Dispelling myths around trans-inclusive language

BY Jake Hall

22nd Aug 2023 Health

Dispelling myths around trans-inclusive language
Beyond the headlines and sensationalism, what's the truth about trans-inclusive language and access to healthcare? 
In a GP appointment earlier this year, I happened to mention that I’m non-binary. By the end of the appointment, the GP had offered to update my pronouns to “they/them” on the system. Happily, I accepted the offer. Since then, I’ve been referred to accurately by every doctor I’ve seen.
Using trans-inclusive language––they/them pronouns included––is a small gesture, but it goes beyond just words; it makes me feel more comfortable in seeking out healthcare, more confident to speak openly about how transphobia impacts my mental health. As a result, I’ve had better care. I’ve been referred to trans-inclusive services when needed, and I’ve been able to more candidly explain exactly what I need in order to stay healthy. Even better, the change was made without me having to push for it, and it was made without a fuss.
This is what trans-inclusive language can do, in a nutshell. It can signal to trans and gender non-conforming people that we’re catered for within the healthcare system, and that every care is being taken to make us feel accepted and understood. Yet the media treats trans-inclusive language as a controversial topic, often distorting extremely specific examples in order to further a wider, anti-trans narrative. With that in mind, there are a few myths to be dispelled.

1. You can still call yourself a woman 

A doctor in pink gloves holding an LGBTQ+ badge
The first is that yes, you can still still call yourself a woman.
The last few years have seen an explosion of think-pieces arguing that women can no longer call themselves women. This isn't true.
What’s actually happening is that healthcare authorities are recognising that previous language has excluded trans and gender non-conforming people from accessing care. Trans men and non-binary people have been missing important cervical cancer screenings. Trans women and gender non-conforming people haven’t been told that they need regular prostate screenings, especially in later life. It’s a widely overlooked fact that trans and non-binary people can get pregnant too, and they’re in need of inclusive care.
"It’s a widely overlooked fact that trans and non-binary people can get pregnant too, and they’re in need of inclusive care"
None of this means that a pregnant woman will walk into her GP’s office and be instantly referred to as a “pregnant person,” or be told that she can’t call herself a woman.
Trans-inclusive language is particularly important when it comes to sexual and reproductive healthcare, as there’s a huge lack of research and understanding. Research shows that testosterone doesn’t always make trans men and non-binary people unable to ever get pregnant, and not every trans-masculine person will undergo a hysterectomy. Trans women undergoing hormone therapy can sometimes still get their sexual partners pregnant, and they need to be given contraceptive options which reflect that.

2. Everyone benefits from more inclusive language 

A smiling transgender person in pink against a pink background
Another myth is that only trans and gender non-conforming people benefit from more inclusive language. In reality, not every woman has a womb, the ability to menstruate or get pregnant. As scientists acknowledge, human sex isn’t binary.
In the UK, the NHS estimates that ten per cent of women will be affected at some point in their life by PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), a condition which can cause irregular periods, high androgen levels and enlarged ovaries, which can lead to infertility.
"Trans-inclusive language makes healthcare more accessible and equitable, yet isolated examples are still being sensationalised"
There’s growing awareness that intersex people exist, too. According to 2021 research, up to 1.1 million people in the UK alone are born intersex, meaning their physical sex characteristics can’t be neatly categorised as either male or female. There’s mounting, long-overdue fury that intersex babies are still being subjected to so-called “corrective” surgeries, and this is happening solely because the healthcare system treats them as an aberration, as something to be “fixed”.
After years of activists fighting for progress, bodies like the British Medical Association (BMA) are finally pushing for trans-inclusive language to be used within UK healthcare. They're doing so because this language makes healthcare more accessible, more equitable. It’s a step towards remedying decades of exclusion, and yet isolated examples are still being sensationalised in order to paint trans-inclusive language as a laughing stock.

3. Nobody is being told they have to use specific terms 

A smiling transgender person against an outdoor leafy background
Most recently, the internet was flooded with discussions of the term “bonus hole.” It’s a term that’s perhaps best-known for its association with trans-masculine porn icon Cyd St Vincent, whose Bonus Hole Boys studio paved the way for sensitive representation of trans men within adult media. It’s a tongue-in-cheek expression, a light-hearted solution to the problem that some trans people have: namely, that using traditional terms for their anatomy can trigger gender dysphoria.
The term “bonus hole” made headlines in June this year because Jo’s Cervical Trust, a charity which aims to make cervical cancer screenings inclusive and accessible, listed “bonus hole” and “front hole” as trans-inclusive terms.
Mainstream news coverage described the terms as “dehumanising to women,” indicating that they’re part of a wider push to “rebrand” the word “vagina.” In a statement given to PinkNewsa charity spokesperson explained that the terms are specific to trans communities, and they’re optional suggestions. Basically, nobody is being told they have to use these terms, they’re just listed as alternatives for those who might want them.
"The purpose of trans-inclusive language is to expand language, not to erase it"
Dig past the headlines and you’ll find that trans-inclusive language is only being recommended in extremely specific circumstances. It’s used to ensure that outreach projects are reaching everyone who needs them, that trans people like myself can have stress-free interactions with healthcare providers, that steps are being taken to address transphobia within healthcare.
Despite what you might have read, trans-inclusive language is not part of some wider propaganda push to eradicate the word “woman” from the English language. If anything, its purpose is to expand language, not to erase it.
Banner photo: AaronAmat 
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