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Mindful ways to use personal pronouns and inclusive language

On the outside, we often see the LGBTQIA+ community take pride in how we march in the streets and operate with the world around us. But a big part comes from the pride that starts on the inside and works its way out. Loving our queer minds takes bravery, self-compassion, self-discovery, and acceptance. It comes from the language we use towards ourselves and others.

This article is for the queer community and allies to learn, grow, and share the stories of inclusive language together. Language can be an exciting and transformational tool to communicate our thoughts and emotions. Within the LGBTQIA+ community, language becomes a way to affirm our identity and show up authentically. Some may be using a new name after transitioning, others place pronouns after their Zoom names, and some folks have discovered new labels for themselves under the LGBTQIA+ banner.

Speaking with intention is a huge part of mindfulness. It helps our community overcome uncertainty, navigate injustice, live authentically, find inner safety, cultivate joy, and grow resilience. As we explore these topics, we’ll learn how mindfulness and meditation unlock the power of inclusive language and more. We can meet people where they are — with love, compassion, and respect as fellow human beings. And getting started is pretty simple. We can add these practices to our lives in just a few minutes a day to be a comfortable space among the LGBTQIA+ people in our lives.

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Key takeaways:

  • People find meaning and community with others using pronouns, labels, and even names

  • Mindful language helps us make others feel included, seen, heard, and understood

  • Try meditations for mindful language with Headspace

How does language affirm our identity?

Using personal pronouns, labels, and even new names are all ways we use language. But it can be hard to feel like our most authentic selves when we’re uncertain about how they’ll receive us. Mindfulness helps us ride the waves of these not-so-comfortable feelings by building our awareness of them and strengthening our capacity to sit without trying to change anything. We can’t always control what’s happening around us, but we can always greet ourselves with kindness and acceptance. This is inner safety.

By building our pride on the inside, we can better find others who have similar experiences around their gender or sexual identity or those who have ever felt conflicted, confused, afraid, or even angry — people who have also questioned what “normal” means. When we live authentically, we also permit others to do the same. And it can feel empowering, too. What if we lived our whole lives without the proper language to communicate who we are to those around us? It would be like going to the grocery store and trying to buy chicken noodle soup, but every soup can is labeled the same, without the ability to tell its uniqueness from other soups.

When we don't use the right language or can't find acceptance among others, people can feel alienated, isolated, and overlooked. Feeling like we don’t belong can be a very painful place to be. But when we use the right language, we’re not only acknowledged and accepted, but visible. A sense of belonging and feeling seen helps us walk through life with a sense of ease, in body and mind.

We all find support in different ways. Leaning on our shared experiences to cope with grief and the injustices of homophobia helps us find the security within ourselves and the pride in our community. Even in the face of noninclusive schools, homes, and spaces, the LGBTQIA+ community is a symbol of love. No matter where we are on our journey, we can always come back to mindfulness as we navigate the intricacies of our identity and for others doing the same.

What is inclusive language, and why is it important?

Now that we have more context on how important language can be as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, let’s talk about inclusive language for allies. Inclusive language is language that honors and respects a person’s preferences or replaces harmful language with simple, kind alternatives. The way we speak can help others feel included, seen, heard, and understood.

But if language is always changing within the queer community, how do we keep up? Changes in language occur from the deeply human need to self-express and self-identify and is perfectly natural. But these changes may feel intimidating if it’s new to us, our child recently came out, or we’re starting to explore what these words might mean to us in our journey to acceptance. The most important thing to keep in mind is the value of being mindful. Mindfulness helps us be kind to our mind and others. It can even help us speak with intention.

When a friend or a child comes out to us, we’ve heard a popularly used phrase to indicate support, “I still love you.” And this has the right sentiment, but we can lean even more into using inclusive and mindful language. Think about other scenarios we might tell a child, “I still love you.” For example, we might say that after they did something they weren’t supposed to. Or after they hurt our or someone else's feelings. We want them to know we love them no matter what, mistakes and all. But coming out isn’t a mistake, something they did wrong, or something we have to overcome to “still” love them.

Coming out is a vulnerable and precious act. It’s someone coming into themselves and trusting us to know them. Our language becomes more inclusive if we say, “I love learning more about you. Thank you for sharing.” It still gets across our unconditional love, but now we are offering a concrete affirmation of acceptance. When we show up for others, we create space for connection, activism, love, and joy. And we could all use a little more joy.

What inclusive language basics should I know?

Personal pronouns. Pronouns are words used to refer to others in the third person, and they’re a simple way to signal support for LGBTQIA+ folks. But the impact goes so much further. Pronouns are so personal. It's a way of recognizing and honoring someone's humanness.

The most often used gender pronouns like she/her and he/him make a gendered assumption usually based on how a person looks or their name. We should use “personal pronouns” instead of saying “preferred gender pronouns” so it doesn’t sound like non-transgender people are more “normal.”

If we don’t know someone's pronouns, it’s okay to ask. But we don’t want anyone to feel singled out or “othered.” We can share our pronouns as a mindful way to invite folks to tell us their pronouns as a way to be more inclusive.

Non-binary. Or genderqueer is an umbrella term for people who don’t identify as solely male or female. Some often use pronouns like they/them. Expressing gender as a spectrum helps people show up as their whole selves, and we should embrace a person’s identity as their own.

Binary assumptive language. We’re probably used to people saying “Ladies and Gentlemen” or “boys and girls.” Assuming people's gender identity can feel exclusive to those who see gender differently. It’s okay to refer to specific persons and know their gender pronouns, but there are inclusive alternatives. “Everyone” is an example of a gender-inclusive term. Take “mailman” or “fireman” as another example. We can say “mail clerk” or “firefighter” to recognize that any gender can perform these jobs.

Queer. This is a great example of how language has evolved. In the 16th century, the word used to mean “strange,” and then in the 20th century, it became a hateful derogatory term used toward anyone who was or was perceived to be a part of the LGBTQIA+ community. After the Stonewall Riots of 1969, activists began reclaiming the word, and by 2016 GLAAD officially added ‘Q’ to the LGBT acronym. Today, “queer” is an umbrella term for being part of the community, but some folks might still find it hurtful.

Transgender. Apart from language that assumes gender, there are also outdated terms to avoid because they’re offensive or derogatory. Instead of saying “transsexual,” say “trans” or “transgender.”

These choices may seem small or overly sensitive, but these actions go a long way in making a friend, family member, or coworker feel seen and safe. The right language helps us honor how someone has chosen to show up in life, and that’s something to celebrate. As a gentle reminder, this is simply a place to begin and does not seek to provide a complete guide of gender-affirming language. We can continue our journey every day. And we can take a few minutes to familiarize ourselves with other terms from the queer community with glossaries like this one.

What happens if I get it wrong or make a mistake?

Remember in elementary school when a teacher would ask us a question? We only felt comfortable raising our hand when we were sure we knew the answer. So, now we might be hesitant to get into this practice of using gender-inclusive language for fear of getting it wrong. Like most new things, it can be difficult at the beginning.

If we make a mistake, the best course of action is to acknowledge it, self-correct, and move on. Sometimes dwelling on mistakes can be more awkward or uncomfortable. Let’s say we realize we’ve used the wrong pronoun when referring to a coworker. Instead of ignoring the mistake or making a big deal out of it, we can simply repeat what we just said with the correct pronouns. Then continue with the conversation. Keep practicing and extend compassion to ourselves.

While using personal pronouns helps create an inclusive environment, we don’t all live in safe spaces. In the uncertain climate of the "Don’t Say Gay" bill, not being mindful of how labels affect people's physical and emotional safety can be harmful. Especially for our young queer and trans students. We shouldn’t use labels against anyone in the LGBTQIA+ community. There are many spaces someone would not want to “be out” if it isn’t safe, and that should always be respected. Learn more about supporting LGBTQIA+ youth here.

It’s okay for us to go at our own pace, but don’t be afraid to challenge our thoughts to grow. Just like language, we are all growing and changing. Each of us has the power and the responsibility to push ourselves to be safe and comfortable people for those we love.

How does meditation help me practice inclusive language?

Meditation is an opportunity to practice authenticity and vulnerability within ourselves. When we sit, breathe, and be present, we’re training ourselves to understand how our mind thinks, feels, and behaves. Meditation is like the lab where we practice acceptance, free from judgment, with compassion, trust, and letting go. Then, when we’re continuing about our day, we can apply these attitudes towards others and even difficult situations. When we show up to our meditation, we create the conditions for inner safety.

We’re creating space for us to check in with our body and our mind. What tension, shame, guilt, fear, or pain are we carrying around with us, perhaps from feeling trapped in a body our mind doesn't recognize? Meditation invites us to be vulnerable in the safety of our mind. We can practice self-love and self-acceptance, allowing all the sensations in the body to arise and be fully experienced as part of the letting go process.

Even with this practice, accepting what thoughts and feelings pop up can be difficult. We can use affirmations as a meditation technique to build confidence, become more intentional, and express our values. Affirmations can help us acknowledge the important work we’re doing and encourage ourselves to keep going.

Take a moment right now to give our mind a little space. Start with a deep breath in through the nose and out through the mouth. Now repeat these affirmations:

  • The things I say have meaning.
  • The intention of my words and actions is rooted in love.
  • I move through uncomfortable feelings with ease.
  • I am safe to express my truths.

Meditation helps us tap into our wisdom to be who we want to be and offers so many people in the LGBTQIA+ community a place of comfort to heal and grow. Whenever we meditate, we can bring a sense of curiosity by embracing our beginner's mind. This can help us overcome fear or uncertainty so we can be inclusive, show kindness, and accept people for who they are.

Try meditations for mindful language with Headspace

The Headspace app has hundreds of guided exercises to help you build your practice. Start by searching these three meditations to help you feel more confident and compassionate with yourself. A happier, healthier you is a few breaths away.

  • Pride Affirmations meditation. Embrace your whole self through affirmations.

  • Living Authentically meditation. Greet your queer self with more kindness and acceptance.

  • Growing Compassion meditation. Act as an ally with radical compassion

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