Tips On How To Avoid Misgendering Folx And How To Correct Yourself If (Not When) You Do
1. Never assume someone’s gender pronouns by their gender presentation or name.
2. Using they to replace pronouns for a person whose pronouns you don’t know is a common practice, but I would argue is not an ideal one. People who do not use these pronouns can feel erased by this, especially binary trans folks and folx with gender variant pronouns that are considered less common. Replace pronouns with the person’s name instead. If you don’t know, just say this/that person.
3. If you want to know someone’s pronouns, directly asking them can make some folx feel uncomfortable. An easier approach would be to say, “Hi, my name is [insert name], my pronouns are [insert pronouns].” The other person will likely follow suit. If you’ve already met you can say, “I realized I never told you, my pronouns are [insert pronouns].” It may feel unusual to share pronouns if you are a cis person that does not generally do so, but making it a practice is a great way to help normalize the sharing and discussion of pronouns.
4. When you are corrected, do not get angry or project your embarrassment onto the person correcting you. They have every right to do so and no one is calling you a horrible person, but most importantly, this isn’t about you and your comfort so don’t make it that way.
5. If you misgender someone whose pronouns you know, just correct yourself and move on. No need to make a big apology. This often pushes the awkwardness of the moment off on the person you misgendered who feels they have to forgive you for the conversation to continue which is manipulative and self-centered.
6. Make sure you use the right pronouns for someone always and everywhere, not just in front of that person. If you’re embarrassed to describe your friend, loved one, family member or colleague as who they are in order to avoid an explanation, you are helping to normalize cissexism.
7. Don’t tell yourself that gender variant pronouns are hard. Whether it’s the more common they/them or less common ze/hir or something you’ve never heard, remind yourself the commonality is your own design. It’s only not common because it’s not common to YOU. Gender variant pronouns are not inherently uncommon nor are they inherently difficult. By telling yourself they are, you are making excuses for your own comfort and we all need to respect people outside of our own identities.
8. Never announce to someone you will not use their pronouns correctly or preemptively ask forgiveness for predictably getting them wrong. The only future you should predict is one in which you respect each other and describe a person accurately. Again, making excuses is only self-serving. Consider that you are asking a person to just be okay with feeling uncomfortable and erased around you. That is an unreasonable request.
9. Remember that being misgendered is not the same slight for trans folx as it is for cis folks. It is incredibly more hurtful as our identities are something we fight to be recognized every day, not the occasional embarrassing misunderstanding. It is a painful erasure that eats at those of us with gender dysphoria and struggle to be seen as who we really are rather than how others would define us. Be mindful of this. If you support the trans community then support us as we are, not who you think we are or should be.