When I first heard the phrase ‘subtle acts of exclusion’ it was like something clicked. ‘Privilege’ turns off some people’s ability to engage when they don’t see that they have it, ‘microaggressions’ are often read to mean ‘deliberate aggression’, but this looks specifically at that is missing, not what is had.
A subtle act of exclusion can be as simple as saying ‘ladies and gents’ or only having images of certain types of people on your website. It’s not saying “you have something I don’t” it’s saying “I am not seen here”.
Give me examples, I hear you say!
When we have strictly gendered spaces and all the sanitary products are only available in the ‘women only’ space, it subtly excludes transmasc people. It probably wasn’t a deliberate exclusion – in most cases it’s something that people have just not thought about.
In services around pregnancy, parenthood, egg or sperm storage, and abortion there is often gendered language used where it does not need to be. The same applies for services for those who have been in abusive relationships or sexually abused or assaulted.
In hospitals there is little provision for trans+ patients having what are usually seen as gender specific surgery. For example, I have met more than one transmasc person who has gone to hospital with uterine issues and been told that they cannot be put on the ‘correct’ ward because of their gender presentation – often for surgery that has been booked a month or more in advance.
Why are these things important?
Two main reasons.
Firstly, it’s a hassle. If it happens once in a while, it’s not a big deal, but the more that they happen, the more they impact a person. It’s a little extra hassle that builds up to being a problem.
Secondly, what is says to someone is “you’re not important enough to be included” or, for some people, “we don’t cater for freaks like you.” It’s not what most, if any, people are trying to say when they do any of the above, or the many other exclusions that happen.
What can I do about it?
Take a minute to think about the groups of people you don’t usually consider.
When you book a meeting room, think “is this accessible?”
When you post cartoons to social media, think “am I showing diverse people here?”
When you do anything related to gender, think “when I say women, do I mean to say ‘people with a womb’ or ‘anyone who can be pregnant’” or “when I say men, do I mean those who identify as men as a whole or something else?”
Target what you are saying or doing at all the people it might include.
Where can I learn more about it?
For all things trans+ awareness, we have a course! Details here.
If you want to support people who have been excluded because of their gender, apply to volunteer with us here.