Conscious language should be considered every day of the year, but there are particular times when it is important to focus on the communities which are so often targetted by harmful language. So, for Pride Month, I have compiled a list of terms that you should consider when discussing the LGBT+ community. These are also included in my PerfectIt conscious language style sheet, which you can download here!
LGBT+ Conscious Language
Admitted/avowed homosexual: This term is not used as much now as it once was, but it can still be a way to imply that someone has to ‘admit’ to their sexuality as if it is wrong. Better alternatives are ‘openly lesbian/gay/bisexual’ and so forth.
Bathroom bill: Using this term focuses on only one of the many instances in which transgender people are still discriminated against, keeping the conversation from expanding to others. Use ‘Non-discrimination law/ordinance’ instead.
Became a man/woman: Transgender people within the gender binary do not ‘become’ a man or woman; they were always so.
Biological female/male, born a boy/girl: Addressing the gender a transgender person was assigned at birth should always be done with caution. Some will prefer to not discuss it, so do it only if necessary and with the language they prefer.
Both genders/sexes: Gender and sex are a spectrum, so ‘all genders/sexes’.
Brothers and sisters/ladies and gentlemen: Always look out for language such as this that sticks to the gender binary and can easily be replaced with more inclusive terms, such as ‘siblings’ and ‘everyone’.
Deviant/diseased: Often used to describe LGBT+ people, these terms imply that they are less than human/mentally ill/a danger to society.
Dyke/Queer: Both these terms have historically been used as slurs against lesbians/LGBT+ people in general, but they have recently been reclaimed by some of the community. However, they should still be used with caution: some lesbians will self-identify as dykes, but not all, and the same happens with LGBT+ people and ‘queer’. As with most descriptive terms in this context, the preference of the person in question should always take precedence.
Effeminate: Often used as a slur, particularly against gay men. Even in other contexts, it implies having stereotypically feminine traits is bad.
Enby: Should be replaced with ‘non-binary’ when writing to a general audience. Also, not all non-binary people identify with/use the term.
Fag/faggot: Needless to say these are derogatory, and should only be used in quotes to reveal bias (or avoided altogether).
Female/male/preferred pronouns: Pronouns are not inherently gendered or exclusive to a certain gender, and neither are they a preference (which implies that others are also accepted). ‘Personal pronouns’ is the better choice.
Feminine hygiene: ‘Menstrual hygiene’, ‘menstrual products’. Menstrual cycles are not exclusive to women, and not all women menstruate, so equating them with femininity/womanhood is incorrect.
Gay agenda: Portrays the pursuit of equal opportunity as sinister. The issue being tackled should be accurately described instead.
Gender identity disorder: Outdated term. Use ‘gender dysphoria’.
Hermaphrodite: Should not be used in reference to people. ‘Intersex person’, ‘gender non-conforming’, ‘gender variant’, genderfluid’.
High-risk group: When discussing HIV/AIDS, this term implies that membership of a particular group rather than behaviour is the significant factor in HIV transmission. ‘High-risk behaviour’, ‘affected communities’.
LGBT: LGBT or any of its acronym variants should not be used as a synonym for ‘gay’, as they include trans/ace/intersex people.
Pre/Post-op: When referring to trans people, genital surgery is a private, medical matter, is rarely relevant, and many trans people do not/cannot undergo it. Also often used to imply that trans people that do not have surgery are less than others.
Sexual preference: Implies sexuality is a conscious choice. ‘Sexual orientation’.
Womxn: Meant as an inclusive term, ‘womxn’ is considered by many to be harmful and othering towards trans women.
Sofia Matias is a professional writer, editor and proofreader. She specialises in working with independent authors of Young Adult and genre fiction, publishers and publications. She is an Intermediate Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP). Learn more about her and her services on her website and connect via Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram.
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