Adventures in Writing: UnGendered Language

I don’t remember when is started making a point of using ungendered language in my writing. It’s been a few years.

At first, it came up in pieces where I referenced pregnancy. I got pretty good at constructing sentences that didn’t use the word woman or feminine pronouns. I write things like “anyone who is pregnant” or “expectant parents.” Friendly, folksy, neutral phrases. My goal is to make the writing sound so natural that a cis person wouldn’t notice that it wasn’t all about them.

In my current gig writing healthcare content, this particular challenge of language comes up more often.

This week, I was writing a piece on vasectomy techniques so I was avoiding the word man and masculine pronouns. The pronoun part was easy, since the publication’s style guidelines call for second person pronouns, anyway. I was also trying out be cognizant of the need for plain language, since the intended audience is mainstream health info seekers, not medical professionals or activists.

I thought I struck a pretty good balance overall; no gendered words, lots of very clear anatomical references. But the editor assigned to the piece came back with a note to make sure we were clear that vasectomy was for men. I was disappointed but this piece was work for hire. I have to follow client instructions. Still, I took a moment to explain that I had been trying to make the piece accessible to people who don’t identify as men.

To my delight, the editor replied that she hadn’t thought of that but she agreed with my instinct. Together, we brainstormed a couple of edits that made it clear that a vasectomy is for anyone with testicles.

I tell this story because it makes me happy to think that I put something into the world that will help people in a small way. And I’m happy that I encountered a fellow freelancer who was glad to join me in my quest to make my words inclusive. It was a good day at work and I wanted to share.

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