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Gender-Friendly Language: How to Talk about Partners

It’s important for us, as a society, to use gender-friendly language when we’re talking about partners. Lee Airton, author of GENDER: YOUR GUIDE, discusses the terminology and phrases you should use!

While many people choose gender-neutral terms like partner when talking about their own relationships, a gender-friendly practice is using gender-neutral language when you ask or speak about others’ relationships. For example, let’s say your acquaintance mentions they’re going on a date or seeing someone, but doesn’t offer any other information. A classic experience of many non-heterosexual men is people automatically using she/her pronouns to refer to that someone, and vice versa for non-heterosexual women. This is frustrating because it presumes that anyone they’d be dating is necessarily of the “opposite sex,” or that the person is necessarily straight. In these instances it’s more gender-friendly to use singular they and gender-neutral terms for others’ unspecified partners or dates. This doesn’t tell them who you think they are, which in this case means who you think they should desire or date. Using gender-neutral language also holds open the possibility that their partner or date is a non binary person. As you know by now, this might just be the case!

So, here’s the tip, condensed: when asking or talking about another person’s special someone, use gender-neutral language until you have more information. This means using partner, date, “person you’re seeing,” they/them, etc. You’ll learn soon enough, by listening and mirroring a person’s own language use, which terms are warranted. Here are some extensions of this tip:

  • Parents, you send valuable and generous messages to your kids about their own life possibilities when you use gender-neutral language for other people’s partners, or pause and ask which pronouns are appropriate in a conversation. You can also use gender-neutral language to ask about your kids’ friends and their friends’ friends, whether platonic or romantic. This is perhaps the most important relationship in which to send a message that “gender is not the only thing I care about.” After all, researchers have repeatedly found that supportive parent and family relationships are key protective factors for gender- and sexual-minority youth.

To learn more about Gender pick up a copy of GENDER: YOUR GUIDE by Lee Airton!

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For more on Tips on Life & Love: Janet Mock: How I Came Out as a Transgender Woman

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Excerpted from Gender: Your Guide by Lee Airton. Copyright © 2018 by author. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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