Originally made as an internal training document, we're sharing this guide to the outside world today for the first time. If you've ever been unsure or afraid about how to address a trans or non-binary colleague, this guide shares practical advice and exercises that will set you in the right direction to create a supportive environment.
My name is Echo and I’m a Team Lead at PartnerHero. I’m also a non-binary trans person whose pronouns are they/them. Sometimes I get misgendered here at PartnerHero and outside of work. It’s likely because not everyone knows what it means to be trans or non-binary. Not everyone has access to resources to practice or understand pronouns, and sometimes folks just slip up!
I typically correct people when I get misgendered, but sometimes I don’t. It can require a lot of energy from me to educate others about my experience, when I only want to be gendered correctly. If I feel this way, I can imagine that other trans people may feel similarly.
I’m grateful to PartnerHero and the leadership at this company for encouraging me to reach out to other trans co-workers to create some guidance for everyone around this topic. We’ve collectively come up with some tips and tricks for practicing people’s pronouns, how to navigate situations where you misgender someone, and what to do if you hear someone misgender someone else.
First, let’s go over some common terms.
What is does it mean to be transgender, cisgender, or non-binary?
What are pronouns?
All cisgender (cis) and transgender (trans) people have pronouns - it’s the gendered language others use to refer to you.
If you are cisgender, what are your pronouns? Consider how it may feel if someone always gendered you with alternate binary pronouns - would that make you feel respected by the person?
What does it mean to misgender someone?
Misgendering someone is when you intentionally or unintentionally use gendered language for someone that is incorrect. For example:
PartnerHero is such an accepting workplace! Why do we need to have this conversation?
Even the most accepting and loving people and communities still have work to do! This is not a judgement - it’s okay to not know how to do everything perfectly. PartnerHero IS an accepting workplace and that's great! However, not only does language evolve constantly, but so do we. That evolution is something that takes consistent feedback and attention to stay on top of.
Being willing to learn how to do a better job supporting people from all different kinds of backgrounds is how we make ourselves and the communities we’re a part of a safer place for everyone.
Now that we have some basic terms down, let’s go over how to navigate a situation where you misgender someone or you hear someone misgender someone else.
If you catch yourself misgendering someone mid-sentence:
Briefly apologize, correct yourself, and move on.
“Then he - I mean she, sorry - she went to the store.”
If someone else corrects you about someone's pronouns:
Thank them, correct yourself, and move on.
Person 1 - "When he answered the phone -"
Person 2 - "They"
Person 1 - "Right, thank you, when they answered the phone..."
If the trans person you misgendered corrects you on their pronouns or gendered language used towards them:
Thank them, briefly apologize, and move on.
Person 1 - "You are such a great lady!"
Person 2 - "Actually, I'm not a lady. I prefer to be referred to as a person or human."
Person 1 - "My apologies, thanks for telling me! You are such a great human!"
What not to do when you misgender someone:
A lot of times a well-intentioned person will misgender someone, find out, and then apologize A LOT. What does this feel like for a trans person?
Don’t treat using a trans person’s pronouns as a favor
Using the correct pronouns for a trans person isn’t a way for you to do trans people a favor. A trans person can be appreciative of having their identity recognized and that may feel nice for you (I hope it does!), but gendering a trans person correctly doesn’t deserve a round of applause - it’s just correct. If your name was Jeff and I said, “Hey Jeff!”, Jeff wouldn’t thank me for calling him Jeff. That’s just his name!
Using Correct Pronouns FAQ:
If someone misgenders someone, do I have to correct them?
If I mess-up someone’s pronouns and I feel really guilty, what should I do?
Process your feelings! If you feel guilty, is that because you wish that you wouldn’t have misgendered them? That sounds like you really care about gendering someone correctly! You can check out the Pronoun Practices at the bottom of this document and start practicing yourself.
If you are struggling with using new pronouns (like they/them), remember that you are retraining your brain and learning any skill means you will make mistakes. Don’t let those mistakes stop you from trying! Failure is a part of the process.
Refer to What Not to do When You Misgender Someone (above).
Why Does It Matter?
For many — though not all — people who are trans, a shift in pronouns is an affirming part of the transition process. It can help a trans person and the people in their lives start to see them as their true gender and their true self. Gendering someone correctly is an easy, low-effort way to show respect and recognition to who someone really is, not just how you perceive them.
Misgendering can have negative consequences for a transgender person’s self-confidence and overall mental health. A 2014 study in the journal Self and Identity, asked transgender people about their experiences with being misgendered. Researchers found that:
When you misgender someone, you also run the risk of outing them to other people. It’s never anyone’s right or responsibility to out a person who is transgender without their express consent. It’s a trans person’s right and their right alone to tell others that they’re transgender, depending on whether they wish to be out or not.
Outing a trans person is not only disrespectful of their boundaries, but can also result in that person experiencing harassment and discrimination. Discrimination is a major issue for the trans community. The 2015 U.S. Trans Survey found these startling statistics:
Stopping your own misgendering behaviors and encouraging others to do so is an easy and effective way to support the trans people in your life. Here are a few things you can do to prevent misgendering and affirm a person’s identity:
Examples of gendered language include:
Practice using these gender-neutral terms and forms of address instead. You can say things like “my friend” instead of “sir” or “ma’am,” and refer to groups of people as “folks,” “y’all,” or “guests.”
Thank you to Archie Hale and Mikki Hatfeild for your input and suggestions. I’m so thankful to be learning and developing tools with you both.
Thank you to Sam Gates for your formatting and grammatical editing - and making this document look so beautiful.
Thank you to Mandy Clark + Stephen Hazeltine for empowering me to create this document so that we can all be learning together.
Some information from this document (particularly the pronoun practices list + statistics) comes from this article from HealthLine.com by KC Clements.