Language for trans-inclusive events?

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question submitted out of season!

Is there a Geek Feminism wiki page that has “examples of trans inclusive language” for gender-specific events?

I don’t think we have such a page, and it would be great to have feedback on this issue. The idea is that some organisations want to exclude people who are privileged by their gender without excluding trans women or people who are in other gender minorities. (Of course, this wording of mine is also up for review!) The reasons they have for explicitly making a statement are:

  1. the existence of feminist events that are limited to cis women (or cis women and trans men) leads to uncertainty as to whether trans women are included and may lead to them self-excluding or fearing that they will experience overt hostility at the event
  2. the term “women” is exclusionary of some people who are not men and whom the event is intended for

Here’s some examples of what events and programs have recently used.

AdaCamp San Francisco:

The main track is for significantly female-identified people… We use an inclusive definition of “woman” and “female” and we welcome trans women, genderqueer women, and non-binary people who are significantly female-identified.

Double Union:

all members must identify as women in a way that’s significant to them

The Outreach Program for Women:

The Outreach Program for Women (OPW) helps women (cis and trans) and genderqueer get involved in free and open source software.

What do you think? Do you have alternative suggestions or critiques of these examples?

Comment note: if you’re coming to this from a position of “well I’m cis, and this is new to me; I’m thinking this through from first principles as a fun intellectual exercise!” this comments section is not for you.

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21 thoughts on “Language for trans-inclusive events?

  1. Tim Chevalier

    I know at least one person who hasn’t applied to Double Union because they don’t identify significantly as female. However, this person also doesn’t identify significantly as male, and I think that their experiences are much more similar to those of women in tech than to cis men in tech. I don’t think the Double Union organizers intend to exclude this person, or other non-binary genderqueer people who don’t strongly identify with either binary gender, but nevertheless, they legitimately feel excluded.

    The problem here is that people like my friend don’t feel included in mainstream cis male tech spaces, but also don’t feel included in spaces where there’s a “you must be this female to apply” bar. So they don’t have anywhere to go.

    So on the face of it, it seems more inclusive to state the policy as “not men” than as “women and…” But defining a group based on what it’s not seems like a problem, too.

  2. Gretchen

    I’m wondering about events that would like to include genderqueer people and trans masculine people, and whether a phrase like “people who currently identify as women, people who are non-binary, and people who have a history of being assigned female” would be useful.

  3. sheila miguez (@codersquid)

    I would appreciate help with this topic.

    Right now I am working on a code of conduct draft for an event and I have “This event is welcoming to programmers of all backgrounds and experience levels, and is friendly to cis women and all trans* people.”

    Earlier I had an event and in the description page I used “Welcome to the second Chicago Python Workshop: a project-driven introduction to Python for women and their friends! This workshop is for women and their friends who have no or VERY limited programming experience. This event is welcoming and respectful of trans women. Men are welcome as guests of women who are attending (please RSVP and have your friend send us a note). “

    1. Tim Chevalier

      I think your initial language was better, actually, wrt including trans women. Trans women often assume — for very good reasons — that “women and trans” events are actually “cis women and trans men” events. The only way I know of to dispel that assumption is to do so directly — by saying trans women are welcome.

  4. Sparrow

    Personally, I consider myself to meet the standard of “this female to apply” for things that include genderqueer / non-binary individuals explicitly, and I’m cautious about involving myself with stuff like the first two examples.

    Inconveniently, I’m also cautious about involving myself with groups that say things like “open to everyone but cis men” which seems to be de facto what Gretchen is suggesting. The trouble with including trans men in gender-specific space is that it can suggest that trans men are not “as male” as cis men, that trans men are permanently / eternally marked by their (female) gender assignment, that trans men are only men-lite who are more central to feminism and less clueless about women’s experiences than cis men. While there are a lot of individual trans men I respect who are less clueless about women’s experiences than some cis men, there’s enough baggage around inviting trans men into no-boys-allowed spaces that I feel like it’s hard to do sensitively.

    Ultimately, I didn’t realize until I read this post that I feel like it’s better for me to have “nowhere to go,” as Tim put it, than for women-only spaces to feel pressured to include trans men and trans masculine people. It is okay for things to be woman-only, provided they’re including all women. Trans women are actual women. I’m not.

    1. Gretchen

      That’s exactly what I was worried about with my example.

      I didn’t want to imply that trans men are less than men, but I did want to acknowledge that some trans men have experience of being marginalized due to (previously) being perceived as female.

    2. Blake

      I think it is super-important to have spaces centered on or exclusive to women and feminine people, and it’s on trans men and genderqueer masculine folks to support those things. The alternative is denying femininity as a valuable organizing principle, which I don’t think is appropriate until we get to post-patriarchy.

      I do exclude myself from spaces I would benefit from, because part of the reason I would benefit is the masculine privilege I possess for not being feminine. It is hard to be excluded, but it is also important to support the boundaries that women and trans feminine people set.

    1. Mary Post author

      I can answer this for the event above I was directly involved in, AdaCamp SF.

      The first two AdaCamps welcomed people of all genders, but this had some downsides. First, we included a bunch of coaching in the opening on how privileged men should behave in feminist spaces (listen more than you talk and so on), which is itself not ideal since it’s not an allies-focussed event. (AdaCamp SF had an all-genders allies-focussed event in addition to the main track with the policy quoted above.) We explicitly mentioned an experience an organiser had at Grace Hopper where a man was applauded by an entire roomful of women for a really simple statement of solidarity. Ten minutes after that anecdote… 100 AdaCampers applauded a man for a really simple statement of solidarity.

      Overall, we did not find a way to shut down the dynamic of the room quieting in order to listen to men’s wisdom about feminism. We additionally received feedback from many trusted AdaCamp alumni that they felt that the event would be improved if it was women-only for future events (which we expanded to try and be inclusive of at least transfeminine people).

      So, that’s why. It certainly isn’t without trade-offs, one of which is the effect on agender, genderqueer and non-binary people, and I imagine, no matter how inclusive our wording, some trans women, and of course anyone who simply prefers all-gender spaces. We continue to review it, but for planned AdaCamps essentially this policy remains in place.

      1. espertus

        Unfortunately, I misread the original message and thought the request was for how to communicate that trans people were welcome at events open to everyone. Thank you for taking the time to reply politely to what was actually an unintentionally stupid response. :-) I’ll be more careful in the future.

        1. Mary Post author

          Ah sorry, I didn’t account for a possible misunderstanding. Thanks for clearing it up. It did give me a chance to answer the question that some people were probably genuinely wanting answered.

  5. Anon [Melanie]

    Hiya, I’m a transwoman and really as long as there is some basic indication that transwomen are welcome I think that’s enough, irrespective of the wording, (although having some mention of trans-inclusiveness is absolutely essential if I’m going to go along to an event). I do think avoiding phrases like significantly female-identified’ is important as well, and I’ll try to explain why.

    I can only speak for myself but I’m not brave enough to go along to an event unless I know someone there who can be supportive/I can hide behind. I don’t pass all that well and it’s something I’m terribly self concious about, I also hate my own voice as well and the fear that someone is going to call me out and tell me that I’m obviously not ‘transwoman enough’ is very real.

    When I read that people should be ‘significantly female-identified’ I immediately start judging myself ‘am I female-identified enough?’, I start to worry ‘will someone decide that I’m fake? will there be a scene?’. For the most part I’d rather be invisible, to sit quietly and maybe ask a question if I can pluck up enough courage to do so without anyone making a fuss.

    Anon because the internet.

    1. Mary Post author

      Do you — or someone who would regard themselves as “female-identified” but not a woman — have suggestions about how to include wording that is inclusive of people who, well, would regard themselves as “female-identified” but not as a woman? That’s the goal of the wording.

      We have had negative feedback about the word significantly before. It looks like the (newly announced!) Portland event is using language more similar to that of Double Union (although presently I think it has a typo in it, I’ve notified the website authors), ie “is significant to them”, which I imagine is to try and emphasise that the person themselves is the sole authority on “significant”, but I don’t know for sure.

      1. Melanie

        I think that making it clear that the significance is on ourselves is a great improvement, the wording for the Portland event main-track sounds warm and welcoming (I wish I could go!).

        Sorry about the anon comment before, this is my real name (which is not associated with me online at all :)

        - Mel

  6. Mary Post author

    I came across a link about these problems in the context of calls for submissions: Women-only Calls and Non-Binary Authors:

    …it means anyone who doesn’t identify as a woman in any part is not included. This creates a rather weird divide where you could have twenty androgynes, but though a handful can submit because they have some identity as a woman, the rest can’t. Yet everyone’s still an androgyne and has more in common with each other in reference to gender identity than they do differences.

    This doesn’t mean woman-only calls are inherently a problem. Much as it’s not a problem when we have race-specific calls or separate calls for different sexualities. The issue is the woman-only calls don’t happen alongside more general calls for marginalised sex and gender identities**. It’s assumed that the way to counteract cis man dominance is to provide opportunities for cis women, rather than to provide opportunities for anyone who isn’t a cis man.

  7. skud

    Something I’ve been considering is saying that an event or space is for “women and gender minorities” and then expanding that to say that people of any minority/marginalised gender identity are welcome. I mean, assuming that’s what you are going for. Thoughts?

    1. nina de jesus (@satifice)

      If I saw a something like this, I would assume that trans women aren’t welcome. Or that if we were to attend, we’d have very little support if something were to happen. So we might be technically welcome but the space isn’t guaranteed to be safe (or unlikely to be safe).

  8. Melanie

    I was tempted to ask why we’re struggling so hard to find a useful way to say ‘no dudes allowed’ when such a succinct phrase already exists, other than the obvious answer that we’re worreid about offending men. But then I realise we’d just be pushing the same marginalizing issues on to trans men instead.
    Understanding that, I’m posting this comment to suggest there might be some viable wording that flips the stance from being a long list of who is welcome, to a much shorter list of who isn’t (cisgendered men who identify as men). Or is that too confrontational?

    Re: “Women and gender minorities”, I think that sounds good too.

  9. That Dawn Person

    If you want to exclude people who are privileged by their gender without excluding trans women or people who are in other gender minorities, maybe turning that excluding phrase into inclusion would work. Skud’s “women and gender minorities” covers that ground pretty well, modulo any dudebros who decide to test the 49% gender minority they belong to. Cis male allies I count as friends would understand “gender minorities” as excluding them and appreciate the power dynamics of the restriction.
    As a nonbinary person, I feel AdaCamp and Double Union exclude me specifically despite my history of being assigned female.

  10. Blake

    I wonder if it would be helpful to move away from gender as the dividing line and into affinity-based or behavioral organization. “People who are not speaking from male privilege” for example, or “people who have been the direct target of misogyny” or “people who are in a gender minority in the field”, if that is what is actually being organized around.

    If instead it is that women want to organize in women-centric spaces, but wouldn’t mind if trans men are around because we aren’t as disruptive as cis men? I don’t think having any amount of special language is going to make me feel included, because I’m not. That’s fine, but I think searching for language to obscure that purpose is mostly likely to cause problems down the line.

    Basically, what is the goal? If the goal is just to exclude cis men, I’m all for honesty, but I suspect that there are other behavioral norms correlated with identity that will be important as well. Perhaps something like “woman-centered, cis men-excluding space”?

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