They. Folks/Folx. People. by Alice Hastings

Post date: Oct 26, 2017 5:00:48 PM

And so Pride is over. It’s time to wake up, put our lunches in the fridge, walk back to our classrooms, and trudge through another week of grading and midterms and sleep deprivation. But before I put the weekend to bed, I want take a second to think about how to let Pride transcend the weekend. Because let’s face it: we spend time celebrating diverse people (months, weekends, parades), but are so quick to return to our heteronormative spaces, spaces soaked in whiteness, and then leave these months, weekends, days behind.

The Writing Center is a place where young grad students meet young undergrads, two generations tied loosely by school. We’re, in some ways, the first contact between the English department and its writers. When I was eighteen, nineteen, twenty, the representation and inclusion given to me by those I looked up to was of immeasurable value. Somewhat more than that, lack of inclusion had a tremendous effect on me. It made me feel invalid, weird, outside. In the Writing Center, inclusion comes in the form of words.

This goes without saying, but discourse matters. It’s how we communicate, and even the small things about how we communicate matter. We already agree that sexist language should be eradicated because it excludes women. Many instructors have sections on their rubrics that deduct points for such language (using “he” pronouns to talk about groups of people.) Let’s think about heteronormative language in the same way. Heteronormativity, which assumes straightness or assigns gender, insidiously inserts itself all the time. For instance, saying “his or her writing” serves to create a binary between genders, rather than opening the door for all genders with the pronoun “they.”

Gender is taught to us through social interactions and through language. Linguistic habits born at the birth of language are, no doubt, difficult to break. I’m from Seattle, and like many places, the phrase “you guys” comes up in almost every conversation. Breaking this habit was difficult, and took almost a year of continual practice. But addressing students with “everybody,” “class,” or, “you all/y’all” is more inclusive, and I know this, so even now as “you guys” creeps up, I shoo it away for better ways to address a group of people. It’s small thing. Not hard. And just like we are vulgar when we use vulgar language, when we use inclusive language, we are being inclusive.

So as we get on our way to another year, remember to never assume a student is straight, and remember to use words that don’t exclude.

They. Folks/Folx. People.