Friday, April 29, 2011

Why Misgendering Is Bad (from Tranarchism)

(a primer by Char C., originally posted on Tranarchism)

The following is an excellent primer, written for a cis audience, on why using the wrong pronoun for a trans person is unacceptable.

As a trans person, one of the more difficult parts of being around those who are not trans is the danger of being misgendered- that is, being addressed with a pronoun (she/he/etc) which is incorrect. This happens to trans people with unfortunate regularity, and is an error committed almost exclusively by those who are aware of the trans status of the person being misgendered.

When someone is misgendered, I often get quite visibly angry. The thing is, I know that kind of strong reaction can take someone who has committed this offense off guard, especially if one has little experience with interacting with openly trans people. I can understand why someone who has made this mistake with a trans person might feel hurt and defensive in response to that person’s clear anger, when one is not sure why this is such a sensitive issue in the first place. So I was hoping to take just a moment to explain why we react this way.

People with trans history are not able to take their gender for granted, the way that people without that history do. We go through a long and really difficult process, almost all of which is invisible to anyone else. For example, I struggled with profound gender dysphoria for over a decade before deciding to take any steps to alleviate it. This struggle did not kill me, but it came close on countless occasions. At this point, I see my active transition process as the only alternative to suicide, a perspective shared by quite a few trans people.

We’re not ignorant of the consequences of being trans, after all. Our culture fears and hates us, openly and actively. It seems that every damn day I see another reporting of assault on a trans sibling of mine. We would not accept the clear day-to-day risks of living in such a trans-hostile environment if we were not convinced that the alternative to transition were worse. All of which is simply to illustrate the fact that gender is not something we take lightly, but is an aspect of our identity upon which we place great value and importance.

People who have misgendered anyone with trans history often take the defensive position that misgendering is not such a big deal. Often the argument is made that they, personally, would not take such offense if they had been misgendered. First, let me reiterate that gender is something people with no trans experience or history can take for granted. If you have never had to earn the right to be your gender from an unwelcoming physician, or fight for the right to exist as your gender while waiting for the bus or trying to use a public restroom, then you are probably a whole lot less invested in the way that people see you. Second, I have to disagree with the idea that trans people are the only people who are offended by misgendering. In my years in the service industry, I have seen firsthand countless reactions of people exploding in rage when offered an incorrect ma’am or sir. Gender is important to most people’s identity, regardless of trans history, and most find the egregious insult of misgendering pretty darn offensive.

Also important for myself and many like me is the question of sexual orientation. When my boyfriend or I have been misgendered, the message implied (despite any intent on the part of the person who misgendered us) is that he and I are engaged in a heterosexual relationship. The further implication is that we are playing the part of a queer couple, faux faggots, merrily appropriating the fashion of the gay community while actually living out a straight lifestyle.

The gaybashers on the street corners disagree. We are read as homos by people who don’t know us- a fact which highlights the interesting point that without exception, the people who misgender my boyfriend are those who know that he is trans. So we find ourselves stuck: attacked by homophobes for being gay, and snubbed by the gay community for being transgendered. Being misgendered brings up these frustrations and resentments, reminding us that it is impossible for us to leave our house without being scrutinized and attacked by both strangers and acquaintances. It may seem like a small Freudian slip in conversation to the person who misgenders us, but in fact it is a reminder that the rest of our lives will be spent under fire, as second class citizens.

The next time you are in conversation with a trans person and you misgender them, don’t try to brush it off as inconsequential or become defensive when your error is pointed out. Simply apologize honestly for your mistake, and try to be more aware of what is coming out of your mouth in the future.

How To Respect A Transgender Person

(Adapted from "How To Respect A Transsexual" by Anonymous, with additional nods to "A Really Awesome Trans Glossary" by erinhoudini, "Why Misgendering Is Bad" by Char and the GLAAD Media Reference Guide.)

This page is about trans and non-binary people, i.e. people whose gender identity differs from the sex or gender they were assigned at birth, and for those whose gender expression differs from what is culturally expected of them. This identity may be binary (male or female) or non-binary(genderqueer, gender fluid, third gender, bigender, and others). The term gender, when used below, always means the gender the person identifies as.

Basic Stuff

  • Accept me as a full-fledged member of the gender I identify as.
  • Always use the language that corresponds to my gender identity, e.g. he/him, she/her, ze/hir, they/them etc., even if my body does not seem to match yet and even when talking about my past. If my gender identity is non-binary or ambiguous, it is more polite to use the gender neutral “they/them”, or to ask what my preferred pronouns are, than to misgender me by using the wrong pronouns.
  • If you are still adjusting, it's normal to make mistakes. Don’t try to brush it off as inconsequential or become defensive when your error is pointed out. Simply apologize honestly for your mistake, and try to be more aware in the future.
  • If I don’t identify as female, never use female-marked words like girl, waitress, breasts, vagina, etc. to describe anything about me, and vice versa. Always use language that corresponds to my gender. For example, if I am a trans man, I am always a guy and never a girl. Don't call me "female-bodied", unless I use that term myself. If I identify as non-binary, try to avoid specifically gender marked words. If you are still concerned about misgendering, ask what would be most appropriate.
  • A trans man is a man. A trans woman is a woman.
  • Gender identity has nothing to do with sexual orientation. Whether I am attracted to men, women, both or neither is a totally separate thing from whether I am male or female. For example, if I am a trans woman who likes women, treat me no differently than any other lesbian woman.
  • Don't expect me to conform to the stereotypes of my gender. I'll wear whatever clothes I like and have whatever interests I have. Being masculine or feminine (i.e. having mannerisms or interests that are seen by society as stereotypical of one gender) has nothing to do with identifying as a certain gender. Butch trans people and feminine trans people exist across the gender spectrum, just like they do among non-trans people.
  • For almost all trans people, being trans is not a choice or a decision. It is a simple reality. The only "decision" is whether to accept my situation and fix it to live a healthier life, or deny it and suffer.
  • Never mention my “old name” or ever ask what it was. Instead of saying"back when you were Fred",say "before you came out", if you have to speak about it at all.
  • Don't use my name in the 3rd person as if I was a person separate from myself, e.g. "are you dressing as Lisa now?"
  • I am a person foremost. If you must use the word transgender (or trans), it's better to use it as an adjective to describe a person, not as a noun onto itself, e.g. “trans people”, “trans folks”, “trans guy”, not "transgenders," "a transgender" or “transgendered”.
  • When it comes down to it, the matter is very simple: My gender identity is worthy of respect. That's all!


  • Use the word "transition" to describe what changes I am going through or went though.
  • The changes I make to my body are not purely cosmetic, but rather reconstructive. Having a body I am comfortable with is vital to my health and in my social and physical interactions with other people.
  • Don't openly talk about my genitals any more than you would for a non-trans person, unless I bring up the topic myself.
  • Don't immediately assume that genital sexual reassignment surgery (SRS) is my priority. Every trans person is unique and chooses different steps during their transition, based on many factors. Not everyone wants, needs or gets SRS.
  • I am not my surgery. My choice to have surgery is a personal one, and does not confirm or negate my gender identity. It is not a standard by which my dedication to my gender identity is measured. Please respect the choices I make in regards to my own body, since I’m the one who has to live in it.
  • Please don’t gender my genitals for me. Many trans people suffer incredible anxiety (or dysphoria) in regards their bodies, and having gender ascribed to their bodies/genitals by someone without their consent can be viewed as violating.
  • If I am a trans man or non-binary person getting top surgery, then I am not "getting my breasts removed", I am getting a chest reconstruction.

Social Situations

  • Being transgender is a very personal matter. Treat it with respect.
  • I'm not here to shock anyone or get attention. I am not selfish. I'm just a person like anyone else, and I have a right to be healthy and live in my honest gender.
  • If I blend well (i.e. I "pass") or if I am online, then don't tell anyone I am trans without my permission. Just talk about me like any other person, according to my gender identity. No one likes a surprise “outing”, and this is in part for my own personal safety.
  • If I am visibly gender variant, non-binary or ambiguously gendered, please get my permission to educate your friends, e.g. about pronouns, etc. before meeting me in person. This is in part for my own personal safety.
  • Don't introduce me as your "transgender" friend. Don't ask me to explain my life story or my gender situation to people I just met.
  • Ask permission before taking a photo of me or before displaying old, pre-transition pictures of me.
  • Don't call me whenever a documentary about a transgender person is on TV just because I am trans. I already know what being trans is about! Do it only if you already know I am genuinely interested in the subject.

The Nature of Gender

  • Gender comes from the way our brain, mind and/or soul is configured, not from the body. Chromosomes, hormones, upbringing, etc. do notdetermine or change a person's gender.
  • The only person who can know about their gender is themself. No external "clues" can prove or disprove somebody's true inner gender. Some people knew it their entire lives. Some manage to deny it for a long time. Some always knew there was something different. Some did a lot of soul searching to figure out their proper gender identity and that this was a legitimate medical situation.
  • Don't call a non-trans person a "real man/woman" or "completelymale/female". This denies a trans person their identity, implying that it is somehow not “real”.


  • This page deals with transgender and non-binary people.
  • The term "transgender" is an umbrella term that includes any and all gender variant people: transsexual people, cross-dressers, drag kings and queens, intersex, genderqueer and bigendered people, and many other types. Be careful when using it. For example, some transsexual people don't like to be associated with cross-dressers.
  • The short form "trans" can mean either transsexual or transgender. On this page, we use it to meantransgender.
  • The term "tranny" is slang for transsexual or transgender, either as an adjective or noun. Many feel that it is offensive, on par with words like fag, dyke and nigger. As such, many feel that only trans people themselves can reclaim it and use it. In some cities, however, it only means cross-dresser and not transsexual. Use it with much caution, if at all.
  • The term "she-male" is vulgar and never appropriate. It is used by the pornography industry to objectify and fetishize pre-operative trans women.
  • Don't call it cross-dressing if I am wearing clothes that match my gender. Cross-dressing is if I wear clothes of the opposite gender, e.g. a trans man wearing women's clothing.

If I Just Came Out

  • If I have just come out as my properly identified gender, you should use my new name and pronouns with me and with all (and only those people)who know about me, even (and especially!) with people who are still struggling to adjust to my correct gender. Be casual about it. Don't make a big deal about it.
  • If I haven't told everyone yet that I am trans, then don't tell anyone. Outing me to people without my permission can not only cost me friends, family, my home and my job, but put me in physical danger. I will come out when I feel the time is appropriate, and not before.

This post is a work in progress. If you know of any other information that should be included, please send it to me as an email, and I'll review it for inclusion. Thanks! <3