UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN River Falls
This educational and awareness-raising campaign focuses on the power of language and is intended to provide an opportunity for the campus community to reflect on the diverse perspectives and possible impacts of certain words. It does not limit the freedom of expression and is not to be interpreted as a ban on words on our campus or an attempt to prohibit or formally restrict their use.
The Center of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging and the University of Wisconsin-River Falls support the rights of our students, faculty, and staff, and we follow the guidance on freedom of expression as reaffirmed by the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents in Resolution 10600.
Sometimes we say things without realizing the impact they may have on others. Take time to educate yourself about language and the histories of oppression. This list is not extensive, but touches on common identities and concepts. There are words and phrases on this list that might surprise you and some are clearly understood to be more offensive than others.
Read them. Consider them. Understand them. And Check Yourself before you use them.
For further questions, contact the Center of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Individuals are welcome to use this resource with citation.
Words that might cause unintended offense to people who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community:
Asking others about a trans person's identity, or offering information about someone.
Why not: Asking someone about another person's identity is inappropriate. Ask yourself why you want to know. If you are concerned about using the correct pronouns, ask the person directly.
Bisexuality doesn't really exist. People are just gay or straight.
Why not: This denies the fluidity of sexuality and dismisses people's experiences and definitions of self. People deserve the right to define their own identities any way they wish and have those definitions honored.
Bisexual people just want straight privilege.
Why not: Bisexual people experience discrimination within straight and gay/lesbian communities. They never fully experience straight privilege because they do not identify as straight. Often their identities are made invisible and denied.
Bisexual people are just greedy and want to have sex with everyone.
Why not: This stereotypes bisexual people and assumes they are all promiscuous - and that this is a bad thing. It creates negative attitudes toward sex and works against creating a sex positive climate. It also demonstrates an underlying belief that bisexuality is only about behavior and is not a legitimate identity.
Faggot, Fag, Dyke
Why not: These are demeaning words with a violent history.
"It" as pronouns, Transvestite
Why not: These terms are offensive and demeaning to transgender people. Ask what pronouns someone prefers.
I think everyone is really bisexual.
Why not: While this is often meant to acknowledge the fluidity of sexuality, it dismisses the reality of people who identify as bisexual and erases their experiences. It also invalidates the self-identifications of non-bisexual people.
Why not: Stresses an individual's heterosexuality, masculinity, and other traits to avoid being perceived as gay or queer. Tries to avoid association with anything queer. [See related, "That's so gay!"]
Real Wo/Man, Biological Wo/Man, Natural Wo/Man
Why not: These terms imply that transgender people are "fake" men and women.
She-Male, She-He, Tranny
Why not: These terms are used to dehumanize transgender women. They also echo a pornographic industry that objectifies trans women.
"That's so gay!"
Why not: Stigmatizes gay and queer people. Uses their identities to describe something as undesirable. Replaces negative adjectives with words related to the queer/LGBTQIA+ community.
That person doesn't really look like a man/woman.
Why not: What does it mean to look like man or woman? There are no set criteria. It also should not be assumed that all Trans Men strive to fit within the dominant ideas of masculinity or all Trans Women strive to fit within the dominant ideas of femininity, or that all Trans people want to look like men or women. Gender presentation is fluid and distinct from gender identity, and all forms of gender expression deserve affirmation.
"What's your 'real' name?" "How far along are you?" "What procedures have you had?"
Why not: These questions are invasive. They also imply that the person's gender identity and chosen name are not "real" and perpetuates the idea of trans people as deceptive. They remove agency and any right to make decisions for themselves, and is incredibly invalidating. They also presume a right to intimate information, disregards privacy, and places trans lives on public display. If you wouldn't ask a cisgender person questions about their genitalia, don't question a transgender person.
Words that might cause unintended offense to women:
Bitch (In Any Language)
Why not: Targets and dehumanizes women. Even if used towards men, including gay and/or queer men. Devalues women and femininity. Reinforces sexism.
Why not: Using words that refer to people with vaginas to express that someone is weak or emotional. Dehumanizes women and perpetuates misogyny and sexism.
Whore, Ho, & Slut
Why not: Dismisses anyone seen as being 'too sexual', particularly sex workers, women, LGBTQIA+ people, and people of color. Perpetuates negativity towards sex itself. Promotes a sexual double standard.
Words that might cause unintended offense to people of color:
Why not: Describes something or someone as cheap, worn out, poor, dangerous, etc. Reference to housing communities that are impoverished and disproportionately impact people of color. Associates people of color with these negative characteristics.
Why not: Reduces undocumented immigrants to something less than human. Fixates on legal status instead of people as individuals. Asserts that some people belong here more than others do. Ignores political, social, and economic factors that impact people of color.
Why not: Word created to express women or people who are sexually promiscuous. There are speculations that the word comes from the KKK organization that referred to Black women who were forced into prostitution.
Commonly used expressions that might also cause unintended offense in certain contexts or to certain groups:
Boys will be boys.
Why not: The expression is misinformed and attempts to explain away various behaviors such as aggression or recklessness. Linking these behaviors with someone's sex assigned at birth ignores all the other environmental and individual factors. It is used as an easy excuse.
I'm being such a fat-ass right now.
Why not: Demeans and devalues fatness/fat bodies, reinforces harmful assumptions that fat people are gluttonous and are fat because they have no restraint around food. Also implies that there is an acceptable amount of food to eat and anything more is disgusting, or that enjoying food too much is disgusting.
Man Up / Be a man about it / Don't act like such a girl.
Why not: These phrases imply that there is only one way to be masculine. Reinforces harmful stereotypes about masculinity such as fighting/violence, risk taking, some forms of hooking up and promiscuous sexuality. These statements also characterize any feminine characteristics as weak.
Retarded, Lame, Crazy, and Dumb
Why not: Targets mental, emotional, and physical disabilities as objects for ridicule. Used as synonyms for "worthless", "bad", "unintelligent", "incapable", etc.
Why not: Word is used to put down someone for the way they look, can be connected back to white supremacist, ableist, sizeist standards of beauty.
Why not: Erases the identities of those who are in the room. Generalizing a group of people to be masculine.