It’s that time of the year again when classes are coming to a close and students across campus are asked to complete surveys for departments, organizations, and programs. In my two years at the UW, I’ve probably completed hundreds of them, but there’s one thing that will always lead me to refuse a survey: how gender options are listed in the introductory questions.
I’ll admit that this is an issue that doesn’t cross the mind of a majority of students, and they may even be wondering what the “big deal” is. But in a world that consistently overlooks varying gender identities and creates a limiting binary which normalizes everyday violence against transgender people, it’s the little things, like correcting gender markers on surveys, that matter more than you might think.
There are three common issues I’ve found with these surveys, although there may likely be even more. The first is leaving out nonbinary options altogether.
If I open the survey and the very first thing I see is, “What is your gender?” with the options “male” or “female,” I won’t be taking your survey. I guess it wasn’t made for me anyway.
Seriously, it’s time that people started acknowledging that there are more than two genders, especially at a school like the UW that claims to value diversity and creating safe spaces for its students. Leaving nonbinary options off surveys just reaffirms the idea that we don’t exist, at least not to the university. Recognition of gender variety is the first step to creating an inclusive campus, so why not start with something as easy as a survey?
The second survey issue is including the options “transwoman” and “transman” in addition to “woman” and “man.” Why do cis people feel the need to specify others’ transness?
By creating separate categories for these identities, the implication is that trans men are not “real” men and that trans women are not “real” women. It’s not like you call your cis friends “cis woman” and “cis man.” Trans is just an adjective that can describe an identity; it’s not the entirety of who we are, and it doesn’t need to be separately specified. The use of “transwoman” and “transman” as different than “man” and “woman” turns a descriptive adjective into a defining noun that makes the person seem distant by emphasizing their “otherness.”
Lastly, many survey creators seem to not know that “transgendered” is not a word. “Transgender” is not a verb; therefore someone cannot “do transgender” or “be transgendered.” Being transgender isn’t a condition or something that happens to you, it’s an individual identity, just like “student” or “burrito lover” are identities. In the same sense, you would say “Italian American,” not “Italianed American.” If you are trying to express this idea, the correct language would be “[he] is transgender” or “[he] is a transgender person,” although it’s likely that you don’t need to speak on someone else’s identity.
Using the term “transgendered” is not only grammatically incorrect, but also shows a lack of understanding and respect for trans people and their identities.
Language shapes almost all of our interactions and relationships, and there is significant power in using correct and inclusive verbiage. Although some may argue that transphobia in UW surveys is a minor offense or simply due to an innocent lack of knowledge, I’m calling for people to educate themselves on this issue so that “not knowing better” isn’t an excuse anymore.
If the UW values diverse perspectives and identities as much as it says it does, it is absolutely crucial that students with nontraditional identities feel welcome and safe, whether they are walking from class to class, sitting in lecture, or even just filling out a survey. Just like everyone else, trans students have the right to complete a survey without potentially feeling invalidated or frustrated.
Reach contributing writer Mitch Aman at email@example.com. Twitter: @avocadbr0