherwise, generally better to take a pragmatic approach instead of a dogmatic one.

The question is, really, are you OK with running off some players who just want to enjoy the game? It sounds like that's going to happen one way or another. Either the offended players will go somewhere where they feel safer, or the offenders will go somewhere without so many rules. So my advice is, figure out which players you don't want to lose, and base the rules around them. If winning games is what matters most, keep your most skilled players. If your team's identity as a safe space for marginalized athletes is more important, keep those guys and get rid of the dumb jocks. If you just want to have some fun and drink some beers together after the game, keep the people you enjoy drinking beers with the most and run off the ones you don't.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:14 PM on March 21, 2017 [8 favorites]

We have several non binary members. they have not left. they have recently taken on many leadership positions and are providing a great deal of input into these policies.

Some of our members are not neurotypical. Some of us don't find it easy.
posted by redorangeyellow at 2:15 PM on March 21, 2017

Then that's a valid argument against a zero tolerance policy. Hopefully your non-binary members give some extra leeway to the non-neurotypical folks.
posted by AFABulous at 3:45 PM on March 21, 2017 [10 favorites]

If the problem is genuinely that non-neurotypical people would like to gender people correctly but are unable due to disability, I think your goal should be to discover a mechanism for supporting those people in gendering people correctly, because it doesn't make one feel better in the moment of misgendering/deadnaming/etc to know that the person doesn't mean it. Would a pronoun check-in at the start of games help? Would some kind of wearable button or color-coding system help? Both these things are used in situations I've been in. Would some mental training practices made available to the non-neurotypical attendees help? (eg, repetition exercises that they can do on their own?)

I feel like the answer you're looking for is "well, people just can't help it, so we should all accept that many people will be misgendered repeatedly in their regular hobby", and this seems unsatisfactory to me. In work and academia, one would conventionally turn to processes that support non-neurotypical people as much as possible.

This does not mean that zero-tolerance is a good strategy - it's a ridiculous strategy. But I find myself wondering - has someone suggested zero tolerance? What motivated this person? What interactions had they been having?
posted by Frowner at 5:10 PM on March 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

I am a cis-het person who participates in a moderately cognitively intensive hobby with a couple of trans and/or genderqueer acquaintances. And in the heat of the moment while distracted by something else, I often screw up their pronouns.

Yeah, I messed up a pronoun of a cis-het coworker today because I'd said the other pronoun in a previous sentence and it came out again, not because of any confusion or malice or anything like that. Basically "Adam, this is Betsy; she manages the data. Betsy, this is Adam; she--er, he manages the website."

Malicious misgendering? Absolutely should be banned. Repeated "oops, I forgot over and over and I'm obviously choosing to conspicuously not make an effort" misgendering? Maybe you decide they get pulled aside once for a "shape up or ship out" conversation when you first notice a pattern, and then they're out out if they keep it up.

But the sort of brainfart misgendering that my mom does to her own kids (all of whom are cis!) because her mouth ran ahead of her brain? You can expect people to "oops", correct, and move on without making it worse, but it's just going to happen because people are people.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 5:22 PM on March 21, 2017 [5 favorites]

If the goal is to make it as easy as possible for people to use the correct pronouns and gender references for the people they're talking to or about, find ways to support that. "My pronouns are" nametags or patterned/color-coded armbands, maybe. Maybe include in the pre-game warmup a section where you quickly go around the huddle: "My name's Jo and I use she/her pronouns," "My name's John and I use they/them pronouns." If people want to be respectful and address others appropriately, help them do so.

If somebody's unwilling to make an effort to address people by the terms they use, or if someone is doing some sort of "I just can't, it's too hard" then you'll need to deal with that.

But a zero-tolerance policy is likely to drive people away, even people who want to be doing things right. For context, I'm nonbinary and on the autism spectrum, and I occasionally screw up people's pronouns despite trying my best. If I knew that messing up once would get me kicked out of a group, I wouldn't even bother trying to join.
posted by Lexica at 6:02 PM on March 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

Oh my dear god, please don't do armbands for trans people. Nametags with pronouns for everyone. I can just imagine someone else in the recreation area asking a cis team member "hey, why do those people have purple armbands?" and now you have to out all your trans members to some random stranger, or think up some lie as you go.
posted by AFABulous at 6:29 PM on March 21, 2017 [5 favorites]

I think there's a lot more going on here that deserves thinking about in a thorough way.

People who don't fit perfectly into a gender binary and people who aren't neurotypical have some key things in common even when they aren't both at once. We struggle with feelings of ambiguity, and being comfortable with that ambiguity. Sometimes that's not fitting into expectations and boundaries of gender, sometimes it's social guidelines that don't make objective sense, sometimes it's about other people and sometimes it's about ourselves, but there's a lack of absolutes that can really build up the stress.

Team sports take that ambiguity away. There's clear rules and small logically consistent systems, and having something that has these aspects can be vital to people who struggle with a lack of these things in other parts of life. But as you are finding out, extending those absolutes to the non-game parts of the group makes it messy and in some cases harder for some people who need it to participate.

What it boils down to is respect, and it's clear that you understand that. But maybe people you're in this group with have trouble exhibiting their respect in different ways for different people, either because it hasn't been made clear or because they're making assumptions. Like, I think that the zero tolerance thing is a result of making assumptions that folks can always be consistent in a neurotypical way - that when they aren't it's from a lack of respect. But at the same time letting people repeatedly offend others is a great way to nurture a harmful group. If you can hammer out a way to separate people who have respect for others but can't always express it in exactly the same and socially correct ways from the people who just don't hold that respect even if they can talk the talk, your group will be able to grow in a healthy and inviting way. This is hard, though! And that's why I think there's a lot to think about thoroughly, pulling perspectives from all sorts of different people. It will be a process.
posted by Mizu at 6:45 PM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just to be clear, my suggestion is nametags or armbands for everyone. Anything else is marking either cis or trans people as different/other, which is not my intent. More "everyone has pronouns, so indicate what they are for everybody."

Absolutely not "cis people are unmarked while others are marked".
posted by Lexica at 9:35 PM on March 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

This all sounds like...way too much work for a recreational sports league. And believe me, I am as social justice warrior-y as it gets. But why not just do name tags that include pronouns for everyone and be done with it? If someone is really being maliciously disrespectful, of course deal with that (as you would with any other malicious disrespect), but otherwise I think trying to plan out multiple training sessions or whatever seems way over the top. I agree with those above who say any group that used the language of "zero tolerance" for inadvertent mistakes is one most people would run away from very quickly.

(Also, has an African American person actually complained about the "black team" comment? If so, I suppose I'm not the one to judge and perhaps it's something to take seriously, but honestly this sounds more like white people being overly cautious than the sort of complaint that would truly come from a POC who, frankly, probably has way bigger issues to deal with than someone accurately identifying the color of a shirt.)

You might consider reading up on the idea of "calling in" vs. "calling out" -- http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/01/guide-to-calling-in/
posted by rainbowbrite at 9:29 AM on March 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

In another community I help moderate, the actionable behavior is not the fuckup in the first place, but responding poorly to being gently course-corrected.

Responding poorly includes:

acting defensive;
denying that the microaggression happened when someone affected by it says it did happen;
fauxpologizing ("I'm sorry you took it that way");
repeatedly committing the same fuckup without sincere effort to learn;
asking for the offended person to teach or otherwise provide emotional labor (this one is trickier to eliminate);
focusing on intent ("I didn't mean it like that, so I should be absolved / shouldn't have to apologize") as opposed to intent ("no matter what I meant; my words or actions were still hurtful to someone and I'm sorry")

We have tried to actively create a culture in which a gentle correction is like being told your fly is down or you have something in your teeth, NOT like being told you are a terrible and evil person. We tell you because we trust that you didn't mean it and you want to do better, not because we want to attack you. We also have an expectation that any and all community members can provide that gentle course-correction; it doesn't have to come from a moderator.

People can get lots and lots of gentle course-corrections up until a certain point -- if someone keeps doing the same thing and doesn't seem to be introspective about the problem at all, we do a "formal warning" that we document, mostly for paper trail because there are a lot of moderators. After formal warning comes suspension in which we ask the user for some concrete steps based on the behavior they were exhibiting. If that doesn't happen, they are removed from the group.
posted by librarina at 6:31 PM on March 22, 2017 [22 favorites]

ugh that should be "focusing on intent ... as opposed to impact," obviously, sorry
posted by librarina at 9:46 PM on March 22, 2017

I'm with cnc, I'm non-white and fairly liberal and I would stay far away from your team.

That said, definitely consider making it easier for people do things right rather than punishing people for doing things wrong. If the phrase "the black team" is considered a problem, change their shirt colour to purple (or blue, or stripes, etc -- not yellow or brown, pick a theme/colour that can't be mistaken for a race no matter how hard you squint). If misgendering is a problem, make everyone wear an nametag or armband or something with their preferred pronoun. (This would also make it much easier for ESL folks to remember what they're supposed to say, if you've got any in your group -- many languages do not have gendered pronouns.) And so on for anything else that might be on your list.
posted by Xany at 8:57 PM on March 23, 2017

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