How to have a productive conversation across generations – trans inclusive language

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On a Sunday evening in the Clifford house, a debate generated between me and my dad concerning the issue of transgender men competing in male teams in sports. The discourse began civil and respectful where we both explained our viewpoints while deliberating the ethical and practical points. Then, while referring to a trans man, my dad used the term ‘girl’ to describe them.

I instantly responded furiously and characterised him as transphobic, halting the debate as we both turned defensive and angry. The following discussions we had were unproductive and unpleasant and we did not really get anywhere.

We had successfully created a polarised environment.

And it wasn’t even because of a fundamental difference in belief or values, no, it was just a classic case of miscommunication due to different use of language.

See, for my dad, the term girl is the exact same as female as they both relate to the sex of the individual. For me however, female is related to the sex of the individual and girl refers to their gender.  

So, by my dad using this term I interpreted it to mean he was invalidating trans men’s gender identity, which he was not doing whatsoever he was merely using different terminology to me.

This example demonstrates how easy it is for a debate to become polarised but also how it doesn’t need to be. There is merely a generational difference of language.

This is applicable to all debates as well as miscommunication happens so easily and frequently due to different use of language. What is such a shame is that due to us not taking the time to ask questions like:  

What do you mean by that?

How do you define that term?

We waste the chance of having a debate between people who are different to us, which is the most important conversation to be had. Having conversations with people like ourselves is valuable, however debating with people with a different set of beliefs and background is invaluable as we learn so much more.

We underestimate how much change occurs for each generation and how when you have grown up and been socialised for: beliefs, values, and language, of course it will be a different conversation then if you were discussing with someone who agreed with you completely. But that is not a bad thing.  

Take the time to ask questions. Take a second before you label someone as something they might not be. Don’t walk away from the conversation just because its hard because who knows what you might teach each other.

Amelie Clifford is an EPQ student who joined us for work experience in July 2023.

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