intermediate pronoun studies: how do I make people stop misgendering me?

a simple drawing of kirby in a yellow jacket with purple hair pointing at a chalkboard that says “pronoun studies: question time!”

Observation 1: a lot of the time, sending a barrage of links and leaving them to it doesn’t go how you think it will

Advice 1: share concise, curated vetted, practical resources

  • Try to narrow it down to 1–3 sources. Ideally, share one and let them ask you for more.
  • Read or listen carefully through the sources before you share them. Make sure you’re sharing sources that you actually agree with!
  • Aim more towards practical advice (“how to do better!”) rather than philosophical or ideological advice (“why you shouldn’t misgender your trans child” or whatever).

Observation 2: if someone is chronically misgendering me, they are also chronically crossing other boundaries I have

The pronouns are one thing among many, the unifying theme being this: we know you better than you know yourself. We know better than you what’s good for you. When you resist our advice or contact with us, it’s selfish and disrespectful. You have no right to make choices we don’t approve of.

Advice 2: be observant and alert about your feelings and boundaries

Observation 3: sometimes people interpret attempts to enforce boundaries as attempts to control their actions

Advice 3: don’t tell people what to do, just tell them how their actions make you feel

Observation 4: I have a really different feeling about being misgendered now than I did for the first five years I was out and transing. It’s really context-dependent.

Advice 4: pick your battles. Expect that it will change over time

Observation 5: your feelings are real. The feelings usually run deeper than the pronouns — the pronouns are a symbol of something else that’s really wrong.

Advice 5: Honoring your feelings is the best way through. Sometimes you’ll have to cut your losses. No one but you can know when that’s necessary, though

“IF IT SUCKS… HIT DA BRICKS!! real winners quit”

— da share z0ne

Conclusion: Woo this got a little heavy.

Here’s the tl;dr:

  • You can’t actually make someone stop misgendering you.
  • If someone’s misgendering you over and over, usually the problem isn’t the pronouns/gender, there’s some basic rift going on. It may or may not be fixable.
  • You get to learn to set and enforce strong boundaries, and put your time and energy into people who get you and treat you well!

Here’s the good news:

  • lots and lots of people out there won’t misgender you. With some time and interpersonal communication and some turnover in your social circle, you absolutely can get to a point where it basically never happens.
  • lots and lots of people will get better over time, with practice. Hopefully they can do that practice not in front of you, because they care about your feelings and don’t want to inflict that on you.
  • you will feel different stuff over time. The longer you’re here on this space rock with us, the more chances you get to be pleasantly surprised by things being easy and fun and cool. I hope you get lots and lots of those chances!

If you’d like to read more of my writing about pronouns, you might like my other posts on medium!

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Kirby Conrod

Kirby Conrod

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Dr. Conrod is a linguist and scholar sort of at large. They write about transgender stuff, the linguistics of pronouns, and ways to work with your brain.