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When writing about gender identity and sexual orientation, a principle to keep in mind is that all people have a gender identity (or identities) and a sexual orientation (or orientations), inclusive of asexuality. Many societies are heteronormative, meaning that people assume it is “normal” to be straight and cisgender. In these societies, writers sometimes make the inaccurate assumption that the terms gender identity and sexual orientation are only relevant for people who self-identify outside of this heteronormative paradigm (for example, who self-identify as queer or gay or who express a non-binary or trans gender identity). The term cisgender highlights that folks whose expressed gender identities match or fit with the sex they were assigned at birth have a gender identity that can be named and discussed.
Steps for inclusive writing about gender identity and sexual orientation
Question heteronormative assumptions
Think critically about relevance
Remove unnecessarily gendered language from our writing
Use pronouns properly and respectfully
Separate biology/anatomy from gender
The overall principle is to be as specific, accurate, and clear as possible. If you are referring to a bodily function or a part of anatomy, keep the emphasis there, rather than making gendered assumptions about who has that anatomy or experiences those bodily functions.
In these ways, inclusive writing actively avoids implying that there are some “real” or “normal” men and women. Instead, it recognizes that there are many real, normal, and different ways to experience bodies and gender and validates this diversity of experiences.
For more information and examples, see:
- The Inclusive Writing Style Guide from the Student Learning Development centre at the University of Leicester.
- Downloadable Style Guide for Writing about Transgender People by the Radical Copyeditor.
- The Style Guide for Writing about Transgender People by the Radical Copyeditor, updates:
- Trans-Pride Canada Style Guide
- “No Big Deal” Campaign
- LGBTQIA Resource Centre glossary for terminology
- Link to GLAAD Glossary
- Link to LGBTQ+ Glossary (It Gets Better Project)
- "Writing Our Own Dictionary" - "Hear first-hand from LGBTQ+ people about what their various labels and identities mean to them, in their everyday lives" (It Gets Better Project)
- LGBTQAlphabet made with Equinox and The LGBT Community Center, #PoweredByPride
- You can download the complete Inclusive and Antiracist Writing Guide, with expanded explanations, on the Overview Page.
 Thank you to Noah Jensen, Administrative Assistant at Out On Campus, for his feedback and suggestions on this resource.