How to Speak Inclusively with Rach McBride
by Rach McBride, all images courtesy of Witsup.com
Ed. Note—at Wattie Ink., we've always been proud of representing the widest array of athletes as possible, and we're lucky that we get to work with pioneers in the sport such as Rach McBride and Cody Beals. Today we provide you some help in being a gender inclusive superhero, courtesy of everybody's favorite non-binary purple tiger, Rach McBride.
Badly needed conversations about inclusion in sport have exploded across society recently, a good step towards increasing awareness about how language can include and, unfortunately, exclude. You may even be wondering “why is this conversation important? What does it have to do with me?” Well, just as you would expect for yourself, everyone has a right to be respected and acknowledged. Everyone has a right to participate and feel welcome in sport and in society at large. The next generation of athletes want to see people like themselves in sport, the world of work, and in their local and national communities. By thinking about our words we can all be allies to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone. As a nonbinary professional athlete who also works as a sexual health educator, the topic of gender inclusion in the binary world of sport is close to my heart—it’s something I think about and deal with every day. Today I hope to provide you with a few concepts to think about as you move through the world and some easy, helpful tips you can use to help create a more inclusive space for people of all genders.
Sex vs. Gender
I think one important misconception (and one of my biggest pet peeves!) is that the words sex and gender are interchangeable. Along with this binary view comes comments such as “there are only two genders” or “you were born this way so this is what you should go by.” Let’s quickly clear this one up with some definitions (quoted from Genderbread.org):
“Sex (sometimes called biological sex, anatomical sex or physical sex) is comprised of things like genitals, chromosomes, hormones, body hair, and more. But one thing it’s not: gender.”
“Gender identity: Your psychological sense of self. Who you, in your head, know yourself to be, based on how much you align (or don’t align) with what you understand to be the options for gender.”
As someone who identifies as nonbinary, this means my gender identity is something outside of the gender binary of man or woman. It does not say anything about my sex: the body, genitals, or chromosomes I have. In short: gender as we know it has been created and defined by humans, so it is also something we can deconstruct and define for ourselves. This includes choosing pronouns that best reflect each individual’s identity.
ASK AND SHARE PRONOUNS!
We frequently make assumptions about people’s pronouns. Next time you walk down the street, be conscious of how you may be labelling others you see. Are you automatically assigning she and he pronouns to everyone? Presuming someone’s pronouns based on their gender expression (outward appearance, behaviour, mannerisms, etc.) creates a dynamic that assumes a person needs to look a certain way to “fit” into a certain gender category. Probably often your assumptions would be correct—many people’s pronouns do align with their gender expression, but an increasing portion of the population do not. Using someone’s correct pronouns not only shows respect, but it also validates that person’s existence. When someone uses they/them pronouns for me, I feel a wonderful sense of being seen and respected. It is powerful. It gives me a sense of gender euphoria. This is probably something many of you reading this don’t often have to experience: the dysphoria of being assumed you are a gender you are not. What’s dysphoria? Well, you can probably guess, but it’s the opposite of euphoria or, in other words, it doesn’t feel good at all.
So what would it be like to change that perspective walking down the street? Or when talking about or to people who’s pronouns you don’t know? Instead of assuming pronouns for individuals or groups of people, it’s helpful to use something gender neutral like they/them or simply ask if the person is in front of you. Offer your own as well. “I use [he/she/they] pronouns. What pronouns do you go by?”
“BUT USING THEY/THEM PRONOUNS IS GRAMMATICALLY INCORRECT!”
Short answer: no. We use the singular they/them/their all the time. For example: “Someone left their bag in the hallway...Can you tell that person to come here, I have something to tell them.” Also, do we speak the same English that was spoken even a few generations ago? Nope. Why? Just like technology, fashion, and our DNA: language evolves. Don’t just take my word for it. Here’s what the experts are saying:
“As of 2019, most big style guides—including the Associated Press, the Chicago Manual of Style, the MLA Style Manual, and the APA Style Manual—accept the usage of the singular they. Whether they approve of it as an indefinite singular pronoun, a specific person’s preferred pronoun, or both, all of these manuals concede that using they as a singular pronoun has a place in our modern world. Merriam-Webster even designated the singular 'they' as their 2019 Word of the Year.”
“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS…”
Start to observe where you use gendered language when it’s completely unnecessary. How often has someone gone up to a start line or group of people and said “Hey ladies!” or “Hey guys!” Hm, where does this nonbinary tiger fit into that greeting? Unfortunately, I don’t! Hearing things like this makes me feel invisible, like I don’t fit in. It’s so easy to simply use non-gendered terms like friends, athletes, participants, folks, or people. You can often hear me saying “hey kids!” as a term of endearment to my peeps.
WE ALL MAKE MISTAKES
I hear from a lot of folks—event organizers, allies, friends and family—that they are afraid of making mistakes or saying the wrong thing. That’s totally OK. We are perfectly imperfect. If you catch yourself making assumptions, misgendering someone, or getting corrected by someone, simply apologize (just once! Or it starts to get awkward), make the correction, and move on. NBD. The fact that you are aware and trying makes all the difference in the world.
Now that you are loaded with the tools to become a gender inclusion super hero, you might start to pick up on gendered spaces and language that don’t need to be. It is so helpful when my friends and allies can step up and suggest to event organizers, gyms, pools, etc. that maybe this single-person bathroom doesn’t need to be gendered, or this gendered change room sign can indicate that it also welcomes gender-diverse individuals, or this race website could use a gender-neutral “participants” instead of “men and women.”
Gender is an incredible rainbow. Language is powerful. Sport can change lives. There is nothing more amazing than every individual out in the world and participating in sport as their most authentic selves. Small acts of compassion and inclusion can make all the difference in the world. Thanks, kids! ;)