Diversity Week at UTS is the perfect time to think about perspectives and experiences outside of your own. Whether it’s through the lens of race, ability, or gender, everyone can benefit from an educated and informed community that makes a conscious effort to be inclusive. Among the many events celebrating difference in all its forms this week is Breaking the Binary, a training session held regularly throughout the year and offered to all UTS staff.
Facilitated by Jessica McGowan from the Equity and Diversity unit, this workshop focuses on developing a better understanding of gender diversity and expression. The aims of the workshop are “to unpack physical sex, gender identity, gender expression and sexuality and explore the gender binary and gender diversity. The session also covers the challenges and issues faced by the LGBTIQ+ community and strategies to challenge homophobia, transphobia and heteronormativity” (from UTS: Equity and Diversity). This training is a great opportunity to learn about some of the integral concepts and language used around these issues. If some of these terms feel unfamiliar, don’t be put off – making an effort and joining the conversation is a good start. Here are just a few terms discussed during the training that help to make a more welcoming environment for trans and non-binary people.
What is the binary?
Think about the word binary: something consisting of, indicating, or involving two (according to Dictionary.com). It pretty much lines up with traditional ideas about gender as being confined to man, or woman. But we know that for many people, it’s not quite that straightforward. A person’s gender identity might differ from the one they were assigned at birth, or maybe it doesn’t fit either label.
The relationship between a person’s gender and their body goes beyond one’s reproductive functions. Research in neurology, endocrinology, and cellular biology points to a broader biological basis for an individual’s experience of gender. In fact, research increasingly points to our brains as playing a key role in how we each experience our gender.
Key words to know
One of the most important terms to remember when we’re talking about the gender binary is transgender. Many of you probably already know this word, as transgender issues have recently become more prominent in media and public discourse. This is a good thing, though it’s worth remembering too that language around these issues has experienced some fluctuation over the years, and preferred terms have changed. GLAAD defines transgender as:
An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth.
For more definitions and helpful words to know, take a look at this glossary of transgender terms. But remember, it’s always important to check preferred terms on an individual basis before making assumptions.
And in connection with that last point, if you can remember one thing to ensure you’re being inclusive of different gender identities, make it pronouns. These are the words we use to refer to other people, and are rooted in gender – she/he, her/his. Make it a priority to ensure that you’re using the preferred pronouns for non-binary people, whether it’s he, she, or even the gender non-specific they. Unsure which ones to use? It doesn’t hurt to ask politely – for example “I’m Rhiannon and I prefer she/her pronouns, which pronouns do you prefer?”
Those lucky enough to catch Diversity Week’s lunchtime talk with activist Mish Pony on trans misogyny and trans feminisms learnt about some of the ways in which trans and non-binary people have been and continue to be excluded from mainstream society as well as feminist/activist environments. Gender diversity has a long history, buried under years of transphobia and social exclusion, and although it can seem a daunting topic to tackle, any community is better for being more informed about these issues. Simply by taking small steps to be more aware, you can help to make UTS a welcoming environment for trans and non-binary people, whether they be students or staff.
If you’re interested in attending Breaking the Binary training, keep an eye on the Equity and Diversity events page, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. If you have already attended Breaking the Binary and would like to become a member of the UTS Ally program, stay tuned for details on the follow up session.