Using Coding for More Accurate and Inclusive Gender Language in Text

There are moments in the history of human living and meaning making where our language reveals the short sightedness, immaturity, and lack of empathy with which we hold 'the other.' (One might refer to Martin Buber’s I-Though and I-It relationships here for background and clarification). In our current moment, we find this offense perpetrated across nearly all major news, information, and media productions, through their refusal to honor and acknowledge accurate and inclusive language in signifying the shape and function of gender identity.

The functioning of such offenses are multi-dimensional, interconnected, and inter-sectional, and in its entirety well worth our investigation and interaction with. Coming from this nebulous web, the focus of this piece in particular, is the ease with which the grammatical essence of such offenses could be remedied, through making simple shifts to words which make specific reference to the gender identities of people through a limited, distorted, (and dangerous) assumption and reproduction of gender identity.

While often not malicious, the reinforcing of binary gender roles through the implicit assumption of an either-or man-woman framework , can be understood as a functional and correct model from only two perspectives. First, we can imagine a person, set of people, and/or institution(s) which are deeply committed to the reinforcement of white supremacist capitalist heteronormative patriarchal (a string of terms I use echoing bell hooks) pre-determined, structure of gender identity. Those in line with this reasoning, we can imagine, are in favor of gender identity being a prescribed, single 1 or 0 value, placed upon an individual from the outside in. That is, gender being prescribed by society on to the person (Interpellation), and not the person defining themselves to society. Secondly, we might imagine a person who has not yet revealed to themselves the power and precision of language, and who remains a passive participant in being told how the wor(l)d works, or simply reproducing the world in their own mind and forming their voice into an echo of the current zeitgeist.

I am not sure which of the above categories the NY Times falls into, but none the less, as a publication they dangerously continue to proceed writing their stories from the imaginary position in which gender identity is binary, immutable, and anyone who does not fit this gender imagination, is ignored, invisibilized, and excluded from even the presumption of their existence as a whole human being deserving of recognition of themselves in our (inter)national conversations. In order to understand and affirm the urgency of this moment vis-a-vi the inclusion of gender non-confirming people and trans* people in our language and lives, one need only run a google search on ‘violence against transgendered people.’ (See image below).

Given the urgency of our work in making the world safe for people as they are, and the role language plays in the world of ideas and actions, I have written a piece of javascript code, using regular expressions, to find and then switch all occurrences of gender words which subscribe to and relate the false, and as we see from the above google search, incredibly dangerous, imagination of a binary, two-party framework for understanding gender identity.*1

The fear and lack of understanding around gender non-conformity has far too violent and real consequences for those people who are excluded from the popular binary understanding. I wanted to help ease the discomfort that comes along with not understanding, and to show how easily, without any adjustments to the elements of language themselves, we could write, talk, and present our views and the world without making assumptions or exclusions about the gender identities of the people involved. We have the words for this and are choosing not to use them.

Below is a weekly news summary published by the NY Times. Shown in its original language in the smaller font, with the gender words I focused on highlighted in red, the font of which is my attempt at an 'awkward' looking text to match the bumbling, sharp, thoughtless nature of our assumptive, and exclusionary use of pronouns when it comes to signifying gender in our at least national zeitgeist. To the left in larger font is the same NY Times text, but processed through the code I wrote which has attempted to amend the assumptions of the original article while remaining as coherent and understandable in its primary communications.

I choose to use the NY Times in particular for this experiment because of its standing and reference point in American culture, because this article and the series it is a part of are a 'summary,' proposing to give you all that you need to know, which of course also implies the implicit things you need to know such as gender identity constructions. So in helping the NY Times be more accurate about 'what we need to know,' I've constructed a script to take the article (or any other text) and change the gender pronouns to be more accurate and inclusive of the way gender and identity work in the world. And in so doing I hope to bring into better focus the distorted view of gender identity; a sickness which if left untreated will continue to drive us towards the destruction of our own selves. And all of this with the expectation that this is a process that will happen within the individual and collective consciousness of usAsPeople, and the code and computer are simply tools and toys in the ongoing process of humanization that is the people’s vocation.

“But while both humanization and dehumanization are real alternatives,only the first is the people's vocation."
- Paulo Freire Pedagogy of the Oppressed

*1 I have done this to the best of my ability, but am severely limited by the fact that I am making individual decisions in the coding of this, while language, and language as such, are collective and democratic negotiations, and so my exercise in identifying which words do and do not fall into the category of deserving reform is somewhat in the realm of thought, since I am not speaking from a consensus practice of meaning making and language definition. Secondly, I am limited in that I am still learning how to code well enough to keep up with my mind, so in the distance between these things are some limitations and errors which I have attempted to mark and will continue to amend, and humbly ask that you excuse them at least and perhaps only enough that you are able to investigate and interact with the ideas presented here and view them beyond the limitations of their author.

Using Coding for More Accurate and Inclusive Gender Language in Text