Easing Gender Transition in the Workplace, Part III: Language Matters 

A trans-inclusive workplace, featuring a woman talking on a phone and writing notes at a standup desk. Promoting a blog post on supporting gender transition at work
A quick guide on terminology and inclusive language at work

If you are part of a team that includes someone who is going through a gender transition, this series is for you! Today we are going to cover some terminology that is good to know when practicing LGBT allyship, which is highly important when supporting someone going through transition. 

Language can evolve quickly, and it can at times be challenging to keep up with the most appropriate and widely accepted terminology. It is key to good allyship to keep an open mind and remember that feedback from others is one of the greatest ways for us to learn and be allies to people who are different from ourselves. 

Recall from Part I that when talking about your coworker’s gender identity and transition, follow their lead about the language they are using to describe their experience. They are, after all, the ultimate expert on their own identity. In Part II we covered some of the basics for preparing other staff members to welcome the transitioning employee’s new identity in a kind and informed way. Today we are going to cover some definitions and terms that are good to know about when practicing allyship with your trans coworkers (and others!), and answer some common questions that may arise as well. 

Note: The terms covered in this blog post are for general knowledge and best practice when talking about gender transition more broadly. Always defer to the language and terminology someone is using to describe themselves and their own experience when talking about them specifically. 

Supporting employees in gender transition starts with using gender inclusive language

Some basic terms to start with:

Assigned gender, gender assigned at birth: Typically determined by a doctor and/or parents of the person according to their physiology. This also typically informs how the person is socialized as they grow up, according to socially normalized, gender-based assumptions. 

Cisgender: an adjective which describes someone whose gender identity aligns with the gender they were assigned at birth. 

Transgender: an adjective which describes someone whose gender identity does not align with the gender they were assigned at birth. It is also appropriate to shorten this word to “trans”, for example: “Alex is a trans person”, or “Evelyn is trans.” Alternate terms someone may use to describe their gender include (but are not limited to) gender fluid, gender non-conforming, non-binary, agender. 

It is also highly important to remember that trans/transgender are adjectives, meaning they describe people or communities. Using “transgender” as a noun is derogatory. 

Transition: In the context of gender, transition is the change people make from identifying with the gender they were assigned at birth, to living in a way that affirms the gender identity that feels true to them, if there is a difference. 

Pronouns: These are the words that we use when referring to a person not by their name, in a way that also aligns with their gender identity (if we know it). For example: “Alex brought a salad to the potluck; make sure to give back their salad bowl before they leave!” or “Sarah dyed her hair over the weekend.”  Note that someone’s pronouns are the correct way to show them respect and refer to them accurately; a person’s pronouns are not preferred, they simply are. 

Affirmed name: This is the name that a person chooses to use instead of the name they were given at birth. It may be different from their legal name for a variety of reasons. This is also not exclusive to trans people: think of anyone you know who goes by an alternate name or a nickname — this could also be considered an affirmed name. Alternate terms for this include: chosen name, true name.

Deadname: This is the name that a trans person was called before they changed their name. Generally speaking, a deadname should never be used when talking about or identifying a trans person. Exceptions may be required if the person has not legally changed their name, such as on government documents or other official paperwork. Whenever possible, support and affirm the use of the trans person’s chosen name. 

At the end of the day, don’t sweat the small stuff. It may take time to (re)learn someone’s name and pronouns, and it is likely that you or your colleagues will make mistakes along the way. Give yourself and others the benefit of the doubt while you work on learning together. 

If you are searching for more ways to create and support an inclusive workplace for all, MT Consulting Group can help! Browse through our website for resources and information on our offerings for assessments, training, and more. 

Kristin Michelle is a small-fat, feminist, freelance writer. She can be found reading, writing, and fibercrafting at [at]ramblereader on Instagram

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