Five years after graduating Yale, I told a business colleague of mine that his language was heteronormative. “What’s heteronormative?” he said in confusion and disbelief. I told him that heteronormative meant his speech style was conforming to that of a white man who had only known other straight people his entire life and that these people stayed the same gender as the one they were assigned at birth. “Why couldn’t you have told me I was just a dumb straight guy?” he responded. 

At Yale, it is all too common to find students using big, multisyllabic words, some niche, others distinct, to describe common phenomena we experience with sexuality, gender, race, ethnicity, discrimination and other things. In the women’s and gender studies classes I took at Yale, as well as in other classes on food politics and human rights, students were quick to mutter things like “social constructionism,” “queer analysand,” and my favorite: “transference-countertransference.” 

What in the world does that mean?

After graduating in 2017, I learned that most Americans can’t understand these big words at all, and these words do, in fact, act as gatekeepers for the rest of non-Ivy-educated America to understand the progressive topics we are playing around with on campus. 

Only 42 percent of Americans over the age of 25 have a college degree. That’s less than half the country. Out of these Americans, an overwhelming majority are white: white people constitute 72 percent of college degree holders, but Black people only constitute 9 percent of graduates. Moreover, Asians make up 8 percent of this pie, and Latinx people make up 8 percent as well. 

Post-graduation, many Yalies will flock to McKinsey and Goldman Sachs, or they’ll get doctoral degrees at more Ivy-clad schools, and they’ll socialize in the same woke, big-worded circles. But many Yalies won’t do that as well. You might matriculate into the security sector. Or the intelligence sector. Or work at a middle school in an urban downtown, or, for all I know, fly to Jordan and read tarot cards in the Bedouin desert. 

The most effective language is simple. The best presidential orators of our time did not use large words in their speeches: in fact, they spoke simply and colloquially. Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan’s vocabulary matched the vocabulary of an average American, and that wasn’t a coincidence. Their speechwriters wanted their easy verbage to be a tool for citizens to access the more complex topics they were dealing with in the White House. 

But while language can act as a tool to inform and spur the masses, it is also a huge gatekeeper. In using words like “social constructionism” and even “heteronormative,” we are preventing most Americans from accessing our cause and sympathizing with it. Many Americans mean well, even towards transgender people and others who are oppressed. A majority of people we come across are generally supportive. But the truth is, many Americans just really don’t know what “heteronormative” means, and they feel embarrassed or left out of our conversations despite harboring goodwill. 

Why are Yalies taking the time to gatekeep these people with overly impressive words? It’s all too common to find students on campus throwing niche words around to gain the favor of a TA and show their credibility as top learners. But doing this out of college will not gain you any points in the workplace or with friends. In fact, it’ll lose you brownie points. 

The moment you step outside of New Haven’s city limits to enter the world as a Yale alum, I encourage you to watch your language. Trust me: it’ll do you some good. 

ISAAC AMEND is a former YDN columnist and 2017 Yale College graduate, having majored in Political Science. As a transgender man, Isaac was featured in National Geographic’s “Gender Revolution” documentary. He is now a writer based in the DC area. You can reach him on Instagram and Twitter at: @isaacamend