Written by DiveThru Team
Reviewed by Dr. Katelyn Baker Psy.D
How To Address Misgendering When It Happens
Published Nov 4th, 2021 & updated on Nov 4th, 2021
You’re having a great day. You nailed that presentation and your boss was totes impressed. Now you’re going to treat yourself and grab take-out from your fave restaurant on the way home. But when you walk into the restaurant, the host says “sorry sir, it’ll just be another five minutes” — except you’re a woman. It was just a single word that was probably an accident, but now your good vibes are gone and you’re never wearing that pantsuit again.
That would be a shitty feeling, right? Now imagine that nearly every interaction you have was like that. For trans or non-binary people, that can unfortunately be the case. We’ve all said the wrong thing before. Pobody’s nerfect, after all. What’s more important is making things right after your slip of the tongue.
What Is Misgendering?
Misgendering is when someone is referred to by a pronoun or honorific that doesn’t match their gender identity. In case you don’t remember English class, pronouns are substitutes for nouns, e.g. he, they, her, she, his, their. Honorifics are title prefixes, like Ms., Mr., Mx., or Dr.
Misgendering can be done accidentally or intentionally, but has negative impacts either way. You might make assumptions based on a person’s primary or secondary sex characteristics like voice pitch, facial hair, or chest. But you know what they say about assuming… so ask! It’s also just a basic sign of respect to call someone by their preferred name and pronouns. Using the proper terminology helps create a safe space where people can feel more comfortable being themselves.
Let’s dive thru some ways to address and prevent misgendering!
What To Do If You’ve Misgendered Someone
Say sorry right away and continue the conversation. If it was just a slip of the tongue, move on as though you said “pass the salt – sorry, pepper.” Most trans or non-binary people don’t want the conversation to be derailed into a discussion on their gender. Apologize quickly and move forward. If the person you misgendered isn’t present, you don’t need to apologize, but you should still acknowledge your mistake before continuing your sentence.
Key Dos & Don’ts When Apologizing
DO focus on the other person, not yourself. You might feel awful, but your feelings aren’t what’s important at this moment.
DO apologize like you mean it. Take accountability. None of that “sorry if I offended you” bullshit.
DO thank the person if they were the ones who corrected you.
DO work to regain their trust. Your words may have affected their view of you as a safe space. That doesn’t mean saying you’ll do better next time; it means doing better next time.
DON’T put someone in a position where they feel like they need to comfort you. That means no tears and no self-pity.
DON’T make excuses or get defensive. Saying pronouns are confusing for you is doubling down on your mistake and trivializes their feelings. OH and if you hear someone say they/ them pronouns are grammatically incorrect, they’re wrong. Just ask Merriam-Webster.
DON’T ask the person for help. It’s not their job to help you respect them. If this is something you do on a regular basis, even if it’s not intentional, you need to work on getting better ON YOUR OWN TIME. Nobody else is responsible for your personal growth. Self-improvement could be as simple as thinking before you speak (TBH that’s just a good idea in general) or practicing using pronouns that you’re less familiar with.
If you’re the one who was misgendered, you’ll probably feel a million emotions all at once, and we’re here to tell you that all of them are totally valid! Having your identity dismissed can be super painful. You deserve respect. Whether or not you feel comfortable speaking up is totally up to you.
4 Ways To Prevent Misgendering
So, what else can you do to help reduce misgendering? Here are some everyday ways to make yourself more inclusive.
Normalize Sharing Your Pronouns
Put your pronouns in your email signature. When meeting someone new, say “Hi I’m _____! I use ____ pronouns. Even if you’re cisgender (you identify with your sex assigned at birth), sharing your pronouns can make a positive impact by normalizing the idea.
Avoid Gendered Language
Gendered language is everywhere in our society. Common terms and phrases like mankind, manmade, fireman, and “hey guys” all have a gender neutral version. Try humankind, artificial, firefighter, and “hey everyone/ folks” instead. If gender doesn’t need to be specified, don’t! If you don’t know someone’s pronouns, use they/ them pronouns until otherwise clarified.
Correct Others When Possible
It’s important to note that this should only be done if you’re comfortable and feel safe doing so. If a friend or family member uses the wrong terminology or deadnames someone, call them in, not out, by politely explaining why the term they used isn’t appropriate and what they should say next time. It’s an opportunity for growth and doesn’t need to be a confrontation. Speaking up means it’s one less time a trans or non-binary person needs to correct someone. Unfortunately, sometimes people take a correction as a personal attack and can react aggressively. We can’t stress enough, only do this if you feel safe!
If you have kids, there are plenty of age-appropriate ways to explain concepts like gender and sexual orientation. Learning about inclusivity from a young age makes it easier to understand more complex issues later on. Just because your generation had to re-learn some stuff doesn’t mean everyone has to!
These are just a few ways you can help create a safe space for everyone! When in doubt, be kind and treat others the way you want to be treated.