WHY THIS LANGUAGE IS MANDATORY:
For some people, names, nicknames, and pronouns do not seem like a big deal, and you might not have thought about them very much. For other people (such as many trans and non-binary folks), names are very important. They are something that we spend time thinking about and navigating everyday – whether we want to or not. For example, the fact that I have spent several hours putting this guide together suggests that I have spent many more hours thinking about and navigating these issues in my day-to-day life.
Here is why calling me by my chosen, gender-affirming name is mandatory:
My name and pronouns are not a preference. They are my identity. When you do not use my correct pronouns and name, you are misgendering me, which is disrespectful to me and my identity. Being misgendered frequently actually has a measurably negative effect on the health of transgender and non-binary people (study). Thus, if you do not make a good-faith effort moving forward to use my correct name and pronouns, you are not only invalidating my identity and telling me implicitly that what I’m sharing with you is unimportant, but you are also doing something that actually negatively affects my health and well-being.
When an incorrect name or pronoun is used to describe me, it makes me unhappy and draws my attention away from the conversation or situation at-hand. It brings a number of negative thoughts to my mind related to my gender and makes me wish that I were presenting differently. It often turns a very nice and positive conversation where I am thinking about something completely unrelated to my gender into a conversation where I am now not listening to you and instead thinking about my gender.
If the people closest to me do not use my correct name and pronouns, this sets a precedent for others to not use this name or pronouns. Unfortunately, it is often difficult for people to adjust to name and pronoun changes, which is why I put a lot of effort into making sure that every new person I meet uses my correct name and pronouns. If the people I know best are not also using my name correctly and you talk about me to someone that I later encounter somewhere else, this subsequently lead to situations where people do not take my gender identity seriously in professional and social settings, which can become a more serious problem.
While I am proud of my trans non-binary identity, it is also not my responsibility to explain my identity to every person I meet and to educate people all the time. First of all, having to constantly do this takes up a lot of time, and it is time that I do not always have available. When someone is misgendering me and using an incorrect name or pronoun for me, it usually becomes my responsibility to correct them, which can be exhausting. Furthermore, there are many people I encounter in my day-to-day life who I really don’t want to have to explain my gender identity too. Have you ever had to describe your gender to someone you just met – a new acquaintance, the person at the coffee shop, a business contact? If not, I can tell you that the conversation is almost always uncomfortable for that person, which means it is usually not all that enjoyable for me.
In my current professional and social life, I am known exclusively by the name, DL. If you call me by any other name, in all likelihood, I will probably not respond to you – because it will not occur to me that you are talking about me. Similarly, if you use any other pronouns other than they/them/theirs or DL/DL’s, it confuses me.
For some people, I am the first person they know who uses they/them pronouns, and so this is new. As a result, they are afraid they will make mistakes. First of all, I want to repeat what I said above. I am asking people to make a conscious and good-faith effort to use my pronouns. I am asking you to try your best to not make mistakes, and I promise that it will get easier as you practice and get used to it. For example, I understand that for people for whom English is not their first language, using these pronouns may be more difficult. I appreciate you making the effort to do the best you can, and if you make a mistake, here’s what I want you to do. Here is a video that provides an overview of some best practices.
What to Do if You Mess Up:
If you make a mistake with my name or pronouns and realize you are making it mid-conversation or mid-sentence, please correct yourself and begin using my correct name and pronouns. For example, “I was going to the store with her – I mean – them.” Feel free to add the word “sorry,” but do not apologize profusely. Apologizing profusely just draws attention to the situation and has a negative effect. The end goal that I want is for you to use my pronouns correctly and for my pronouns to not be a big deal.
Also, my name is DL, which is only two-letters, and so if you are really worried about getting my they/them pronouns wrong, simply use my name until you are comfortable with they/them pronouns. “I was just listening to DL’s story. etc.”
What To Do If I Correct You:
If I correct you for misgendering me or using my incorrect name, all you need to say is, “Thank you for correcting me. I will do better” and then make a conscious and good-faith effort to do better. Please do not apologize profusely, make an excuse, or say anything else. The best thing you can do is not extend the conversation and simply make a change. Extending the conversation just draws more and more attention to being misgendered, and it often makes other people uncomfortable, which makes me uncomfortable.
What To Do If Another Person Corrects You:
If another person corrects you for misgendering me, please do not feel the need to come to me and apologize – especially publicly or profusely. Simply, make the change as we move forward. Although apologizing is a nice thing to do in other situations, in this case, apologizing can actually have a negative effect because it extends the conversation and reminds me about being misgendered, which is essentially misgendering me again. It also often forces me to say something back to you like “that’s okay” or “I know it can be hard” and console you, which it is not my responsibility to do.
How to Apologize:
If you feel like the situation warrants an apology (such as if there was public awkwardness or you used my pronouns incorrectly in a public forum with an audience), the best method for that apology is for you to send me an email or note. The note can be very simple. For example, you might say, “Hi DL! Sorry I misgendered you today. I know your pronouns are they/them/theirs. I respect you and your identity, and I am making an effort to do better. Have a good week.”
What to Do If Another Person Messes Up In Front of You & Me:
If I am involved in a conversation with you and another person and the other person misgenders me, the best way for you to respond is for you to immediately use my correct pronouns. For example, if someone says, “I really like her idea” and you know my pronouns are they/them/theirs, you can respond by saying, “Yes – I really like their idea.” Please do not stop the flow of the conversation to correct them. If I want to correct them and make a situation out of it, I will choose to do so. If the person still seems confused, feel free to pull them aside afterwards. You can explain to them, “Their name is DL, and their pronouns are they/them/theirs. You used the pronoun she, which is incorrect. You do not need to apologize or make a big deal about it; please simply use their correct name and pronouns moving forward.” If they are confused about what this means, please feel free to direct them to this website and article to educate them.
What to Do If Another Person Messes Up & I Am Not Present:
If the misgendering happens in a conversation where I am not present, please do correct them immediately using the same phrasing above and refer them to this resource if needed for their education. If they have significant questions about my gender identity and life, you do not need to answer these questions or tell my story for me. You can refer them here, so they can hear this information from the source.