Transgender, misgender, he, she and they

Misusing pronouns with trans people is often a subtle form of discrimination and violence.


WASHINGTON, March 11, 2014 — There are multiple fronts that trans people have to fight on in order to educate the world about who we are. We find ourselves constantly in a world in which we are asked to explain why we choose to embrace the truth of who we are, and why, some of us, are so angry when it comes to answering certain questions.

One thing I am often finding myself having to correct people about is misgendering.

Recently I posted “Using your trans sisters and brothers correct gender pronouns is an act of activism.” People ask what is the correct pronoun and because Trans folk are so varied; I answer let us tell you. It is specific and individual to each person.

Some, in an attempt to smooth the way for both cis and trans people, have created a way to use “they” in place of “she” or “he” to encompass everyone. This movement is slow, however, and I find myself on the receiving end of misgendering often.

At a young age, many trans people are aware of their transness. Unfortunately, much of the world seems to constantly conspire against us in our journey of self-discovery and love. It is these beginning battles that often leave some trans people with scars that take some a lifetime to heal.

Misgendering begins often at the onset of birth. The gender assignment of the trans baby is made for them and much of their childhood is spent attempting to conform to this assignment.

Even in moments of great clarity when trans children make it very clear the truth of who they are, they are silenced as a form of “protection” from outside scrutiny and judgment. We are forced to dance to the tune of strict laws set up, for us, by outside forces that never have a place for us in their lexicon of humanity.

When we are old enough, we often navigate the world of androgyny before embracing the totality of our trans identity. Misgendering then becomes a form of resistance (often) by family members and the world against us from embracing the fullness of who we are.

Society often berates trans people for standing in the face of history and accepted forms of speech and declaring that we should, will, and do have the right to demand to be ourselves, tell our own stories and live our own lives.

Among forms of oppression, the trickiest to detect and the first to be defended is language. We often attempt to subtract the subtext of a statement from the actual statement itself.

To cisgendered persons, misgendering may be an honest mistake, and negative reactions from trans people may seem like a lack of patience. I have heard often that my transitioning is “new” and it is hard for them to remember to correct themselves. What cisgender people must understand, however, is that because misgendering has started at such an early age for most trans people, we have been dealing with the often negative psychological impacts of misgendering a lot longer than they have been dealing with us demanding respect for who we are. Cisgender loved ones must understand the historical impacts of misgendering transpeople and the horrific places from where it stems.

Trans people have been around since the dawn of time. The ways in which we navigate societies and the terminologies have changed, but we have always been here. Everyone must understand that there was a time in American history and in recent history that misgendering trans people was a blatant act of violence against them.

During the early days of American Colonization, native Trans People were beaten, their hair cut, and forced to wear the clothes of the assigned gender colonist would give them. These practices of violent misgendering seeps into the general dialogue that has shaped the medical field, education and other American schools of thought.

Misgendering is a form of psychological warfare law enforcement, bigots, government and religious factions would use to denounce, punish, and harm Trans people. It was a tool of control used to cultivate hate for the truth of trans existence and used readily in conjunction with erasure. When you do not document a trans person who has suffered at the hands of violence, when you make judgments about their transness and misgender them, you are helping to silence the undercurrent of  violence that Tans persons, especially women, have faced.

Countless documents and laws have worked in the past to silence trans women. Misgendering became a form of attempted erasure of our womanhood. With the onset of trans women in the media, we begin to see just how deep misgendering can eat at and away the truth of the humanity of trans people. We see the fetishizing, the erasure, the accepted forms of oppression that misgendering allows for society to use against us. We see how misgendering allows for society to manipulate our stories and make a sensation of our pain. We see misgendering as a form of society’s unwillingness to deal with our presence and its own hand in the systematic destruction of trans voices and persons.

Standing in the concert with your trans sisters and brothers and using proper pronouns is a powerful show of solidarity.  In public spaces, often the questions, or forms of verbal violence that have become acceptable can be destroyed simply by using proper pronouns.

Gendering Trans People properly sets a tone for the rest of the world that those who love us, who we allow close to us, will work with us in defensive of the truth of who we are. This can be such a small action but can shift the atmosphere around us. It says that whoever speaks to us, interacts with us, must use the same form of address, because this is the precedent already created and nothing else will be acceptable.

When you have been told all your life you do not have the right to be who you say you are; when you have had to fight all your life, the last thing you want is the fight you face in the world to also be the fight you face at home. For many, misgendering is not simply a word misplaced, it is a liftetime of pain, a whirlwind of misunderstanding and a feeling that “you do not belong here.”

Misgendering is a story that has made itself acceptable in polite society while ignoring the implications of its action.

To me, misgendering is the linguistic bastard child of an American attitude that wishes not to claim it, it is the harming without taking responsibility, it is the stealing away of humanity and truth. It is the unapologetic form of violence that hides itself within the heart, tongue, and mind and asks for its victim for understanding even while it is doing us harm.


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  • nicole osburn

    It really hurts my feelings when I get improper pronouns,sometimes I try to correct people but after 20 or 30 times of reminding someone, not sure if they will ever get it.