The Aazaadi To Ungender Language: Moving Towards A Gender Equal World

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The English language has evolved in usage over the past few years, mainly in the West, to accommodate gender-neutral suffixes for professions, and the world is better for it. No more masculine nouns as default. From ‘chairperson’ to ‘firefighters’ and ‘workforce’, the world is learning to be more inclusive, not just in how they describe occupation but also opening up of these occupations for gender diverse individuals.

But what about the gender expressions and non binary identities that don’t translate?

The struggle to express LGBTQ, same-sex attraction and social gendering terms in ancestral languages has been captured beautifully through anecdotal evidence in this piece by Lakshmi Gandhi.

Ungender dictionary

Also Read: Why I Struggle As A Mom With Lack Of Gender-Inclusive Shows For Kids

“For instance, some in the Filipino transgender community have started using the words ‘transpinoy’ and ‘transpinay’ — which build off the words for ‘Filipino’ and ‘Filipina’ used by people in the Filipino diaspora — because the existing terminology is considered a slur,” writes Gandhi.

Ungender dictionary

At the heart of an individual’s liberty and freedom is the basic human need for self-expression. Language plays a huge role in gender expression because it opens up a realm of possibilities for those whose identities are not restricted to social binaries. Language broadens the world’s view of the spectrum of gender, sex and sexuality beyond common misconceptions that define the experiences of millions of people.

Ungender dictionary

Language also opens up the history of the queer movement to a generation that’s reaping the benefit of those before them. An apt example of this is the ‘Pink Triangle’ — a Nazi symbol reclaimed by LGBT+ community to signify pride.

Also Read: How To Write About Women Achievers in India Without Diminishing Their Struggles

Gaps in understanding of gender, especially at the workplace, have the potential to erase and exclude the experiences of a significant part of our population already under the shadow of misinformation, discrimination and bias. Knowledge is power.

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“What and how we speak influences the way we perceive and we believe that language has the power to influence the way we think. Thus we took up this initiative to translate these terms in Hindi as it is important to understand gender in a language widely spoken in our country,” says Sayed Raza Hussain Zaidi, Co-founder of Aazaadi International.

Ungender dictionary

Knowing the proper terms for gender and sexuality will help people be more tolerant, inclusive and accepting of the LGBTQIA community. Broadening of the vocabulary will improve equality. India is home to an estimated 2.5 million gay people and it took over a decade long struggle to decriminalise same-sex sexual relationships through a Supreme Court order. While acceptance, in a conservative society and country where patriarchy governs most aspects of life, will take time, it will help people anchor their language in inclusivity.

Ungender dictionary

Also Read: Sexuality Is Not Limited To Sex, Says Transgender Activist Amrita Sarkar

The language normally associated with gender and sexuality is rooted in English usage. To not know the correct corresponding terms in regional languages is to erase experiences, especially for those newly exploring their gender and sexuality. Keeping all of this in mind, Aazaadi Foundation International and Ungender Legal Advisory have built a visual and digital Hindi gender dictionary, with an initial list of 33 words, and more in the making, translated to Hindi with the help of Understanding Gender by Kamla Bhasin, among other literary sources.

Rituparna Chatterjee is the Director of Communications at Ungender, a legal advisory firm that has worked with 400+ companies directly, advised individuals, government bodies and private sector, educated over 10,000 companies leaders, and sensitized over a lakh individuals on inclusion and diversity laws.  

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