Good Practices: Inclusive Language

As with good practices generally, any advice must be combined with a specific context and use of good judgement in order to determine what is appropriate to a specific situation. This page is part of the broader #TransTerps campaign, and on this site you can find out more about trainings, good practices, and resources and policies for supporting trans folks on campus.

The University of Maryland, College Park has a Policy on Inclusive Language. This policy applies to university employees when representing the institution to the public (e.g. in official communications, publications representing the institution, etc.), but the principles of the policy can be useful in many contexts. The policy specifically requires avoiding terms and expressions that may reinforce inappropriate or outdated attitudes or assumptions about gender, among other things.

A few potentially inappropriate or outdated attitudes or assumptions about gender include:

  • Assuming or implying that there are only two genders that exist and are valid.
  • Using outdated and potentially offensive terms to describe gender or trans people and issues.

Binary Assumptive Language

These are examples of expressions that assume there are only two genders (a binary system of gender), expressions we recommend to avoid as a universal to refer to people generally -- but they might be appropriate if referring to a specific person and you know how that person wants to be referred to.

  • Ladies and gentlemen
  • Boys and girls
  • Men and women of the faculty
  • Brothers and sisters
  • He or she
  • S/he
  • Sir/madam

Gender Inclusive Alternatives

These are alternatives to use instead of language assuming a gender binary. The exact language that should be used in a specific situation depends on context and judgement. (For example, in a formal situation, instead of saying "thank you, sir" to someone you don't really know, you might simply say "thank you very much.")

  • Esteemed guests
  • That person
  • Friends and colleagues
  • Students
  • Siblings
  • Everyone
  • The participant
  • Faculty members
  • Faculty of all genders

Outdated Terms to Avoid and Replacement Language

The following terms are generally outdated, and some of them might be offensive because they could imply criminalization or pathologization or they could simply be misnomers. The following are examples of better go-to language, though sometimes the terms replaced might still be appropriate in certain situations or contexts. Good judgement is always critical.

  • Instead of "transsexual," please use "trans" or "transgender" to mean a broader umbrella category, if that's what you mean.
  • Instead of "sex change" or "sex reassignment," please use "gender affirmation" or "transition care" or "change of gender marker" to refer to medical transition or change of a marker on a document or in a database, depending on the context.
  • Instead of "biological man" or "biological woman," please use "cisgender man" or "cisgender woman" or perhaps "non-transgender man" or "non-transgender woman."
  • Instead of "feminine/female pronouns" or "masculine/male pronouns," please use "she/her pronouns" or "he/him pronouns."
  • Instead of "preferred gender pronouns," please use "personal pronouns."
  • Instead of "transvestite," please use "cross dresser."
  • Instead of "hermaphrodite," please use "intersex."
  • Instead of "homosexual," please use "gay" or "lesbian."
  • Instead of "lifestyle" or "preference," please use "orientation" or "identity."