Cisgender. Heterosexual. Homosexual. Bisexual. Transgender. Genderqueer. Queer. Pansexual. Asexual. Questioning. The list goes on and on when we are talking about the language we use when we identify ourselves in terms of our sexual and gender identity.
You might notice I left out a few words that are commonly used within the LGBTQ+ community and the larger society. I purposely left out the words straight, gay and lesbian for they do not fully grasp what it means to be living within the LGBTQ+ community and, honestly, I have yet to understand what straight means in terms of gender and sexuality.
Everyone thinks gender and sexuality is binary, where you can simply check a box on a form and that is the end of the question. However, the reality is that gender and sexuality are a spectrum, where you can on any day be at one point and a different point the following day. Understanding that gender and sexuality are a spectrum helps in working towards more inclusive language and community.
When thinking specifically about how to be inclusive when someone falls outside of the binary there are a few basic things that will not only help you in ministry but in society as well.
In terms of gender, think of it in a two-fold way, gender identity and biological sex. Gender is how the person identifies. The way they dress and how their mind is wired. Biological Sex is about the hardware one is born with. When talking to someone who may identify as transgender or gender queer, do not ask them about what they were born as. It shows that they are not valued as people in our current state, and honestly asking about biological sex is only okay in a health care facility, no one needs to know what is in your pants but yourself and your doctor, so be aware of the language you are using and the reason for asking.
Sexuality is not the same as gender identity; it is about the attraction you personally feel towards others. Moving towards being more inclusive in terms of sexuality, it is more about a shift in attitude rather then in language. New language is being created and used each day but a change of attitude can last a lifetime. Opening your mouth and asking questions regarding who someone is attracted to is not always the best thing for the moment. Think about why you are asking the question and if you would want your grandmother to hear it. Sexuality is personal and needs to be kept that way. Avoid saying “wife” or “husband” or “partner”; it limits what one defines as a relationship. Sticking with talking about the person first and the relationship last lets them choose how they want to be labeled.
Being inclusive takes time. It also takes grace and forgiveness from everyone. Remember you are not perfect and asking questions in proper ways help you avoid assumptions and allows you to get to know the person. Allow yourself to make a mistake and learn from it. Remember, getting to know the person for who they are is the most important thing you can do.