Position Statement on Gender Inclusive Language

Position Statement on Gender Inclusive Language

Posted on September 9, 2015 by Indra 

Elephant Circle applauds MANA and the revised core competencies as they take a pioneering step in recognizing gender fluidity during pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding.

The same elements that threaten holistic care for pregnant and birthing folks also perpetuate violence against trans, queer and non-gender conforming people. These systems include, but are not limited to, profit-based, industrialized medical care, colonialism, sexism and patriarchy. When gender-nonconforming folks are also people of color, low-income or disabled folks, they disproportionately experience discrimination. As a result we are committed to promoting the additive use of gender-neutral language in traditionally woman-centric movements (birth and reproductive justice) because doing so disrupts those systems and supports gender liberation.

Though this conversation feels new to some, gender-fluidity has been acknowledged and accepted in cultures all over the globe for thousands of years. In addition, contemporary health studies demonstrate that such competence is essential in health care and without it, this population delays care, decreasing their overall physical and mental well-being. In addition, the NIH has opened major lines of funding in response to an Institute of Medicine report that detailed the disparities experienced by LGBTQ folks accessing health care. This position is based on best-practices, extensive research, reflection on history and an understanding of what we know about sex and gender today.

Biologic sex is defined as male and female; despite this apparent binary, biology is rarely a simple dichotomy and sex is no exception. There is no benefit to women when we obscure or hide this scientific fact; many women have experienced the acute harm that comes from receiving inaccurate information about our bodies. The fact that sex is not a binary may be easier to see in other species, like this amazing butterfly exhibiting a third sex:  

Click here to read more about this rare and beautiful butterfly

Humans also exhibit this kind of sex variation. In addition to intersex people, just think of the wide variability (phenotypically and physiologically) between and among humans whose sex is male and those whose sex is female. This beautiful range and complexity is further enhanced by gender. Gender is an identity, and it’s not synonymous with sex. ”Woman” refers to gender and is not the same as “female.” Cis-gendered women are females who identify with the qualities generally associated with women. But not all females identify as woman, nor do all females share the same physiology or phenotype. For some, gender is best described as a spectrum. For many folks it is fluid and each individual defines and expresses their gender for themselves.

Pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding are times when biologic changes and social expectations can affect our perception of gender. For some, feeling and being perceived as “more womanly” is positive and affirming. For others, this shift in gender perception (our own and others’ of us) can feel overwhelming and difficult, and this can impact the experience of being pregnant (even if it is welcomed or planned). Birth, with its exquisite requirement of vulnerability and female-bodied action, pushes these gender boundaries even further for those whose sex is not binary or who do not experience their gender as such. Unaddressed, these tensions can negatively affect birth.

Birthworkers should have competency about sex and gender. Not only for the benefit of the pregnant individual, but for the benefit of the entire family system, including infants born with variations in sex anatomy. Modeling competency with inclusive language in no way undermines or eliminates the primacy of women in birth. For those who have practices that mainly or only serve women, using gendered terminology will make sense. Using gender-neutral language in no way forces people to eliminate woman from their vocabulary. It just sets a standard for birthworkers to be professionals with the expertise to serve a wide range of people.

We understand the fear of erasure. But we don’t win the fight for women by erasing others who also lack a place/name/voice. Elephant Circle is led and supported by diverse group of people including queer and genderqueer folks. We offer educational and consulting services to providers who want to facilitate gender competency in the support of queer, trans and gender-fluid families. We believe that language can create inclusivity and build community. Inclusive language can be added to current language without subtracting anyone. We have found that families respond positively to inclusive language, even when none of them identify as trans or gender-non-conforming. Our standard is humanity.

Elephant Circle’s name comes from the behavior seen when a female elephant is in labor. The herd surrounds her in a circle of protection and defense. This concept drives our work and is one of our founding principles: to circle around strong people during vulnerable times. One way that we circle around is by naming, recognizing, and using inclusive language. We don’t marginalize the minority status of minorities just because they’re rare, we add them to the center.