Congratulations to Caitlyn Jenner! After coming out as transgender in April, the 65 year-old Olympian reintroduced herself to the world this week with a Vanity Fair
cover and a new social media presence. In fact she gained 1.4 million Twitter followers within 4 hours of creating her account.
A lot of us are talking about Caitlyn: her new name, her new look, and what her life will be like moving forward. Many people want to know how to have these conversations in a way that supports and affirms Caitlyn’s decision to live as her authentic gender. I’m still learning the nuances of gender inclusive language myself. But I can offer a few basic “do”s and “don’t”s that can can help keep conversations about Caitlyn’s transition respectful.
(Shout out to my friend and colleague Jade Pichette, who taught me a LOT about the basics of gender sensitivity and inclusivity).
Do...call her Caitlyn. She’s asked us to. Using people’s chosen names is just good manners.
Don’t...call her “Bruce Jenner” or “formerly, Bruce Jenner” or “Bruce-who-now-goes-by-Caitlyn-Jenner” - even if you’re referring to her life before she came out. It’s important refer to people as their affirmed gender both in the present and the past (unless they ask you to do otherwise).
Do...refer to Caitlyn Jenner using female pronouns: her, hers, and she.
Don’t...qualify those pronouns by writing them in quotation marks. Writing “She” and “her” imply that Caitlyn ’s identity as a woman isn’t entirely legitimate. It is. Those are her pronouns and she has as much claim to them as anyone.
Do...use Caitlyn’s very public gender affirmation as an opportunity to talk about gender diversity with your children. If you have teens or older children, ask them if they’re aware of the story and find out what they think. If you have younger children, you can use Caitlyn’s story as a concrete example of how gender is diverse.
Don’t...forget that our children notice the way we react to events like Caitlyn’s introduction. We have an opportunity to show our kids that we can accept and embrace people for exactly who they are.