Male? Female? Or…?
I was shopping at the weekend. My wife was in the changing room. So, my 4-year-old daughter and I were outside entertaining the shop assistant, ‘Raz’ who was (of course), far younger and cooler than me. About 6 feet tall, with a broad, typically masculine figure, long dark hair and purple nail varnish, so not someone easy to place as male or female. I don’t know. I didn’t ask, it was and is after all, not my business. But I was about to get involved, like it or not.
Grabbing the baton
I was away for a few minutes and on my return I took over a story my wife had started, to entertain our little one. It was about a monster and a brave warrior who, my daughter had decided, should be our new friend Raz. Usually that’s a fun situation for a copywriter that doesn’t take too much effort. But this time it was different.
Our star and extra audience member was listening and possibly wondering what they might end up doing. As a professional writer I felt an added responsibility in how I described Raz. If they were non-binary (didn’t identify as one particular gender), what I say might make them feel validated and acknowledged or potentially ignored and hurt. And of course, everything you do as a parent is lesson to your child. No pressure, then!
Making grey matter, matter
So, I engaged my freelance copywriter brain and made small changes throughout the story. Just tiny things really, saying ‘they’ and ‘their’, rather than ‘he/she’ and his/her’. “As Raz mounted their horse, they felt ready to take on the monster.” That sort of thing. It’s slightly tricky at first but you get used to it quickly. I think that’s always the way with something new. But it’s amazing how fast it becomes second nature, especially when you’re offering copywriting services.
George Washington never said ‘OMG!’
As society evolves, so does language (just ask someone from 1925 what a ‘selfie’ is). So, we can choose to ignore it, because change can feel hard (even when it’s not) or we can adapt, to communicate more successfully. I think it’s a simple choice.
As freelance copywriters, my team and I spend every day working hard to make people click, swipe, buy and, sometimes, even think differently. We know how hard it is to pick the right words, whether that’s for blogging, website content or script writing. But we also know that doing so means we’ll continue to be mindful, empathise and stay connected to our audience; whoever ‘they’ are.