“Sex” and “Gender” Didn’t Always Mean What You Think—Courtesy of Professional Activists

by | Aug 21, 2023 | Restoring Our Language

Part of a developing series on Restoring Our Language

The Left uses many tools to reshape arguments and create divides within America. One of the most effective weapons in its arsenal is the strategic transformation of our language for political ends.

We’ve already examined how “progressives” have retooled words in the media to get a leg up in the battle over gun rights and abortion.

Over the last three decades, many terms like “cisgender,” “transgender,” “queer,” “gender identity,” and numerous others, have trickled into the legacy media’s preferred language. That’s not a coincidence—it’s part of a decades-long campaign to dictate the terms of the debate.

Complex Words Redefine a Once-Simple Idea

Over the last 15 years, “progressives” have twisted the universal understanding of biological sex, opting to apply a more “open” description. In place of the age-old and DNA-backed “male” and “female” descriptors for “biological sex”, the Left has shifted toward a more ambiguous term: Gender.

(Recall that, until the 20th century, “gender” was more commonly a grammar term—most other languages besides English divide nouns into “male,” “female,” and “neuter” genders.)

Gender, acting as the base for the Left’s new vocabulary, opened Pandora’s box for numerous ambiguous ideas of “preferred” gender – its use continues to rise.

Source: Google Trends, “Biological Sex” (Blue)” vs. “Gender” (Red)

The Media Plays Along

Terms that include “cisgender,” “transgender,” “queer,” “gender identity,” and numerous others, have trickled into the legacy media’s preferred language over the last 15 years. Why has this happened?

Many of these terms did not exist in public discourse until the early 2000s, but now it seems they are the only terms that ever existed. One reason the change in language has become so prevalent is due to legacy media outlets updating their style guides to fit new demands by diversity, equity, and inclusivity (DEI) advocates.

The Washington Post, now owned by left-wing mega-donor and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, released an updated style guide in 2022 that discusses the wide array of sex-based terminology used in articles. The style guide claims to be a surface level explanation of the new age of sex and aims to help Americans understand all the new genders, as it can be “challenging to navigate some of the terms of the debate” (an understatement).

The guide dives into the different ways new words for sex are used and describes 23 new words used to define a “spectrum” of genders.

Twenty-three is a lot, but the Washington Post only scraped the surface. According to some sources, there are 81 different genders with unlimited pronoun preferences—better make flashcards before you “misgender” someone, 1984-style.

It sounds far-fetched, but a July 2023 poll shows that 44 percent of millennials age 25 to 34 believe that misgendering someone should be a crime. In the 35- to 44-year-old demographic, 38 percent of respondents believe that misgendering should be a crime. Those are big minorities.

Thankfully the Constitution protects us from ourselves. In 2021, the Third District Court of Appeals ruled that California’s SB 219, which sought to protect LGTBQ+ individuals from repeated misgendering, was unconstitutional as it violates freedom of speech.

The Washington Post is not the only media group to update its “gender” style guide. The Associated Press updated its guidelines in 2023 and urged reporters to not use “biological sex” in articles.

Seeking Unlimited Power

The words used by the media to describe certain events ultimately become the social standard. This is emphasized in the 2008 Cambridge University Annual Review of Applied Linguistics. The study highlights four key reasons why the media defines language, summarized here:

  1. The media is an easily accessible source of language data for research and teaching purposes.
  2. The media’s output makes up a large proportion of the language that people hear and read every day.
  3. The media uses language to construct their own images and relationships to an unseen, unknown audience.
  4. The media are crucial presenters of culture, politics, and social life, shaping as well as reflecting how these are formed and expressed.

Referencing Cambridge’s linguistic study of the media, one could easily argue that the terms used in media dictate the language and discourse of everyday Americans. If you define the terms, you control the debate.

As Kelly Sadler writing for the Washington Times put it in 2021:

Democrats are using their political power to change the English language — to blur the meaning of what’s right versus wrong of what’s politically correct versus incorrect. Living in a world of cancel culture it all becomes perilous to the average American — what words can be used to describe what, without offending?

A Rise in “Gender” Terms

If the media defines language, and the media is adopting new terms for sex, the prevalence of these words should continue to build in society. The cycle should snowball, but what do the numbers say?

In part they show a staggering increase over the last 15 years, but also show that the terms were nonexistent in the media until about 30 years ago. Once the media adopted the terms, everyday Americans began to parrot the words, and here we are—a world that accepts and promotes a litany of pseudo-sexes formed under the banner of inclusivity.

Let’s break it down.

From 1970 to 1990, the term “gender” appeared in fewer than 12,000 articles, according to LexisNexis. From 1990 to 2023, almost 3 million articles referenced “gender,” over a 14,000 percent increase in three decades.

If the media’s usage of the term increased, shouldn’t the public’s use of the word increase? If the university of Cambridge’s idea of linguistic influence is true, then it should—and it is. Since 2008, Google Trends has reported a constant increase in searches for the term “gender” by the public.

Source: Google Trends, “gender”

Other terms, including “gender identity,” “transgender,” “cisgender,” and “queer” have continued to gain relevance in the media over the years as well.

In the three decades between 1971 and 2000, “transgender” was referenced in just 6,000 articles, according to LexisNexis. From 2000 to 2023, the term appeared in over 600,000 articles. Similarly, Google Trends reports a continued increase since 2004.

Source: Google Trends, “transgender”

“Gender identity” was rarely used before 2012, and from 1970 to 2012 the term was only referenced in 25,000 articles. From 2012 to 2023, however, “gender identity” was referenced in 230,000 articles, according to LexisNexis.

As assumed, Google Trends shows a continued increase in relevance for the term.

Source: Google Trends, “gender identity”

“Queer” had very minimal use from 1970 to 2004, as only 33,000 articles referenced the term. From 2005 to 2023, over 273,000 articles referenced “queer.” Queer had a spike in 2004 but subsided for a few years before returning to peak relevance.

Source: Google Trends, “queer”

The biggest outlier is “cisgender,” which doesn’t appear in a single article before 2007, according to LexisNexis, but shows up in over 20,000 articles between 2007 and 2023.

As predicted, “cisgender’s” relevance in society parallels its use in the media, according to Google Trends.

Source: Google Trends, “cisgender”

Other Words Within the Gender Debate That Continue to Gain Relevance in the Media

From 1977 to 2000, the term “intersex” was only referenced in 133 articles; but from 2000 to 2023, the term appeared in 30,770 articles.

The term “gender expression” was mentioned in 183 articles from 1984 to 2000. From 2000 to 2023, it was used in 36,900 articles.

From 1977 to 2015, the term “non-binary” appeared in 1,135 articles. From 2015 to 2023, the term was used in 73,990 articles.

From 1988 to 2013, the term “gender queer” was used in 476 articles. From 2013 to 2023, the term was used in over 10,000 articles.

From 1977 to 2013, the term “gender nonconforming” was referenced in 563 articles. From 2013 to 2023, the term appeared in 19,620 articles.

From 1984 to 2013, the term “gender dysphoria” was used in 1,433 articles. From 2013 to 2023, the term appeared in 19,430 articles.

Taking Back Rational Language

The Left is redefining the way Americans discuss a seemingly simple topic by turning it into a complex, diverse, and free flowing concept. Unless we take a stand against the media’s attempts to redefine “gender,” the linguistic power of the media will continue to change the rhetoric of “gender” forever.