Do you ever feel lost when it comes to the countless phrases coming out of LGBTQ+ spaces? Are you straight and trying to be a better ally, or are you LGBTQ+ yourself but don’t know how to describe yourself to others? There is good news, Kate Sloan’s new book 200 Words to Help You Talk About Sexuality & Gender is a resource that dives deeply into modern language and highlights the various interpretations of each word or phrase, along with the ways each word might be hurtful or misrepresentative when used in the wrong context.
For starters, Sloan tackles a huge range of topics from the basic concepts of gender and sex, along with the more niche ideas of stigma, biology, Kink & BDSM terminology, and words that just help with the use of the English language, such as pronouns, culture, and gender identities/roles. Each entry looks at the origin of the word (when it’s relevant), who might use that word, who might be upset if you use that word incorrectly, and much more.
For LGBTQ+ Folks
As a queer+trans person, I was struck by many entries in this book that helped me understand words I was using poorly. Some things were easier for me to learn over the years, like how “Gold Star Gay” can feel invalidating to bisexual people, people who have been victims of sexual assault, and people who came out later in life after having sexual relationships with someone of another gender. Other things, like the term “boi” originating in Black culture and being a facet of that culture were news to me, but explain why Black and Hispanic friends of mine would respond poorly when I used that word. There are so many ways our dearly beloved queer language has grown over the last few decades that it’s impossible for everyone to know the history of every word. But, thanks to resources like 200 Words, we can hope to better understand the context from which these phrases came.
Ultimately, this isn’t an attempt to “police” terms or phrases, merely an opportunity to learn the context of words we might have picked up while frequenting discreet websites in the ’90s, or even on Tumblr, Reddit, or Google more recently.
If you are (or want to be) an ally for LGBTQ+ people in your life (or even the world at large), I vigorously encourage you to get your hands on a copy of this book. Partly, this is because there are just so many darn words to learn. Even more important, though, is that the English language cannot help us improve equity if we do not help it grow through its use. By discussing issues using proper language, we empower ourselves and those we discuss things with to lift LGBTQ+ people and voices to a better place in society.
One note, though: Many times, this book may caution you to consider whether to use a word for another person. For example, a nonbinary person might dislike the term “enby” and not identify with it. If you refer to them as an enby, they may think you are belittling their experience, even if you are trying to be supportive. So, to be safe, always ask someone what words they use to describe themselves and never, ever, ever correct someone’s use of those words. If you think someone is using a word in a harmful way, share your copy of the book with them so they can see another side to that word or phrase in that context. You should never, however, tell them they are using it wrong or try to get them to use a different word for themselves. That’s on them.
For Sex Ed
Sex education is a topic we feel strongly about at GeekDad. You can see our Top 10 Sex Ed Books post for reference (now updated to include this resource!), and we have covered various graphic novels and other media from an LGBTQ+ perspective over the years. The unfortunate truth is there is no such thing as a single resource to learn everything about the human body or our sexual, romantic, or gender identities. This book is an excellent starting point, but it doesn’t really cover the details of physical and emotional health that are vital to sexual education, so we encourage you to check our Top 10 post for more resources if you are looking for more holistic educational resources.
200 Words to Help You Talk About Sexuality & Gender is a fantastic reference for those wanting to learn more about how to discuss LGBTQ+ topics, regardless of your own level of experience or involvement with the LGBTQ+ community. You will find information on what each word means, who might use it, and how it might be inappropriate if used in the wrong context. It makes an excellent gift or an excellent accompaniment to sex education materials whether or not you’re a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
Disclaimer: The author of this post received a review copy of this book for review purposes, but thoughts and opinions on this piece are formed independently of this factor.