Positive communication? Gender-aware and gender-inclusive!

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The terms in bold are explained in the LGBTQ+ Glossary

Many European languages, including English and Dutch, still reflect traditional heteronormative ideology and binary gender norms. Based on someone's clothing, hairstyle, name or voice, we immediately make assumptions about their gender identity (and often also their sexual orientation). We then use the forms of address and pronouns corresponding to this assumed gender. When someone appears to be male, we automatically say 'he' and 'his', and we may presume he has a girlfriend. When someone appears to be female, we automatically say 'she' and 'her', and we may presume she has a boyfriend. These assumptions are also reflected in the registration of personal data, forms of address in emails and letters, brochures, and so on. We're often unaware that we use gendered language, not realising how deep-rooted some words are, and how big an impact they can have. Our unconscious everyday use of language is a reflection of what – and who – our society considers to be 'normal'.

Many languages are still very binary: we say 'he or she', 'Dear Sir or Madam', 'ladies and gentlemen', and so on. However, lots of people feel they don't fit into either of these two strictly separated gender categories (man/woman), and feel more comfortable with a different, non-binary gender identity. These people are linguistically invisible, which in turn perpetuates societal invisibility.

For instance, you might approach Harrouch and say: 'Excuse me, sir'. However, Harrouch has a non-binary gender identity, and doesn't want to be addressed as either a man or a woman. It would feel just as strange to Harrouch as it would to say 'madam' to a man, or 'sir' to a woman.


Often, based on certain details (name, appearance, partner, etc.), we instantly assume that someone is either a man or a woman, and we address them accordingly. However, our assumptions are not always correct. 'Mislabelling' a person – either by mistake, because of an incorrect assumption, or deliberately – is called misgendering. This can be especially problematic for non-binary and trans people. Some people are indifferent to it, but for many it's a painful experience. It's important to recognise everyone's gender identity so that everyone feels seen for who they are.

Let’s say a man is addressed as 'madam'. He might not care, but it's far more likely that a little voice inside will say: 'Um, no. It's sir.' The same goes for non-binary people: they don't want to be addressed as male or female, because they are neither male nor female.

So unless you're sure of someone's gender identity and how they wish to be addressed, it's best to use gender-neutral wording.

Making visible

If we as a society want to achieve gender equality, we must pursue it for everyone (including LGBTQ+ people). That's why it's so important to make our communication gender-inclusive. Both in speaking and in writing, we should look beyond the standard male/female dichotomy by also addressing and recognising other, non-binary gender identities. This shows not only that we respect everyone's gender identity, but also that we want to make trans and non-binary people visible in our language, and therefore in society. After all, language influences attitudes, behaviours and perceptions. The use of gender-inclusive language takes into account the diversity that exists in the world when it comes to gender and sexuality. Every individual, organisation and company that chooses to use gender-inclusive language is actively contributing to a more inclusive society. This is how language can help to empower and emancipate people.

Information sheets

​The information sheets below can help you start making your communication gender-inclusive. You'll find that even languages like Dutch and English, which may seem dominated by a strict gender binary, are relatively easy to adapt. Every living language evolves over time. Join the evolution!

Include your preferred pronouns in your email signature, not only to indicate how you wish to be addressed, but also to help normalise the use of preferred pronouns.
The Dutch information sheet can be found here

Unless you're 100% sure of someone's gender identity and how they wish to be addressed, it's best to use gender-inclusive wording. You'll find that addressing people in a gender-inclusive way is really not that difficult.
The Dutch information sheet can be found here

Asking for the right data while providing gender-inclusive response options is essential to ensure you're gathering accurate and reliable information. It also helps you, as an individual or an organisation, to create an inclusive environment where everyone can be themselves.
The Dutch information sheet can be found here

Creating gender-inclusive texts ensures that you recognise and acknowledge everyone. Your text will appeal to everyone and exclude no one. This will make your message more relevant, honest and accessible, and therefore better.
The Dutch information sheet can be found here

Research on sex and gender has evolved tremendously in recent decades. Thanks to various new insights, 'sex assigned at birth' and 'gender identity' are now regarded as two different things, alongside 'sexual orientation', 'legal gender' and 'gender expression'. This information sheet is only available in Dutch