Uplifting Diverse Genders: Beyond “Women and Non-Binary”

Photo by Karina Carvalho on Unsplash

Pitfall #1: Including non-binary people in feminine coded spaces perpetuates the misconception that all non-binary people identify with aspects of femininity.

Non-binary people have a variety of identities. They can feel masculine, feminine, neither, both, fluid — the list goes on. This means that equating non-binary people with women may work for some individuals, but leaves out many more.

While it’s admirable that so many organizations are seeking to be more inclusive of non-binary people, this language has the opposite effect, lumping people into the binary that they are trying to escape in the first place.

This problem is magnified when a group states that they include non-binary people but has a female coded name like “Women In ___”. While it’s admirable that so many organizations are seeking to be more inclusive of non-binary people, this language has the opposite effect, lumping people into the binary that they are trying to escape in the first place.

Pitfall #2: Focusing only on non-binary people and women leaves out trans men, who are often overlooked and need just as much support.

Trans men are in a uniquely difficult situation when it comes to diversity initiatives. Trans men have often experienced years of discrimination and disadvantages due to society perceiving them as female, but once they come out as male, they can no longer access the career support they need. While some trans men may eventually experience aspects of male privilege, many others don’t “pass” as male and are often still effectively treated as women in the workplace.

The solution to these problems is surprisingly straightforward: just change your language!

Before I dive into the details on how to do that, I want to be give an important disclaimer: If the goal of your initiative is only to include women, that’s acceptable as long as you aren’t limiting the opportunity to cis women. There is a need for women to have their own safe spaces, just as there’s a need for non-binary people, POC, and other minority groups to have places to discuss their specific experiences.

If the goal of your initiative is only to include women, that’s acceptable as long as you aren’t limiting the opportunity to cis women.

However, if your goals are to appeal to people of all marginalized genders, then make sure that your language signals that appropriately. To do this, I advocate for sticking to the following rules:

Rule #1: Remove gendered terms from your group’s name.

For example, Instead of “Women In Games”, you could say “Diverse Genders In Games” or “Marginalized Genders In Games”. This rule also applies to names that don’t explicitly say “Women” but are still coded feminine. For example, a transmasculine person may not feel comfortable attending a group called Code Cuties, but might feel more welcome if it was called Code Picnic. Updating your organization’s name to remove gendered connotations not only makes trans and non-binary people feel more welcome, but can also be more inviting to cis women who don’t like to be identified by their “cuteness” or femininity.

Rule #2: Avoid language that lumps non-binary people in with a binary gender.

Instead of “We’re looking for proposals from women and non-binary people,” you could say “We’re looking for proposals from creators with underrepresented genders. This includes cis women, trans women, trans men, non-binary people, and those who are otherwise marginalized.”

Rule #3: Be specific about who is included in your mission statement.

Being specific in your mission statement makes it clear to marginalized people that they’re welcome and safe in your environment. As a trans or gender variant person, seeing someone explicitly state that you’re included can alleviate a huge amount of worry about participating in a social situation. If your initiative is solely for women, be clear that this includes trans women. If your initiative is for all marginalized genders, be clear that everyone is welcome including non-binary people, trans men, and those who may be questioning their gender.

Rule #4: Use inclusive language when communicating with group members.

Great! You’ve followed rules 1–3 and have a variety of awesome gender-variant people in your organization. Now, in order to keep them there, you’ll need to think critically about the language you use when interacting with your network.

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Quinn Crossley

Quinn Crossley

Quinn (they/them) is an award-winning game designer and inclusivity advocate. Follow them on Twitter @quinnytown.