Have you ever wondered what is or is not appropriate to say to or about an LGBT person? Below is a brief list of issues that arise around wording. For more information, check out UC Davis’ website on LGBT issues HERE.
Words That Hurt and Why
Sometimes we say words without realizing the impact they may have on others. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Take time to educate yourself about language and show your respect by not using any of the following:
What’s wrong with “Bitch” (In Any Language)? Targets and dehumanizes women, even if used toward men, including queer and gay men. Devalues women and femininity. Reinforces sexism.
Why not “Ghetto” or “Ratchet”? Describes something or someone as cheap, worn out, poor, dangerous, etc. Reference to housing communities that are impoverished and disproportionately impact people of color. Associates people of color with these negative characteristics.
Can I use “Illegal Alien”? Nope. Reduces undocumented immigrants to something less than human. Fixates on legal status instead of people as individuals. Asserts that some people belong here more than others do. Ignores political, social, and economic factors that impact people of color.
If I’m straight, can I say, “No Homo”? Not a good idea. Stresses the speaker’s heterosexuality, masculinity, and/or other traits to avoid being perceived as LGBTQIA. Goes to great lengths to avoid association with anything queer. Reinforces that to be LGBTQIA is bad.
“Retarded, Lame, Crazy, and Dumb”? Targets mental, emotional and physical disabilities as objects for ridicule. Used as synonyms for “worthless,” “bad,” “unintelligent,” “incapable,” etc.
“That’s So Gay” doesn’t seem so bad. Stigmatizes gay and queer people. Uses their identities to describe something as undesirable and bad. Replaces negative adjectives with words related to LGBTQIA identities.
Why not “Whore(Ho)” or “Slut”? Dismisses anyone seen as being “too” sexual, particularly sex workers, women, LGBTQI people and people of color. Perpetuates negativity toward sex itself. Regulates who is allowed to have it.
What’s wrong with the following: “Bisexuality doesn’t really exist” or “People are just gay or straight”? This denies the fluidity of sexuality and dismisses people’s experiences and definitions of self. People deserve the right to define their own identities any way they wish and have those definitions honored.
But isn’t everyone on the gay-stright continuum, like “Everyone is really bisexual”? While this is often meant to acknowledge the fluidity of sexuality, it dismisses the reality of people who identify as bisexual and erases their experiences. It also invalidates the self-identifications of non-bisexual people.
How about this: “You’re too femme/butch to be bisexual”? Gender presentation does not indicate sexual orientation. Bisexual people have a wide range of gender presentations.
Is it true that “Bisexual people just want straight privilege”? Bisexual people experience discrimination within straight communities and lesbian/gay communities. They never fully experience straight privilege because they do not identify as straight. Often their identities are made invisible and denied.
“Bisexual people are just greedy and want to have sex with everyone.” This stereotypes bisexual people and assumes they are all promiscuous – and that this is a bad thing. It creates negative attitudes toward sex and works against creating a sex positive climate. It also demonstrates an underlying belief that bisexuality is only about behavior and is not a legitimate identity.
“Who do you see yourself ending up with?” This phrase is another way of implying one has to “end up” gay or straight and ignores bisexuality as an identity versus a relationship status. It also assumes everyone desires to be in a long-term monogamous relationship.
I hear people use, “Tranny.” Whether or not someone identifies as trans*, calling anyone “tranny” is extremely offensive. While some folks within the trans* community may choose to reclaim this word for themselves, it is not a word that is okay to use to label another person or use as a joke.
But “That person doesn’t really look like a woman/man.” What does it mean to look like a man or woman? There are no set criteria. It also should not be assumed that all Trans Men strive to fit within dominant ideas of masculinity or all Trans Women strive to fit within dominant ideas of femininity, or that all Trans* people want to look like men or women. Gender presentation is fluid and distinct from gender identity, and all forms of gender expression deserve affirmation.
“What is your REAL name? I mean the one you were given at birth.” This type of thinking implies that the person’s gender identity and chosen name are not “real” and perpetuates the idea of Trans people as deceptive. It removes agency and any right to make decisions for themselves, and is incredibly invalidating. It presumes a right to intimate information, disregards privacy, and places Trans lives on public display.
What about using the wrong pronouns or making assumptions about others’ gender identities? It is vital that we respect the names and pronouns that people use. It is impossible to know without asking. If you are not sure, ask: “What pronouns do you use?”
“What are you REALLY?” Or, “Have you had surgery? If not then you’re not a _______” Asking anyone personal questions about their bodies and/or surgeries is invasive and inappropriate. We don’t ask cisgender people about what is under their clothes; we shouldn’t ask Trans* people either.
It’s not cool to ask others about a trans person’s real identity. Asking someone about another person’s identity is inappropriate. Ask yourself why you want to know. If you are concerned about using the correct pronouns, ask the person directly.
“Cunt” “Twat” “Pussy” Using words that refer to people with vaginas to express that someone is weak or emotional. Dehumanizes womxn and perpetuates misogyny and sexism.
Can I say, “I’m being such a fat-ass” or “I’m being so fat right now!”? No. Describing yourself in “fat” terms demeans and devalues fatness/fat bodies and reinforces harmful assumptions that fat people are gluttonous and are fat because they have no restraint around food. Also implies that there is an acceptable amount of food to eat and anything more is disgusting, or that enjoying food too much is disgusting.