Help with language: trans, non-binary, ...
March 12, 2019 8:24 PM   Subscribe

Several places I've run into [man, women, non-binary] as the options for gender identity in surveys. I've also seen this trinary categorization for events organized for "women and non-binary participants". Am I alone in feeling like this categorization excludes some people - including me, a person who feels like being trans is a part of my gender identity? I'm not asking if I'm being excluded from women and non-binary events, just whether those being the only three categories are ruffling others' feathers. Bonus question: best inclusive language?

I think this question is a bit the reverse of this one.

But more of a general (and personal) one.

Starting with my confusion and/or current understanding

This question seems akin to asking if I'm gay or bi, that is ignoring that gender (as sexual orientation) is a continuum. Or maybe it's like asking if I'm bi in any possible way - that is non-binary is the default title for someone who doesn't fall firmly into man or woman. That seems right according to this link, "“non-binary” is one term people use to describe genders that don’t fall into one of these two categories, male or female"
So, if my gender identity is "trans man" not "man" then I am non-binary by that definition.

However, I feel like non-binary is used more as a fairly specific identity that isn't just - man but not totally rejecting the other parts of me.

So questions:
A) Am I way overthinking this and should embrace non-binary and not be worried that I'm claiming an identity that others see as being fairly different than mine. Am I just outdated and people are using other language that really is inclusive of my (mostly male) identity?

B) If you identify as trans, do you also think this is awkward?

C) Am I correct that these types of surveys will never report on the number of trans applicants because we're mixed up in other categories? Is that a bit sad?

D) When colleagues ask me how to advertise events that they are trying to make inclusive to everyone who is not strongly male-identified (I'm in a male-dominated field, so this is important but rife with difficulty that is not the point of this question), what is the most inclusive language? Does "women and non-binary people" miss intersex people? Other relevant groups of people?
[That the intellectual labor to figure this out correctly falls to me, the one trans person, has not excaped my notice.]
posted by lab.beetle to Human Relations (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
When colleagues ask me how to advertise events that they are trying to make inclusive to everyone who is not strongly male-identified

If you are planning an exclusive event (excluding those strongly male-identified), using inclusive language is going to get utterly exhausting in the number of cases necessary. Say what you mean. If you don't want men, don't invite men - explicitly.
posted by saeculorum at 8:53 PM on March 12 [5 favorites]


A) My personal usage has “non-binary” as a pretty expansive term, and your “man but not totally rejecting the other parts of me” seems to fit into it about as well as my own “woman, I suppose, but only to one bit of precision.”

B-C) It is kind of awkward, though, and it makes me sad that the language most people understand doesn’t really work for us. I like the Human Rights Campaign’s suggestion of two different questions:
— What is your gender? (Male, Female, Non-binary, Other (specify): __, Decline to state)
— Do you identify as transgender? (Yes, No, Decline to state)

D) Kat Marchán’s essay “On the Design of Women’s Spaces” has some good questions to ask about exactly whom you’re trying to include and exclude, and some suggestions for how to accurately signal that.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 10:35 PM on March 12 [4 favorites]


It’s a smoothing out of nuance, and I am personally sad to see it taking all the air out of what was once a much more varied space. People want to make people fit in boxes, even the people who don’t want one. Genderqueer, agender, neuter, genderfull and genderfuckt ... I miss hearing them. And I hate that “nb” is the only third option people recognize. “Other” would be better and more open ended in my opinion.

If non-binary doesn’t feel right to you, you don’t have to just fall in line. If trans man feels the most right - you don’t have to give up other parts of you to fit some masculine ideal. You get to define what being a trans man means for you, and it most emphatically does not mean having to reject parts of yourself. Just because you aren’t performing hyper masculinity doesn’t mean you have to let yourself be pushed into nonbinary and out of being a trans man.

As for wording, I am part of one group that just says it’s for everyone except cis-men. It occasionally ruffles feathers, but it’s direct and does what it means to do.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:32 PM on March 12 [6 favorites]


I think there are only two possible realistic outcomes for public groups that want to fully embrace all non-binary, genderqueer and trans people:

One: Be explicit with who you mean to exclude. Inclusive language just leads to disasters. It's too passive.
Two: Create completely open events where everyone is welcome, but with the expectation that everyone will leave assumed gender at the door. This is tricky but as an agender person I really like the idea of being in a place where everyone is welcome but sexism and assumed gender defaults are explicitly challenged.

As far as surveys and forms go, I believe there is absolutely no reason to collect gender information on any form anywhere ever, nor do I believe there is any reason for gender to be on any ID's.

That said, since gender seems to be this requirement that for the life of me as an agender person struggles to understand, I believe the following is probably the most sensible in order of preferences and pragmatism:

1. Make gender a free-form field.
2. Make a pulldown with "Man, Woman, Other, None" and have a check boxes for "cis" and "trans". Allow both cis and trans to be checked. Allow multiple options to be selected in the pulldown.
posted by nikaspark at 12:52 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


I'm in a group that spent a long time recently discussing the best option for signalling "anyone except cis men, and as for trans men - you aren't our main audience but if you want to be involved we don't mind" recently and we went with "women and gender minorities" which all our trans and nb members were happy with.

As a cis woman, I don't feel I can say much about your main question, except that I do know trans colleagues who get upset about "trans" or "trans woman" etc being part of a gender drop down, because it makes them feel like people see them as not real women. I like free form gender fields, personally.
posted by lollusc at 1:35 AM on March 13 [14 favorites]


A) Am I just outdated and people are using other language that really is inclusive of my (mostly male) identity?

I don't think the language is inclusive of your identity but I suspect that these events are deliberately trying to exclude those who are exclusively male-identified. This might be for reasons of perceived safety or privilege--for example, men might be seen as potentially dominating conversational spaces.

B) If you identify as trans, do you also think this is awkward?

I identify as trans masculine and non-binary but I am not a trans man. I don't think it's awkward. I think they're trying to exclude men.

C) Am I correct that these types of surveys will never report on the number of trans applicants because we're mixed up in other categories? Is that a bit sad?

Some trans people don't want to be identified as being different from cis people but rather feel they fit into the binary categories of male and female. I suspect if organizations want information on trans binary applicants that identifies those applicants, then they would request that information specifically.

D)When colleagues ask me how to advertise events that they are trying to make inclusive to everyone who is not strongly male-identified (I'm in a male-dominated field, so this is important but rife with difficulty that is not the point of this question), what is the most inclusive language? Does "women and non-binary people" miss intersex people? Other relevant groups of people?

I personally feel that "women and non-binary people" is broadly inclusive of these populations--intersex people would either identify as binary women, non-binary individuals, or binary men (and therefore be excluded). However, I'm not intersex and don't feel I have the authority to say that definitively.

Honestly, I think that if you identify as binary male, then you're not non-binary, even if trans, and you lose access to these spaces--which is a loss, yes. But it comes with a certain degree of privilege in exchange. But if you don't identify as binary male, then you're . . . non-binary! And would be included. And that's okay too.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:48 AM on March 13 [5 favorites]


I think this is problem with the how the people using the word mean it and what it means to you. They are using non-binary as a descriptor to basically mean anything other than male or female. I think 'trans' as an umbrella term once held that place, but that had its own issues. It sounds like you don't identify as non-binary and would not use that to describe yourself. But that you also don't identify as male. And yeah, I feel you on this. I like trans and genderqueer for myself. I think if forms require gender they should be fill-in-the-blank rather than the two to five terms deemed acceptable the day the form was created.
posted by carrioncomfort at 6:00 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


RE surveys: I've written surveys like that and assume that trans people who identify as men or women will select those as appropriate to their identity. The only reasons I ask gender is to help determine whether I got a somewhat representative sample, to see if results vary by gender, or because a funder demands it. Realistically, I can't usefully analyze trans/ non-binary/ other responses because those categories are too small a percentage of the population, so collecting that data in more detail isn't helpful. I also don't want to pressure people to "out" themselves if they don't want to by asking a separate transgender item I'm not going to analyze, or to "other" them by including "trans man" and "trans woman" as options, because that implies that I don't consider them part of the gender group they identify as.

I'm telling you this not to justify the practice necessarily, but to let you know where it comes from.
posted by metasarah at 6:15 AM on March 13 [7 favorites]


I struggle a lot with this. If you give me a blank to write my gender, I will write "transmasculine" (I never refer to myself as a trans man; I sometimes talk about trans men as a group that includes me). If you give me two choices, "man" and "woman", I will shrug and say "man is good enough". If you give me "man", "woman" and "other", I'll pick "man" and feel a bit conflicted. If you give me more choices, I will end up feeling lousy about whatever I pick. This is why I like separating the "are you trans" question from the gender question--I can enthusiastically answer "yes" to that (well, if I trust your organization) and shrug at your two or three gender options.

Somewhere along the line, the definition "non-binary" moved. When I came out, "binary-identified" meant "people whose genders round to (wo)man" and "non-binary" meant "people whose genders don't round". As far as I can tell, "non-binary" has become much more expansive and arguably includes me (and you, it seems like). But I haven't quite figured out what it means (I'm also not sure anyone actually knows--saying "identifying as something other than binary male/female" doesn't help because what's "binary male/female"?) and do feel like we've constructed another binary to avoid having to talk about the messy continuum of gender.

I am generally assumed to be a cis man. I assume events that are aimed at "women and non-binary people" are a) really geared to women and they threw non-binary people in because they felt they should (and tacitly assume non-binary people are AFAB and not consistently gendered as male), b) have not considered that someone who looks like me could show up (or if they have, someone who looks like me must be a trans woman) and c) even if they have considered it, the space probably couldn't handle my existence. I recently had a conversation with a group that had moved to "women, trans and non-binary people" with the intent of covering "not cis men" and left feeling like (c) was probably the case, especially having been greeted with some, shall we say, interesting assumptions about transmasculinity.

"marginalised gender experiences" (or "marginalised genders") is an interesting phrase and something that I would understand to be unambiguously intended to include me, but not something I think one can write on a sign. I understand "women, trans and non-binary" as intending to include me, but not necessarily succeeding. For me attend an event in this vein without worrying about my presence there, there probably needs to be obvious transmasculine involvement (a speaker, an organizer, specific programming, even a quote from a previous participant), which will likely never happen (I am aware this is a cold start problem). I am much, much more comfortable with trans-specific or transmasculine-specific events.
posted by hoyland at 7:16 AM on March 13 [5 favorites]


I should perhaps add, since we're talking about language, that I default to "trans" as an umbrella term includes non-binary people (because I am ancient in trans terms). I think we started seeing "trans/non-binary" for two reasons--not all non-binary people identify as trans and spaces wanting to signal that they weren't shitty for non-binary people.

(There's a certain irony about the disappearance of the asterisk here. People swung back round to "trans should be inclusive" and therefore lost the asterisk (again), except that wasn't reality so we have to signal it somehow.)
posted by hoyland at 7:25 AM on March 13 [4 favorites]


So I'm queer, non-binary, trans, intersex, an activist, have experience, too, designing surveys, handling the resulting data, and doing overall general data analytics.

There's a tension between the impulse to gather analyzable data and allowing people to express themselves freely when taking surveys. One could design a survey to allow for open entry of text to self-identify however the survey taker wanted, but that would generate a potentially huge amount of muddy data. It's not unrecoverable data, but it can complicate analysis and introduce unwanted bias (but so can constraining choices). It's a difficult question: how to handle the polling for and the analysis of data like this when, because of changing social forces, people are identifying as a plethora of new possible choices.

(As an aside, I once went through an off-the-top-of-my-head category listing of gender categories/identifiers with an HR person in an attempt to explore the space for just such a survey and when I ran out of ideas, I think we had about 40 terms and we could still have looked up or Googled others.)

That said, and like hoyland, I struggle too with surveys that have limited choices, and I don't always feel like I fit as "non-binary". But sometimes it's the best choice, depending on context, and yeah, sometimes feeling constrained/not fitting in is a little alienating/feather ruffling. (And I hope ensuing discussion illustrates that it's a hard answer to find the right inclusive langauge.)

And I agree with the point that others have made here that if one is designing a survey, maybe just don't ask gender. Or allow for Other and freeform text entry. I also like nikaspark's suggestion to have both "cis" and "trans" checkboxes, neither of which is required. At some point you gotta ask yourself WHY you're asking gender. If it's a gendered event, why? If the gender question is for diversity-related reporting and/or initiatives, why not just report on all attendees? It's a fraught context for a reason and it might be possible to avoid it altogether.

A) I think "non-binary" is a very inclusive category and I tend to think that anyone who wants to self-identify as non-binary should be welcome to do so. It's a very loose association/community in my experience, but there is a community, and most of us seem to be disposed to welcoming new folks. That said, the cis folks can react extremely negatively and almost irrationally about it. So I would counsel more along the lines of being aware of that if they don't expect you to choose that identification.

B) Yup. But I also understand that in the tension of survey design, data gathering, data cleaning, and data handling, just having a trinary of choices is among the possible answers to this muddy situation/context.

C) You are not entirely correct here. If a data analyst needs the data on trans attendees, there may be other ways to handle the data. That data doesn't map to M/F traditional categories is true, but an analyst might choose to run various data cleaning routines to split out "other" or "non-binary" categories, or to handle available or derivable data in nonstandard ways. It depends entirely on the priorities of the analyst, their managers/supervisors, and the design of and handling of the analytics. Also sometimes people poll for data and do not report on it for other reasons. So the process is never clear.

D) There are lots of options here, not limited to language. You might also encourage them to promote the event at other non-masculine contexts, to show up at conference panels about diversity and promote there. To network with non-masculine professional associations and/or related social gatherings. It matters and depends on more than promoting a single event. If real change is sought, then the folks seeking the change need to show real interest in changing how they do the whole thing, not a single event. That said, to the language specifically, there are also many options, and it requires some thought. I like stoneweaver's suggestion, and agree about feather ruffling. If the intent here is not to center cis-masculine folks' feelings, then don't cater to them.
posted by kalessin at 7:51 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


As an organizer of an online group that caters to not-cis-men alumni of an engineering program, and as a member of similar groups run by other people, I've seen this come up a lot in terms of naming and I've seen a few interesting discussions with varying points come up.

From the perspective of various gender minorities, I've seen comments along the lines of:
- Some trans women feel quite strongly that they only want to identify as women, not requiring any special separate modifier, and that explicitly saying "women + trans women" is othering them
- Other trans women, and trans men generally, want it explicitly mentioned to know whether or not they are welcome, since just seeing "women" doesn't necessarily signal safety if they don't know the opinions of the organizers
- Non-binary/intersex folks just want a place where they know they'll be welcome

From the perspective of organizers, I've seen comments along the lines of:
- Wanting to signal welcoming and acceptance
- Wanting to make sure they're using the generally accepted correct terminology/language
- Wanting to provide enough information for people to determine whether or not this is a group they will benefit from joining (e.g. people who identify strongly as masculine may decide they won't get much out of a group where the conversation/activities fall along strongly stereotypically feminine lines)
- Not wanting to inadvertently provide an opening to cis men wanting to be assholes and "prove a point"

Solutions I've seen for naming:
- As in the case of the group I organize, just listing it all out to the best of their ability - "Women, Trans, and Non-Binary Folks" - after consultation with members
- Another org that was called "She Geeks Out" now calls itself "She+ Geeks Out" after consultation with their members

Solutions I've seen for collecting data:
- Attempt to list every possible identity for people to choose from, or
- As MetaFilter does, just make it a text field

I think part of the problem is that at the moment the language we as a society are using to talk about this is still developing, and that process is just messy. I think that in general most of us who are making decisions about naming or data collection are very willing to hear feedback about whether or not we've gotten it right (or, if not right, as optimal as possible). I realize this is unpaid labor demanded of you and others and that sucks but until there is The One True Way Everyone Agrees On that is easy for organizers to find, you will run in to a lot of situations where folks have done their best with the information they can find/hear from those with skin in the game yet still don't address everyone. I honestly don't know what the alternative is.
posted by olinerd at 8:46 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


An addendum to D), and your [] parenthetical comment at the end, OP:
[That the intellectual labor to figure this out correctly falls to me, the one trans person, has not excaped my notice.]

Another way that these folks can "lean in" with respect to doing the right thing in this course of action is to pay you for your labor and expertise. If you do make headway with them regarding doing more than the trivial work of changing a sentence or two of their invitation, you might consider asking for an honorarium of some sort. It's not the honorarium that matters as much as changing their culture and getting them to realize that foisting problems off on minorities for their expertise is only part of the equation of dismantling the power dynamic. Another part is paying minority experts for their labor/expertise instead of taking that help for granted.
posted by kalessin at 9:42 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


- Another org that was called "She Geeks Out" now calls itself "She+ Geeks Out" after consultation with their members

I'll note that I interpret this sort of thing as only including people whose genders are woman-adjacent-ish.

(I might feel differently if it was an alumni thing for a program for women acknowledging that we didn't all turn out to be women. But really, while I have gone to events for such a program since transitioning, that particular space is no longer a space to serve me and I calibrate my participation to that of the handful of affiliated cis men. I have a markably different experience than that of the cis men, but also markably different to that of the women.)
posted by hoyland at 10:49 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


I'll note that I interpret this sort of thing as only including people whose genders are woman-adjacent-ish.

This is something I struggle with a lot too--I best describe my identity as "nonbinary female" and definitely NOT "woman" but I also think that e.g. not talking about "women's health" or "women's rights" erases the fact that most of the issues there are about the oppression of women for being women. And so I think that "women and nonbinary" spaces usually are an attempt--a hamfisted one--to say "people whose genders are woman-adjacent-ish, and are therefore affected by issues affecting women qua women". I think the "women and gender minorities" language is decent.
posted by capricorn at 11:14 AM on March 13 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I mean in both cases these are groups with the shared experience of being perceived as women by the tech industry, which as pointed out is distinctly different from being a gender minority who is in the tech industry. I think the goal in both cases was most definitely to communicate "this is for anyone who thinks they will be served by this group as long as they aren't a cis dude" but a few trans men/trans masculine folks in at least the group I run have dropped out as they've found that they're better served by other groups with more relevant shared experiences. Which is different to the general question of "how to list out all the genders/identities accurately/inclusively", to be sure. But I think it is worth considering that when naming groups, the goals ("this is for these people" versus "this is for anyone described who believes they will be served by this particular type of affiliation") are as important to communicate as the membership "requirements".
posted by olinerd at 11:41 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Thank you all! This is all very useful and also reassuring. I hadn't realized how much non-binary is becoming the new umbrella term, but also appreciate that there is still nuance.
posted by lab.beetle at 12:36 PM on March 13


And so I think that "women and nonbinary" spaces usually are an attempt--a hamfisted one--to say "people whose genders are woman-adjacent-ish, and are therefore affected by issues affecting women qua women".

I'm struggling to know how to take this comment. My gender is decidedly not "woman-adjacent-ish" even if I was AFAB. That means I don't need to be centered in conversations about women's health and reproductive rights (and I say this aware of just how much I'm commenting this thread, as I'm debating whether I was just misgendered), though I'll admit having my existence remembered now and then is nice.
posted by hoyland at 3:18 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


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