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Challenging Incorrect Pronouns and Misgendering

This resource provides an introduction to what misgendering looks like in practice, and how to respond when you are witness to it.

Need an introduction to pronouns first? Our introductory resource on pronouns looks at what pronouns are and how to use them, how to ask about someone's pronouns, how to share and normalise the sharing of pronouns, and why pronouns are important.

What does it mean to misgender someone?

A person 'misgenders' another when they interact with them in some way which does not respect their gender identity.

Examples of misgendering include:

  • Using the wrong pronouns for someone, such as referring to a trans woman with 'he', 'him', and 'his' pronouns.
  • Using gendered language to refer to someone which doesn't align with their gender identity, such as referring to a trans man as a woman, a 'sister' or a 'wife' (or any other female gendered noun).
  • Using gendered language to refer to a group of people which doesn't align with one or more of the group's gender identity, such as referring to a group as 'ladies' when a man or non-binary person is in the group.
  • Indicating that you do not believe that someone is the gender they say they are.
  • Assigning them to a gendered category which does not align with their gender identity, such as marking a non-binary person as male or female on a form, or dividing a group according to gender identity and assigning someone to a group that doesn't match their gender identity.
  • Not affording someone the same opportunities as others who share their gender identity, such as not advertising a women-only programme to trans women.

How does it feel to be misgendered?

For most people, their gender is an important part of their identity and sense of self. When someone misgenders you, it implies that they do not recognise your gender identity. This can be distressing, particularly when it happens regularly. It can feel as though others do not respect you, and you cannot be your whole, authentic self with others.

It places trans people in the difficult position of having to correct others, often regularly and repeatedly. This is especially difficult when they don't receive support from others, which is why challenging misgendering is an important part of trans allyship.

Members of Warwick's trans community described their experience of being misgendered as:

"Feeling as though I've just been hit. It's like a physical jolt runs through you, with the wrongness of it."

"Like a wince, and the shock of it puts you out of step with whatever you were doing. Even though it happens so regularly, the feeling never diminishes."

"It feel as though someone's saying '...but you're not really a woman' casually in the middle of a meeting, and no-one reacts. I'm put in the position of having to defend my existence, in the middle of something entirely unrelated, watched by everyone there."

What should I do if I make a mistake?

If you misgender someone, and are corrected or recognise that you have made a mistake, you should:

  1. Apologise, briefly and succinctly.
    • A protracted apology can draw unwanted attention, and make someone feel uncomfortable rather than reassured.
    • If someone else has corrected you, thank them.
  2. Correct yourself.
    • If you have used incorrectly gendered language you should restate your sentence with the correct gendered language.
    • If you have offered or requested something incorrectly based on someone's gender identity, or failed to provide an opportunity you should have, you should offer the correct provision for their gender identity.
  3. Move on with what you were doing.
    • Making your mistake the focus of the conversation can prolong someone's discomfort with being misgendered.
  4. Take steps to avoid making the same mistake, or similar mistakes, again in the future.
    • Practice using the correct gendered language, such as pronouns, for an individual you have misgendered.
    • Familiarise yourself with how to use sets of pronouns you are less familiar with.
    • Unlearn gendered assumptions you make about people you meet, on the basis of their voice, appearance, name, and/or gender expression.
    • Engage with self-education resources and events to help you better understand trans people, identities, and experiences.

What should I do if someone else makes a mistake?

If you become aware that someone has misgendered another person, it is helpful to make them aware of their mistake, and correct them.

For example, if someone has misgendered a trans woman, Charlie, by saying "Charlie is going to give his presentation next" you could respond by saying:

"Actually, Charlie uses she/her pronouns." or

"Charlie is going to give her presentation next."

or simply "Her" at the appropriate point.

If someone repeatedly makes the same (or similar) mistakes, you may need to respond more firmly:

"Please don't misgender Charlie."

"Charlie is a woman, and you should always use she/her pronouns when you refer to her."

It is helpful to encourage them to engage with self-education resources and training as well.

Most often, people do not intentionally misgender people, though they may not be proactive in preventing mistakes. However, sometimes people do intentionally misgender others. If you require further support challenging this behaviour, please access the Report & Support service.

This resource was created as part of the Queering University programme.

Resources

Need an introduction to pronouns? Start here.

Try using different sets of pronouns online with 'Practice with Pronouns'.

Request a free pronoun badge via the internal mail (staff) or from SU HQ Reception.

Update your email signature to include your pronouns in line with the University's brand guidance.