Understanding evolving gender terminology
Two internal experts share their insights about how to use inclusive language.
The dialogue around diversity and identity is broad and expanding, and it will continue to change over time. Words matter, and the labels we give ourselves can be a source of empowerment, autonomy, and visibility.
For example, in the LGBTQIA+ community, the word “queer” was and still can be a very painful reminder of a time when it was used as an epithet to exclude and harm. At the same time, some members of the community consider it to be empowering.
The word has a complicated history, and its reclamation by some members of the community still does not resonate for all. Yet it is still a term that many turn to as a way to get rid of harsh divisions and respectfully encompass the community as a whole. At Momentive, we use “queer” as an inclusive term—a term of respect and support that refers to those who fall outside of heterosexual or cisgender identities. Our LGBTQIA+ employee resource group even chose a name that embodies this reclamation: The Queerious.
The words we use today may one day no longer feel accurate, so we will keep checking in and considering them as our company evolves. Today in 2022, we use the following terms at Momentive to talk about and measure the gender diversity of our workforce. We hope this can spark a similar conversation about gender diversity in your own organization.
- Cisgender man or woman: A term for people whose gender identity, expression or behavior aligns with those typically associated with their assigned gender at birth. It is the accepted term for people who are not transgender.
- Nonbinary: People have a gender identity that does not fit into the male/female binary. They are often included under the umbrella term of transgender, a community that refers to people whose gender identity does not correspond with the gender they were assigned at birth. While transgender and nonbinary people are often discussed as a group, there are many distinct genders within this group.
- Transgender man or woman: Refers to people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned gender at birth. Transgender is a broad, umbrella term and is good for non-transgender people to use. “Trans” is shorthand for transgender. (Note: Transgender is correctly used as an adjective, not a noun or verb, thus “transgender people” is appropriate but “transgenders” and “transgendered” are often viewed as disrespectful.) Transgender, as an umbrella term, encompasses transgender people (the term “transsexual” is considered inappropriate by most), nonbinary people, genderqueer people and other gender-nonconforming people.
- Gender: Refers specifically to the behavioral, cultural, psychological or social traits typically associated with one sex, rather than biological characteristics.
- Gender identity: Refers to a person’s internal sense of gender (e.g. male, female, nonbinary, or something else). Since gender identity is internal, one’s gender identity is not necessarily visible or obvious to others.
- Prefer not to say: Prefers not to share one’s gender or gender identity.
However we talk about gender and gender diversity, at the end of the day the most important thing is that we lead with respect. Our language may change, but our core value to elevate and honor all voices will not.