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University of Edinburgh staff given banned list of transphobic microaggressions they can’t say to students

Emma Powys Maurice May 3, 2021
Edinburgh University

Edinburgh University has advised lecturers on anti-trans phrases to avoid (Ken Jack/Corbis/ Getty)

University of Edinburgh has drawn up a list of transphobic microaggressions for staff to avoid, including remarks that place “excess focus on anatomical sex markers”.

The new trans-inclusive guidance shared on the university’s website describes certain comments, questions and language that can undermine the lived experience of trans and non-binary people.

These micro-insults can take the form of “everyday verbal, non-verbal and environmental slights, snubs or insults”, both intentional and unintentional, which communicate a hostile, derogatory or negative message.

For example, staff are asked to avoid generalising statements such as “all women hate their periods” and “all people think about being the opposite gender sometimes”.

Other comments can minimise gender dysphoria and its impact, like, “I don’t understand why you don’t just love yourself?” And, “There are women with low voices so why do you dislike yours?”

These phrases “negate or nullify the thoughts, feelings or lived reality of trans and non-binary people, by questioning their experience, gender identity and the process of transition,” the guidance explains.

Some of the more antagonistic comments include “saying “you’re either man or a woman”, “you’re just dressing for effect” or uttering “you’re just trying to be special”.

But other transphobic interactions are more subtle, such as engaging in “avoidant behaviour” around trans people.

Staff are also warned against intrusive or insensitive questions, like “Can’t you just be a butch lesbian?” which are often based in ignorance or misunderstanding about trans identities.

The guidance was co-produced by trans students who experienced invasive questioning and touching once they revealed they were transgender.

“People feel entitled to ask questions that are really intimate that they’d never ask a cis person,” one student said. “Because you’ve been honest about being trans, they then think that they’ve been invited into some sort of sexual or personal discussion.”

As well as listing phrases to avoid, the University of Edinburgh guidance also educates staff on trans and non-binary experiences, including what it means to transition, importance of pronouns, increased need for medical support, and the difficulties in navigating a gendered environment.

Lecturers are asked to put their preferred pronouns in emails and encouraged to wear rainbow lanyards on site to help make trans and non-binary people feel more welcome.

Similar trans-inclusive guidance has appeared in several Russel Group universities, including the University of Manchester.

More: Edinburgh, pronouns, Scotland, university of edinburgh

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