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Acceptance, Empathy, and Feminism: Navigating Conversations on Gender Identity and Language

Updated: Apr 17, 2023

Part 1 of 3


Introduction


I did something that I rarely do; I unfriended someone. This person is an acquaintance with whom I had the opportunity to spend a weekend a year together over several years through a women’s program in Canada.



Acceptance without Understanding


Accepting that others have the right to have a different point of view than me on a topic is a part of the philosophy, so unfriending someone is a big deal for me.


When I make time to help educate, answer questions, and get to know someone, I hope to build bridges even if we disagree on some issues.


Acceptance without understanding is also about creating healthy boundaries. She didn’t post about me, but it made me reflect on what she must think about my community and me when she said, “Cisgender woman, birthing person to accommodate another person’s identity crisis, a big NO.”


As the acquaintance was unable to learn from the time spent together, I relied on another aspect of the philosophy of Acceptance without Understanding, when faced with a situation that may be harmful to you, “live your life like a clock”, which means finding a way to move forward. If she chooses to learn and catches up with me, I am open to including her back in my life.


Acceptance is also about living with less judgement, so where is my empathy?


This statement for those who wish to challenge me could have been more sensitively written to be inclusive without being offensive might sound like, “rather than use the term birthing person, I prefer more specific language that doesn’t leave some people feeling excluded from the conversation. We need to acknowledge women, transgender men & women, non-binary and gender non-conforming folks who all need to be recognised in the discussion surrounding people capable of birthing another human being.”


This isn’t the first time she said something like this, we have had dialogue before, and I always took the high road by approaching the conversation with an open mind and a willingness to listen, helping foster understanding and build bridges between different perspectives.


The concept of acceptance without understanding speaks to the importance of accepting people for who they are, even if we don’t fully understand them or their experiences.


In the context of the challenges facing cisgender and transgender women, it’s essential to recognise that these groups face unique challenges that may not be fully understood by those who have not experienced them firsthand. However, this lack of understanding should not prevent us from accepting and supporting them.


Acceptance without understanding means recognising every person’s inherent worth and dignity, regardless of their background or experiences. It means treating others respectfully and empathically, even if we don’t fully understand their perspectives or struggles.


For transgender women, for example, acceptance without understanding means recognising that they are women, regardless of whether we fully understand their gender identity or the experiences that come with it. It means treating them with the same respect, dignity, and support we would offer any other woman.


Ultimately, acceptance without understanding is about creating a more compassionate and inclusive society where everyone can live freely and authentically without fear and feel they belong.


Stop Erasing Women


I agree with this acquaintance, and I have written about it before, that language that erases women from these conversations is wrong. As a former national board leader for a feminist organisation, ensuring that women are included is as critical to me as being inclusive of my transgender identity.


Our instant society feeds on short words or phrases to be all-inclusive at the expense of stating identities included in a specific topic, such as people who give birth. It includes women, transgender men & women, and non-binary and gender non-conforming people.


Weaponising Words


The challenge we see is that these quick phrases become weaponised like so many words today. These words often carry different connotations and meanings depending on who uses them and in what context.


Here are a few examples:

- “Woke”: the term “woke” has been used to describe people aware of social and political issues related to inequality and injustice. However, some people use the term to mock or belittle those who are socially conscious, implying that they are overly sensitive or politically correct.

- “Cancel culture” refers to boycotting or ostracising individuals or organisations that have expressed controversial or offensive views. Some people argue that a cancel culture is a form of censorship that stifles free speech, while others view it as a necessary way to hold influential people accountable for their actions.

- “Political correctness”: This term is often used to describe avoiding language or behaviour that could be considered offensive or discriminatory. However, some people use the term to criticise those trying to promote a more inclusive and respectful language.

- “Snowflake”: This term is often used to describe someone perceived as overly sensitive or easily offended. However, some people use the term to dismiss legitimate concerns about discrimination and inequality.


It’s essential to be aware of these words’ different meanings and connotations and to use them respectfully and productively in conversations about social and political issues.


Part 2 is coming next week. Follow to be notified when it gets posted.

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