Have you ever noticed that a lot of language anatomy isn’t very gender-inclusive? Today there is a lot more acceptance and discussion of the different gender identities that exist. As a society, we have begun to examine what do we really know about gender, sexuality, and anatomy. Historically, scientists looked at nature and only recorded what validated their base assumptions. Anything that didn’t fit into this mold was classified as “an anomaly” with no further investigation. Today many scientific fields of research are re-evaluating these “anomalies” and finding that they aren’t really one-offs and random occurrences. Nature is filled with examples of multiple sexes in nature and a variety of species that can change sex.
Research into the social concepts of gender among human cultures across the world has also found it’s not the black and white world many people are raised to believe. Many scientists acknowledge that gender identity has more to do with what’s in our head than what genitals we have. Cultures throughout history have acknowledged the existence of anywhere from 2 to 6 genders. It has only been with the strict enforcement of colonial culture in many places that these ideas were forced into the binary that many people were taught gender is. So how can we remain gender-inclusive in our language when discussing biological sex?
Outdated Language Leaves People Out
Our society has entwined biological sex and gender so closely that we have hamstrung ourselves in our ability to communicate effectively about these ideas. Traditionally, genitals are often referred to as female or male. These two terms are also often used interchangeably when discussing gender. Once we start discussing gender identities that don’t match anatomy we start running into some serious limitations. Exclusively describing anatomy through the use of gendered words shuts down the possibility of discussion and development of new concepts and ideas for most people.
For those who are not cis-gendered, it is another reminder of their differences. Differences that many of those who are not cis-gendered still struggle with due to the prevalence of misinformation, discrimination, and rejection in our society. What words we choose to use plays a role in creating safe spaces for individuals of any gender. It determines if those individuals feel welcome and safe to access recreational public spaces such as pools or even essential services such as healthcare.
Creating New Language to Be Gender-Inclusive
So how can we talk about sexual health, anatomy, and biological sex while remaining gender-inclusive? A tricky question with no real answers. There is a body of research examining the challenges use of gendered terms for anatomy presents but we have yet to develop any new language to address these issues.
There is the approach of removing the gendered terms from the discussion. We can refer to anatomy in terms of the anatomy itself, penis or vulva, instead of using gendered terms such as male and female. This can start to feel complicated and in some cases, excessively wordy if we are exploring a concept around sexual health. Our current language is far too limited to express the nuance of meaning that would be inclusive to anyone reading a general text. We need to start adapting language to be relevant as our understanding of the world and nature of gender evolves. Sometimes this means creating new terminology and language.
One way people have started to talk about anatomy is by identifying the sex organ followed by person or people. Instead of saying male and female genitalia, we can instead refer to it as penis and vulva genitalia respectively. When we start talking about people with and what kind of anatomy they have, instead of using gendered terms we can use “person” or “people” as needed. If we need to make a general statement about men or women that is inclusive, we can say penis people or vulva people.
Is It Censorship of Men or Women? Or Inclusivity?
There are those who feel that uses inclusive language is undermining the validity of men, women, or both. In many areas of the world, the fight for gender equality is still ongoing. Some people believe that being inclusive of genders beyond men and women is undermining the fight for the equality of women.
Not only is this untrue but it’s a bit of a ridiculous notion. It’s the equivalent of saying that using language that is inclusive of all the colors of the world is denying that white or black exist. Depending on what theory of color you want to look at, all the different colors can be described as either white or black. Arguments can be made that both are either the absence or composite of all the colors. Would you want to live in a world that has no color? A world that is only black or white? Just because there are many colors in the world doesn’t mean that there isn’t a time and place for just black or just white… It just acknowledges that there are also a time and a place for just blue or just green.
Accepting the presence of color is no different than accepting different genders. Different genders don’t invalidate the existence or experience of other genders. Talking about genitalia and sexual health in a way that removes gendered language isn’t censoring other genders, it’s being gender-inclusive. When we talk about individuals or a group of people that have an identified gender, then it’s appropriate to still use the correct gendered term. Being inclusive just means that we don’t make the assumption of someone’s gender when talking to a general audience.
Growing Past Incorrect Historical Assumptions
Our history is littered with examples of things we once believed to be true that have turned out to be incorrect or incomplete. We once believed that semen was more crucial than blood and controlled all of the bodies crucial functions or that all the planets and stars revolved around the earth. As we have made scientific and medical breakthroughs we have had to redefine what everyone thought to be true to fit the new discoveries we have made about our world. Change is often uncomfortable but it is a necessary part of our evolution and survival. As we continue to expand our knowledge we can continue to grow as people and as a society.
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