Including people of all genders in your forms and literature: A guide

Nonbinary Gender Inclusion Project, UK

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Nonbinary gender is an umbrella term covering any gender identity or expression that does not fit within the gender binary [of people who are only a man or only a woman].” - from the Nonbinary.org wiki entry on “nonbinary”.

People who do not identify within the gender binary make up a significant proportion of the population. Working to include everyone is good for business, data accuracy, and reputation.

Terminology

We will use the following terminology in this document for clarity:

Good practice in three parts

1. Should I ask about gender or sex?

2. Asking for titles and honorifics

3. Using inclusive language


1. Should I ask about gender or sex?

When do I ask about sexual characteristics?

There are very few situations in which it is appropriate to ask people about their sexual characteristics such as genitalia, hormones, or chromosomes. If you are considering asking about sexual characteristics you must be very clear about the reasons and be willing to explain them to anyone who asks. If you are in any doubt, or if you feel uncomfortable asking about someone’s sexual characteristics, do not ask for this information.

Here are some examples of situations in which it is acceptable to ask someone about their primary or secondary sexual characteristics:

How do I ask about someone’s sexual characteristics?

Asking for a single word describing all of someone’s sex is almost always intrusive, often inaccurate, and for many trans people it is offensive and creates an unsafe environment. Words like male and female are often confusing because they may describe sex or gender to different people and in different contexts, so they are best avoided.

However, it is possible to collect relevant information sensitively and without assuming all of someone’s sexual characteristics fit neatly into one of two boxes.

Ask specific questions about the body without referring to sex or gender and without using gendered terms.

Let’s take the example of cervical smear testing. Patients are sorted into ‘male’ and ‘female’ boxes in GP surgeries, either by limited sex options on forms or GPs making an assumption based on appearance. ‘Female’ patients within a certain age bracket are then requested to undergo a cervical smear regularly. However, many people who would be classed as ‘female’ no longer have a cervix or have never had one at all, and many people classed as ‘male’ do have a cervix.

Instead of asking for sex, which is often inaccurate, upsetting, or offensive to gender-nonconforming people, you could ask:

We need to know whether you need regular cervical smears.

Do you have a cervix?                                                yes/no

Instead of asking for trans status, which can be difficult for many people to answer, you could ask about the relevant detail of transition that you need to know. For example:

        

Hormones can affect the size and function of some regions of the brain.

Are you undergoing, or have you ever undergone, hormone replacement therapy?

yes/no

This works well because it does not imply gender or sex, and it explains clearly why the information is needed.

In this situation, providing simple information about participants’ sex may be required for the publication of a study, and it is often not possible to categorise people in any way other than simply male/female/intersex. Make sure you provide those three options to avoid excluding intersex people, and advise participants to choose whichever feels most comfortable. Be clear in each case whether you need to know sex assigned at birth or current sex (for example, transgender people who have undergone physical transition).

Security of information and anonymity is paramount. Rather than asking about sex, you can ask more helpful questions. The following were adapted from the Scottish Transgender Alliance’s PDF “A Practical Guide: Monitoring the number of transgender service users or staff”.

Q1. Please describe your gender identity:

Male (including female-to-male trans men)

Female (including male-to-female trans women)

Nonbinary (for example, androgyne people)

Prefer not to say

Q2. Is your gender identity different to the gender you were assigned at birth, based on sexual characteristics?

Yes (Please describe difference: ______________________ )

No

Prefer not to say

Q3. Have you ever identified as a transgender or trans person?

Equality organisations use the terms "transgender" and "trans" as inclusive

umbrella terms for a diverse range of people who find their gender identity

differs in some way from their assigned gender at birth. 

Yes

No

Prefer not to say

The Scottish Transgender Alliance go into a lot more detail, and explain things well and fully, in their guide.

Good practice vs. Bad practise when asking about physical/sexual characteristics

Bad Practice examples:

Are you a: Woman/Man

Are you: Male/Female/Trans

Are you transgender? yes/no

Good Practice examples:

We need to know whether you need regular cervical smears. Do you have a cervix? yes/no

Is your gender identity different from the gender you were assigned at birth? yes/no

Are you undergoing, or have you ever undergone, hormone replacement therapy? yes/no

When do I ask about gender?

Most of the time, if you are recording identity information you want to know about someone’s gender role, presentation, and day-to-day experience. In these situations you should ask for gender, and use words like man, woman, and nonbinary.

Some people use male and female to refer only to physical characteristics, so we recommend using words like man, woman, and nonbinary over words like male and female to avoid confusion.

How do I ask about gender?

If you want to ask about and record someone’s gender, follow these simple rules to make sure that transgender and nonbinary people are included and safe.

DO:

DON’T:

Bad practice examples:

Gender:

[  ] Male      [  ] Female

This doesn't include nonbinary people, and can confuse transgender people because male and female are sometimes used to describe sex rather than gender.

Gender:

[  ] Male      [  ] Female      [  ] Transgender

Transgender people are often men or women, and the words male and female can confuse because they are sometimes used to describe sex rather than gender.

Good practice examples:

Gender:

[  ] Man       [  ] Woman      [  ] Nonbinary

This allows gender-nonconforming people to answer truthfully.

Gender: _________________

This allows anyone to express themselves accurately and fully

Gender:

[  ] Man

[  ] Woman

[  ] Nonbinary

[  ] Neutrois

[  ] Androgyne

[  ] Gender fluid

[  ] Bigender

[  ] Agender/none

[  ] Other _______________

This will get you a complete picture of who someone is in terms of gender, as well as giving more useable statistical information.

Nonbinary gender and marketing

It’s okay to ask about someone’s gender for marketing purposes. Provide a third option, and allow people to refrain from answering. Most people will provide a gender when questioned, and if it is explained that the system will choose advertising based on gender then people are better equipped to choose appropriately.

For those who choose the third option or don’t provide an answer, you could show adverts intended for both men and women, or you could use another system to target your adverts.

The Data Protection Act

It is worth noting that the Data Protection Act requires the information you keep about people to be accurate; this is impossible for your nonbinary customers and clients if you offer only two options for gender, and it’s often impossible if you require them to provide a title that has masculine or feminine connotations such as Mr or Ms. To keep fully accurate information, you must allow additional options.

2. Asking for titles and honorifics

In the UK we ask for titles a lot. People record titles for various reasons; it’s a formal mode of address (“Good morning, Miss Jones.”), but sometimes companies ask for titles as a subtle way to ask whether someone should be called “he” or “she”, or to put someone in a gender box for marketing purposes.

Due to the limited options on most forms when it comes to titles and the assumption that someone’s gender, pronouns, and title will “match”, this approach is largely unsuccessful with nonbinary people. We seek to introduce organisations to improved and sensitive ways to find out everything they need to know, while providing a safe atmosphere for trans and gender-nonconforming people.

Asking for pronouns

It is perfectly polite to ask what someone’s pronouns are. Keeping a record of someone’s pronouns as in the example form below would be far more accurate than using titles. This form could be given to everyone:

Name: ________________________________

Preferred mode of address (eg: Kate, Mr Jones, Sir): ________________

Date of Birth: ___ / ___ / ________

Pronouns:

        [  ] He/him/his

        [  ] She/her/her

        [  ] They/them/their

        [  ] Zie/hir/hir

        [  ] Other ____________

You can change this with us at any time.

Learning how to use pronouns other than he or she can be very difficult, but it makes a big difference to trans and nonbinary people. Being addressed correctly and knowing that they can ask you to change how you address them creates a safe and welcoming space.

Asking for preferred mode of address

We believe that, rather than asking for a formal title such as Mr or Ms, it is more appropriate to ask how someone would like to be addressed in future, because some people prefer to have no title and would like to be simply addressed by their first name.

Providing a free text field allows people to choose.

        How would you like us to address you in letters and over the phone?

        Letters: Dear __________________________

        Telephone: Hello, __________________________

        Examples:

Asking for titles

We understand that titles are sometimes unavoidably necessary. Letting people choose their title freely without the limitations of an outdated computer or admin system is a much safer space for trans and nonbinary people, and helps everyone to feel more comfortable in the knowledge that everyone is being addressed in the way they prefer.

Common gender-inclusive titles include:

An up-to-date list can be found on the nonbinary.org wiki’s page on titles.


Bad practice vs. Good practice

Bad practice example:

Screen Shot 2014-05-01 at 12.23.59.png

Note that the title is a required field, and all title options are gendered or require a career, qualification, or knighthood. It cannot be completed by someone who prefers gender-inclusive titles but is not a Dr., etc.

Credit: Taken from the Royal Mail website and posted in full on MxActivist.


Good practice example:

GoodEnergy title yay.png

Note that the title is not a required field, and users can type anything in the “Please specify” box.

Credit: Taken from the Good Energy website and posted in full on MxActivist.

A note on staff training

Even after nonbinary people arrange to have no title or an uncommon title such as Mx, well-meaning staff often assume it's a mistake and guess a title based on name or vocal pitch. Make sure staff are trained to accept and use titles as they are written, or to use a first name if they are in any doubt.

Using inclusive language

Consider how your literature is worded in three ways:

a)        Avoid using terms like “men and women” when you intend to refer to everyone.

b)        Avoid using gendered terms for people based on physical characteristics.

c)        Avoid using “he/she” when referring to people of unknown gender.

a) Avoid using terms like “men and women” when you intend to refer to everyone.

Bad practice:

“Morning meetings are women-only; afternoon drop-ins are open to men and women.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard!”

Good practice:

“Morning meetings are women-only; afternoon drop-ins are open to anyone.”

“Honoured guests, welcome aboard!”

In gender-segregated spaces, consider whether your space is limited to one gender or excludes one gender. A women-only space excludes nonbinary people, whereas a No Men space does not. Where possible, specify whether or not nonbinary people are included.

b) Avoid using gendered terms for people based on biology. 

For example, people who can menstruate or be pregnant may have a uterus (sex), but are not necessarily women (gender).

Bad practice:

“Seats reserved for pregnant women.”

“Watch out gents - low beam ahead!”

Good practice:

“Seats reserved for pregnant people.”

        “Watch out tall people - low beam ahead!”

c) Avoid using “he/she” when referring to people of unknown gender.

What do I do if I don’t know someone’s gender yet?

Until you’re sure which pronouns to use, use singular “they” and use gender-neutral language.

In most situations you don’t need to know someone’s gender, only how to address them. It is polite to ask which pronouns someone prefers, and how they would like to be addressed.

There has long been debate over whether singular “they/them” is correct grammar, despite its use since at least the 1400s. Whether a writer chooses to say “he/she” or “they” when a subject’s gender is unknown is currently a matter of personal taste and a stylistic choice.

We would argue that not only is “he/she” clumsy in long-running sentences or when speaking aloud, it excludes anyone who is neither a he nor a she. From the point of view of inclusivity, singular “they/them” is far preferable. If you have a style guide for writers working for you consider adding a preference for singular “they/them” in gender-ambiguous situations.

Where to find out more

Potentially useful links:

If you are unclear about anything in this guide you can contact us for feedback via our website [link goes here - not live yet], or email  contact@nonbinary.co.uk .


Including people of all genders in your forms and literature: A checklist

Nonbinary Gender Inclusion Project, UK

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

This is a quick checklist; please see our full-length guide (LINK would go here) for more detailed information.

  1. Asking about gender or sex

If you’re asking about physical attributes, have you:

[  ] Confirmed that you are interested in sexual characteristics rather than gender identity and lived experience?

        [  ] Confirmed that asking about sexual characteristics is necessary?

        [  ] Disclosed your reasons for asking about sexual characteristics?

[  ] Named any specific physical attributes without referring to sex or gender?

[  ] Refrained from using words male, female, man, woman, etc?

If you’re asking about social role, identity, and presentation, have you:

        [  ] Confirmed that asking about gender is necessary?

[  ] Specified that you are asking about gender rather than sexual characteristics?

[  ] Used words that describe gender (man, woman, nonbinary)?

        and either

        [  ] Offered more options than man and woman (none, nonbinary, etc)?

        or

        [  ] Included a free text box?

  1. Asking for titles and honorifics

When recording information about how to address people, have you:

[  ] Asked for a preferred form of address (eg: Kate, Mr Smith, Ma’am) in a free text field?

[  ] Provided a space for people to state their pronouns if you need to refer to them in the third person?

When asking about someone’s title, have you:

[  ] Provided at least one gender-inclusive title eg Mx and Per along with Mr, Ms, etc

[  ] Ensured that titles are optional?

[  ] Allowed users to select a different title (eg: via a free text field)?

        

  1. Using inclusive language

If you’re addressing everyone or anyone, have you:

        [  ] Used singular “they”/”them” rather than “(s)he” or ”his or her”?

[  ] Ensured all language includes all genders, not just binary men and women?

If you’re addressing a group that excludes some or most genders (eg: a women-only space), have you:

[  ] Thought about whether you want to include or exclude genders? (eg: are you excluding men, or only allowing women? The former includes nonbinary genders, while the latter does not.)

[  ] Expressed this clearly? (eg “no men” vs. “women only”)

[  ] Referred to nonbinary genders where appropriate so that nonbinary people feel safe (eg: “women and nonbinary people welcome”)