INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE RESPONSE By Jean Peterson, Region V Archives Volunteer

I appreciated the Inclusive Language and Practice Convocation and related to the dilemma we encounter when filling out forms asking for “marital status” that do not provide appropriate options to fill in.  This has been a source of irritation to me for several years.  It’s like trying to find the correct answer in a “multiple choice” exam – when the correct answer is not provided as an option.  You flunk if you don’t fill in the blank; or the computer refuses to accept your test or application if you don’t fill in an answer, even when no answer is correct, or none of the information requested applies to you. So you’re floundering, trying to find the correct answer when that is a non-option! I realized that if we are to be truly “inclusive” we would need six – no, maybe 7 or 8 categories – at least!  As this teased my brain, I realized that to be truly inclusive, the number of choices is infinite!  What are some of the possibilities?

1) Single

2) Betrothed or Engaged. (How about “Spoken for?”)

3) Married

4) Partnered


(In the 1970’s, and 1980’s the U.S. Census Bureau invented the label POSSLQ  for what was otherwise known as cohabitation, or Common Law Marriage (Persons of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters.)

6)  A counterpart of POSSLQ might be PSSSLQ, for those of same sex                         sharing living quarters.

7)  Divorced

8) Legally Separated

9) Annulled

10) What do we call broken relationships of partnered couples who have been living together for a number of years, but have now separated?

11) Widowed

How about Roommates or Housemates who live together, but not in a sexual relationship.  Are they “House Companions”?  Then I think of people who live in a Group Home, or in a Commune. I wonder how the Census Bureau handles single adult siblings living together, such as siblings who have inherited the family farm (or house, or business)?

When I file my income tax, the IRS offers me five marital status options, none of which applies accurately to me.  So, like an election form, I write in the word “widow,” and then proceed to the tax tables for “single” to calculate my tax.     My health insurance now lists me as both the retiree and as spouse of the retiree!  Remember the song “I’m my own grandpa”?  Apparently I am my own marital partner.   As the retiree, they do not pay me any benefits, but as my own dependent spouse, the insurance company does pay my medical bills. I am grateful to my deceased husband and his employer!  Of course, this also precludes my ever re-marrying, if I were ever so inclined to do so.  If I did that, the form-maker would need to add one more category, spelled (12) “FOOLISH”  (or “crazy”!) To keep the list from becoming unimaginably ridiculous, the form-makers should include categories (13) “OTHER” and (14) “None of the Above.”


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