“Misgendering”: questions from the search terms, vol. 1

WordPress tells me I started writing Valprehension three years(WP lies; it has been two years) ago today! Go me! Posts have admittedly become more sparse over the past few months, though, so in an attempt to get back in the habit of writing more regularly, welcome to my new blogging series!

[I am always interested to see what search terms bring people to my little part of the internet. A lot of the time I am baffled that I could have been high enough in the search results to merit a visit. Other times, I can tell that people wound up in exactly the right place. Every now and then, though, some compelling search terms come up for which I know the searcher did not find what they were looking for, even though I wish they had. Posts in this series respond directly to those search strings, filling in gaps in what people want to know about :)]

Today, the topic will be misgendering. This is a thing people are concerned about (and well they should be), and I am here to help!

“is misgendering a word”?

Yes. It is a word. To misgender a person is to use words (pronouns such as “she” or “he”, or other inherently gendered words like “sister”, “man”, etc.) that don’t match their gender. In other words, it is applying the wrong gender to someone.

“misgendering is it a problem”?

Misgendering is definitely a problem, though how big of a problem it is depends on circumstances. It is common, for instance, for anti-trans bigots people to deliberately misgender people, and insist on referring to them only by their birth-assigned gender and name. This is an incredibly mean, rude, and disrespectful thing to do. It is a form of bullying, in fact.

Accidental misgendering is a different thing. Sometimes a person’s perception of another person’s gender is wrong, and they might use the wrong words or that person. Misgendering of this kind of complicated, in that it is often very painful for the person being misgendered, but at the same time it is hard to know how to avoid this all the time. Sincere apologies and honest efforts not to do it again, starting from the moment you are informed of your mistake, are the best way to make up for accidentally misgendering someone. Also, if you don’t know someone’s gender, instead of just guessing, get in the habit of asking them before using gendered words to refer to them!

“how to avoid misgendering”?

The easiest way to avoid misgendering a person is to ask them what their gender is, instead of trying to guess! Sometimes people still have trouble with using the correct pronouns for people even when they know the person’s gender though. This often happens when our perceptions of that person’s gender are different from how they identify (i.e. a lot of people look at me and think that I am a woman, even though I am not.) Because most of us have spent most of our lives only aware of two genders (male and female, “he” and “she”) and we are accustomed to people “looking like” the gender they are based on whatever our particular culture says those things are supposed to look like, it can sometimes be difficult to overcome the way these things are programmed in our brains, especially during casual conversation.

The best way to do better with this is just to get into the habit of thinking more carefully about the words you use for people all of the time. This is honestly a good habit generally, and you will find you make fewer errors this way. Additionally, when you *do* slip up, you should make a point of correcting yourself as soon as your realize you have done so, and if you realize quickly enough repeating the sentence you just said, but with the correct gender. This will help your brain get used to using the right gender for that person, while also making it clear that you care. An apology is usually also appreciated. So for instance, you might say “Leslie and I were at the movies today and he didn’t enjoy it as much as I did. Sorry, I mean she didn’t enjoy it.”

Really, all it takes is practice. If you put effort into it, you will get there, I promise!

“email apology for misgendering”?

I am hoping the searcher here was looking for advice on how to apologize for misgendering someone. First off, sending an email is a great idea. Sometimes we misgender people by accident, because our brains are so wired to see gender in a particular way, and even if we know better that can be hard to overcome. Or sometimes it happens for other reasons. But sending a note acknowledging your error will generally be very appreciated – it sends the message that you actually realize you made the mistake, and that you know it matters. You might also want to consider letting them know what you plan to do to avoid making the same mistake in the future, even if that simply amounts to trying harder.

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