DEAR HARRIETTE: I am finding myself at a loss for how to be politically correct when it comes to talking about gender identity. My neighbor’s child -- who was born female -- says that she now identifies as “they.” I do my best to remember, but it doesn’t come natural to me yet.
Beyond that, I see that the language is changing a lot, and I am totally lost. It used to be that people were gay or straight. Now it’s LGBTQ. Or non-binary conforming -- but what does that mean? I don’t want to sound dumb or outdated, but I honestly don’t understand the new realm of gender identity, let alone how to talk about it. Can you help? -- Gender Confusion
DEAR GENDER CONFUSION: At least part of the culture in which we live today is making a concerted effort to be more welcoming of all people, and that includes people who do not conform to the standard definitions of gender identity. For many, this occurs when family members or friends present themselves in ways that do not follow the traditional definitions of “male” or “female.” When loved ones actively claim other ways of defining themselves, those they love often make an effort to support them. This is true even for conservative people who may grapple with their own value systems when it comes to gender identity.
How one defines oneself when the language has been limited to male and female can be a daunting task. It is one that folks have struggled with for generations. I am no expert, but I do know that there is a lot of literature out there that can be supportive. To the point of non-binary, my understanding is that if someone is not comfortable with being singularly either male or female, the person is considered non-binary. The next choices are broadening.
LGBTQ is an acronym that helps some. It means lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer, and it serves as a general category outside of the male/female, straight/homosexual buckets. There is also a movement for people to claim their pronouns -- he, she or they -- in an effort to further define how one identifies.
You should read up on this topic. But if you approach people with respect and openness, you are off to a good start. If you get the label wrong but your intention is good, chances are, you will be able to expand your vocabulary simply by asking for clarification.
For more details, visit bit.ly/2v9ADFn or bit.ly/2S4cn0o. Activist Jodie Patterson, a mother of five with a trans child, wrote a book, “The Bold World: A Memoir of Family and Transformation” that can be very helpful.