Photo by Sharon McCutcheon
Artillery Row

Lost for words

Now the Ministry of Defence agrees that not all women are female

The Ministry of Defence has published an “Inclusive Language Guide” aimed at service personnel, civil servants and contractors. In case people find the Guide cumbersome for everyday use, it has published “posters, desk reminders and a pocket version” so that personnel can keep it handy.

While admitting that we all make mistakes, the MoD says “respectfully correcting others contributes to an inclusive culture”.  In fact: “We need to normalise giving someone a gentle and polite nod to their language to share with them a better way to say something, and they need to be open to receive that advice”. My, what advice!

There are daft instructions to be long-winded

The Ministry of Defence has got itself into quite a tangle. Human weakness and disability? We should “avoid phrases like ‘suffers from’ or ‘a victim of’”. None of us are victims in any real sense. (“Defence subscribes to the social model of disability, which sees the person first and the barriers they face (not their disability) are what causes them to be disabled.”) Yet we must all be kept safe from hurtful language: “Consider the impact of phrases that have negative associations with disability. For example, ‘deaf to our pleas’, ‘blind drunk’, ‘crippled by debt’”.

Is someone in the office taking too long over a deadline? Have “compassion for different working styles: consider how different people will process new information in different ways rather than labelling someone as ‘slow’”. Oh.

There are daft instructions to be long-winded. Say “people of South Asian heritage” instead of “Asians”. “BAME” has been ruled unacceptable. Good but it’s hard to keep up. In case you do find yourself speaking to someone of another race, there is a flowchart. Keep in your top pocket? 

The basic rule is to be very careful when speaking to another human being. “As someone with a strong nonreligious belief, I am unhappy being referred to as ‘without faith’ or ‘no faith’, as it implies I’m lacking something.”

Most concerning is that the Ministry of Defence has fallen hook, line and sinker for gender ideology. “An individual’s internal sense of their own gender, whether male, female or a non-binary identity… may or may not correspond to the sex assigned at birth.” 

Here is the big news: “Not all women are biologically female.”

Meeting someone new? Try, “May I ask how you prefer me to address you, for example what pronoun do you use?” or “Please remind me how you would like to be addressed”. Apparently: “Most people, if asked in a sensitive manner, will appreciate the question and will simply tell you”. Most people? Try it on your taxi-driver? Someone is having a laugh at the MoD’s expense.

The Ministry has the audacity to take plain English, evolved for a reason we’re sexed and we know it and sort of slur it. It is apparently more inclusive to say “Every visitor must present their ID to obtain a visitors’ pass”. It is less inclusive to say “Every visitor must present his or her ID to obtain a visitors’ pass”.  Now who says so? Since when were they in charge?

The MoD casually promotes bodily dysphoria by using the term “cisgender”: “a person whose gender aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth” like that is the old normal, but not the new. 

Talking about sexual orientation is easy. “It is simply talking about who people are attracted to, with people attracted to people of the opposite gender (heterosexual or straight), of the same gender (homosexual, gay or lesbian), of two or more genders (bisexual or bi), to people regardless of gender (pansexual or pan), to no-one (asexual).”

The MoD can’t keep up with the acronyms

Someone called Jim can’t keep up: “As a middle-aged man, it can be very difficult to keep up to date with current acceptable and unacceptable terms. An example of this is the evolution of the term Queer: When I first started in my job that was an incredibly offensive term but now that has dramatically changed. We need to keep an open dialogue to make people aware of the impact of their language.” Jim we all feel your pain.

The MoD can’t keep up with the acronyms: “The list of letters can and does continue.” If you want to talk about all the people not covered by acronyms perhaps best not to: “Don’t use ‘straight’ as the opposite of ‘LGBT+’”. Okay.

It is important for all staff to know that “Transgender men and people who identify as non-binary can and do get pregnant”.  Who does the MoD link to for further resources? Stonewall, of course. (Staff can click the link provided and learn the meanings of Abro, Ace and Allo.)

The irony is that the idiocy of all this, the actual exclusivity of all this is pointed out plainly in the MoD’s own document. Here are some final tips: “Idioms, industry jargon and acronyms can exclude and impede effective communications.” Is that jargon like pansexual, pangender, agender, cisgender? Also “consider language that can deliberately exclude others: such as excessively complex wording or speaking in another language”. Everything in this document perhaps?

The Ministry of Defence might consider how its convoluted advice, complex wording, neologisms, bossiness and prissiness works to exclude practically all of us. The more we stare across at each other afraid to connect, cautious to speak, ready to correct the more all of this serves to drive us further apart.   

The final words in the Ministry of Defence document are: “If you tell a joke in Latin, will everyone in the room be in on it?” My advice to the Ministry of Defence is: Relinquere hoc. Incipere supra.  

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