March 24, 2014 4:08 pm
To mark International Women’s Day, I wrote an article about gender neutral language, and gender neutral pronouns in particular. But gender neutral pronouns are not just an important issue for those fighting for gender equality; the use of pronouns is an everyday issue for transgender people and people who have non-binary gender identities (do not identify solely as ‘male’ or ‘female’).
It can be very upsetting for a trans woman to be referred to as ‘he’, or a trans man to be misgendered as ‘she’, and some transgender people prefer gender neutral pronouns. Many transgender people have a hard time getting family and friends to adopt the right pronoun when they begin to transition to a different gender and can face many obstacles when it comes to using their preferred pronoun and gender identity in paperwork and bureaucratic situations. However, things are slowly changing. On facebook at least, users now have the option of choosing which pronoun should be used about them: he, she or they. So far, this feature is only available to users of the US English version of facebook, but has been widely welcomed by LGBTQ groups.
And that’s not the only change facebook has made. Where before the choice was ‘male’ or ‘female’, users can now choose from a total of 56 new gender options, including, ‘agender’, ‘cisgender male’, ‘neutrois’, ‘gender fluid’ and ‘two-spirit’. There is also the option to not display any gender identity. Facebook worked in collaboration with trans activists and transgender people, in order to include a wide array of identities. The full list is:
Female to Male
Male to Female
These new features have generated a lot of column inches and thrown LGBTQ terminology into the limelight. This is an area that the terminology services of the EU have focused on recently, thanks to the EU’s commitment to human rights and the recent ‘EU Roadmap against homophobia’. TermCoord have run a multilingual project on LGBTQ terminology and you can find the list of terms, which have been researched and updated in IATE in all 24 languages, here: LGBT-project-terms. This project comprised 23 terms, but it is clear from the new facebook settings that there are plenty more terms and concepts to be researched on this topic! Here are some of the more interesting neologisms and innovations that facebook has included:
cis and trans
The term ‘cisgender’, often shortened to ‘cis’, has become more and more common recently, particularly among advocates of LGBT and transgender rights. It refers to someone who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth, in contrast to ‘transgender’, which refers someone who do not identify with the gender assigned to them at birth.
The asterisk at the end of ‘trans*’ is not a formatting error or a footnote! This unusual use of punctuation is an innovative way to ‘to actively include non-binary and/or non-static gender identities such as genderqueer and genderfluid’. The origin of the asterisk in trans* comes from the use of asterisks as a wildcard in search engines; a search for ‘trans*’ will get results such as ‘transsexual’, ‘transgender’, ‘transition’, etc. Thus, the asterisk is used metaphorically to include all identities falling outside traditional gender norms. It goes unpronounced, though ‘trans asterisk’ or ‘trans star’ is sometimes said for clarification.
This is a term used by Native American societies to describe people with diverse gender identities, gender expressions, gender roles, and sexual orientations. Intersex, androgynous people, feminine males and masculine females have been held in high respect by many Native American tribes. They were sometimes viewed as having two spirits occupying one body and were known for their spiritual gifts. In the 20th-century, the influence of homophobic European Christian led to a decline in acceptance of two-spirit persons. However, a new respect for androgyny has started slowly re-emerging among American Indian people and many non-American Indians have gained more awareness American two-spirit traditions.
I had never come across this term before, which refers to a neutral or non-gendered identity and was coined as recently as 1995. The term is growing in use and its inclusion in the list of options will most likely spur more people to find out more about the concept.
The area of trans* terminology is fascinating and complex, and constantly evolving as transgendered people assert their rights and become more accepted by society. The spread of these terms acknowledges the variety and diversity of gender identities possible. While researching this article I found a quote that sums it up nicely:
You have the right to self identify however you wish. There is no gender police here – nobody to tell you what you are, how you are, or how you’re supposed to be. (…) There are as many ways of experiencing and expressing your gender as there are people.1
Goldman, R. Here’s a List of 58 Gender Options for Facebook Users. ABC News. http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2014/02/heres-a-list-of-58-gender-options-for-facebook-users/
(Photo : Mary Henderson)
Article written by Sarah O’Farrell, translator and terminologist at the Terminology Coordination Unit.
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Categorised in: Linguistics