What is misgendering? Everything you need to know

Being misgendered by the use of incorrect pronouns and assumptions can be extremely upsetting to people.

Keep reading to learn more about what misgendering is, why it happens, and what to do if you misgender someone.

What is misgendering and does it happen?

Misgendering is a daily occurrence for some and for others, an experience that has never happened to them, nor something they would even consider happening.  

We use gendered language in most of our daily conversations. We take one look at someone, hear a voice, or even see a name spelled out, and we jump to a conclusion of who they are and put them into one of two boxes, ‘male’ or ‘female’.  

This assumption then plays out with gendered pronouns, titles, and words such as ‘love’, ‘mate’, and even ‘pet’ if you’re from the northeast.

People who experience being misgendered are commonly those from the trans, non-binary, and gender-fluid communities.

But cisgender people (those who identify with their assigned sex at birth) can also experience being misgendered because others deem that they don’t look like they fit in the ‘right’ gendered box. For example, a woman having short hair or a man with long hair.

What impact does misgendering have?

Being misgendered creates a cocktail of emotions from embarrassment, sadness that it happened another time, anger at society that we can only be two things, and sometimes scared for your safety in case the other person gets defensive or doesn’t accept you.

And due to this mixture of emotions you can feel in a split second, it is exhausting and upsetting. Which as you can imagine experiencing daily, really takes its toll on a person’s confidence and self-worth.

No matter the scenario of being misgendered, the emotions are the same. Inevitably you sometimes wish there was a James Bond eject button to catapult you out of the supermarket or a large hole you wish your desk chair could fall into.

The use of masks during the pandemic means many people have experienced an increase of being misgendered as people make assumptions of someone from their voice, hair, clothes.

I write this after being misgendered as a lady approximately 15 times in one interaction in a shop last weekend, all because there wasn’t a price on a plant pot I wanted to buy.

The misgendering went a bit like this, ‘This lady can’t find the price…. This lady needs to leave soon… can you sort this for the lady’. One simple way to avoid this was to call me a customer. I only picture ‘ladies’ as those in big puffy dresses spinning around a ballroom in TV dramas, not me in a garden centre.

In a society educated and therefore programmed to use he and she, this is 99% of the populations go to everyday language and pronoun use.

So many people misgender someone unintentionally, but this is still misgendering. But once a person knows someone’s pronouns, and decides not to use them, they are intentionally misgendering on purpose which is discrimination.

This can cause a lot of harm. If this occurred in relation to a trans or non-binary person, this would be transphobia which is defined as a ‘dislike or prejudice against trans people’.

Having someone either purposefully or accidentally misgender you can make you feel invisible and othered.

And although this blog today is covering the topic of misgendering, it’s important to remember that this is only one of the many barriers and stigmas the trans and non-binary community face. But it’s a relentless barrier due to the frequency of communications from buying a coffee, going to the doctors, and joining meetings at work.

Due to this frequency of usage, research shows this leads to social-psychological outcomes from hostility, guilt, and anxiety. Research shows that out of all young people, those that don’t identify with their assigned sex at birth, have among the highest rates of suicide, depression, and self-harm.

This significantly reduces when they are in a supportive and safe space including the correct usage of pronouns.

How to prevent misgendering in the workplace

Pre Covid, we spent more time in the office than with loved ones at home and depending on your role this could still be the case.

We know the power and impact on a person’s performance and wellbeing when they can bring their whole selves at work and not hide what makes them, them.

Top tips:

  • Be neutral in your language “hi everyone” “morning team” and not “ladies and gentleman” and “guys”.
  • If you don’t know a person’s pronouns, ask! “What are your pronouns?”
  • Add your pronouns to your email signature, say them in meeting introductions and advocate for this to be the best practice for all.
  • As part of an introduction at meetings, you can say “Tell us your name, your role, and if you’re comfortable, your pronouns.”

(Tip: Pronouns are not ‘preferred’ pronouns, they just are someone’s pronouns’)

What to do when you misgender someone

You’re probably going to make mistakes and that’s okay. But knowing how to correct misgendering is important and useful.

We’ve spoken about the impact of misgendering, but this negative experience can be balanced out if you do the right thing afterwards. The person on the other end will appreciate the following steps being made.

  • Don’t say “sorry” – I know that’s weird to hear, but when you say “sorry”, it makes the other person feel uncomfortable and makes them think it’s their responsibility to make you feel better.
  • Instead, say “thank you” if someone corrects you whether it’s them personally or someone else being an ally.

Person 1: “Yeah, he really”  
Person 2: “..they” 
Person 1: “thank you, they really…”

Person 1: “thank you, I’m still learning and appreciate you correcting me”

  • Own it and learn from your mistakes.
  • Correct yourself quickly and carry on the conversation.

“Did Laura tell you about the training she, I mean they, did?”

Take a look at the example below on what to do if you misgender someone by using an incorrect pronoun:

How can Inclusive Employers support you?

At Inclusive Employers, we have colleagues with lived experiences of being misgendered and allies who truly understand the importance and impact of getting it wrong and right.

We can support your workplace with training and ongoing advice and support across Inclusion & Diversity with our membership packages.  

Speak to your account manager if you want to get some support on using pronouns at your workplace and check out our LGBTQ+ History Month resource pack with pronoun content and glossaries with gender identity terminology.

You can also listen to our podcast which discusses trans and non-binary experiences in the workplace and shares examples of misgendering and how to prevent it.