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  • Writer's pictureBridie Daniels

How to Welcome Trans People to Gender-Specific Spaces

We live in a society that puts a lot of focus on the gender binary, and that can be very isolating for the individuals who sit at either end. I know what you're thinking, "surely gender-specific events can only reinforce the gender binary?", and they definitely can. However, they can also provide a space for people to connect and get to know each other outside of the expectations they may be held to at home or in their professional lives. *Especially if these events are trans inclusive.

I firmly believe that any and all gender-specific clubs, groups, and events should be trans-inclusive by default, but experience has taught me that you can never be sure. Showing up to a gender-specific space as a trans person can be a safety risk, which is why it is vital that organisers sign-post their projects as safe spaces. But how do you do that without singling trans people out?

Inclusive Language

When used effectively, the right language can communicate a wealth of meaning in a just few words. It's important to be careful with our language though, so as to not accidentally imply meaning that we had no intention of conveying.

Messaging along the lines of "wo/men and trans wo/men welcome" may look inclusive at first glance, but it can leave a bad taste in trans people's mouths. This kind of language can be perceived as placing trans people as a sub-division of their genders. It can leave them feeling less-than or like they'll never truly be accepted as men or women. Equally, saying that "wo/men of all gender identities" are welcome might feel appropriate, but the word "identity" can be a point of contention, as a lot of transphobia is rooted in the idea that being trans is a choice.

If you've gotten this far and you're feeling indignant because you don't like being told what not to do, just hang fire before you Tweet about how "all this gender stuff is a bloody minefield". I implore you to stick around for the next section because I'm about to give you some short and simple suggestions that'll make using gender-inclusive language so easy that even a child could do it!

"What Should I Say?"

You've just had a crash course in the impact your words can have on trans people and now you're wondering what's next. While I can't promise you one specific set of magic words that'll make your messaging the epitome of inclusivity, you could certainly try one of the following.

Trans-Inclusive: It's generally fine to sign post an event as "trans inclusive". There's much less of a chance that your messaging will be perceived as othering towards trans individuals when they're not being held up next to or in direct comparison to cis people in the title or key messaging. Just a small line in a description or graphical flare on a poster is all it takes to let trans people know they're welcome.

LGBTQIA+ Friendly: To avoid singling out trans people, you could say that your event is LGBTQIA+ friendly. If you're not some kind of hate group, there aren't many events that wouldn't fall into this category by default. The only time that "LGBTQIA+ friendly" might not apply as a blanket term is if your event or group had a focus on making a certain type of romantic connection.

"All Wo/Men Welcome": Saying that all women or all men are welcome is probably one of the most inclusive ways to indicate that your event is trans-friendly. It doesn't suggest that trans people are in any way different or separate to cis people, and it can also be inclusive to people whose genders fluctuate or change.

Mind the Non-Binaries

As an agender individual, I'd be remiss if I didn't make a point of being mindful about how you welcome and include non-binary people. A lot of well-meaning attempts to be inclusive end up lumping non-binary people in with one gender of another, which is antithetical to the concept of existing outside of the gender binary in the first place.

When you run a gender-specific event and then say something like "women and non-binary people welcome", it can often read like you think non-binary people are a type of women. Some people jokingly refer to this kind of messaging as implying that non-binary people are "woman-lite". Inclusion in gender-specific events can also be quite confusing to non-binary people in general. Since there's no one way to be non-binary, it's hard to know if the invitation really extends to how you experience and present your gender (or lack thereof).

For an agender person like me, I'd worry about attending an event where men were talking about the struggles they experience with communication or expressing their feelings because of their gender, because that's just not something I'd be able to identify with at all. A gender-queer person who doesn't present femininely and uses he/him pronouns might be concerned that his appearance or pronoun use will be interpreted as too masculine for events catering to women and non-binary people even though he technically fits into that category.

There's no catch-all solution when it comes to welcoming non-binary people to gender-specific spaces. Honestly, from an organisational perspective, it might be worth considering if this is appropriate at all. It's perfectly fine to have women/men only events in the same way that it is fine to have non-binary only events.

With that in mind, it's also important to note there are groups or events that are founded for the purposes of providing a safe space away from the patriarchy. These events may only welcome women and non-binary people, but they may also extend the invitation to trans men. That's a complicated group to define without making blanket statements or broad assumptions about people's genders. In these instances, it may be appropriate to avoid mentioning specific genders (or lack thereof) by name and, instead, use the term "marginalised genders".

Be Open to Change

Just as our understanding of the world around us changes and evolves, so must the language that we use to define it. Many words and terms that were acceptable a few years ago are wildly inappropriate today. That being said, I feel like the language of gender is held up to a lot of scrutiny for changing and developing by people who feel begrudged at the notion of keeping up with it.

However, when we realise that this is something we do with all language (not just terms related to gender), we stop viewing learning as a chore, and we accept growth and change as a natural part our lives, we open ourselves up to a much greater understanding of people as whole and demonstrate our respect for minorities through a willingness to listen and learn.

*Note: I want to be clear that it is never the responsibility of any individual from a minority group to educate a member of a majority group on subjects such as gender, race, class, etc., just that there are occasions where a member of a majority can then go on to change their views or educate themselves as a by-product of sharing spaces with individuals from minority groups.

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