getting people to use the right pronouns, finding trans-friendly workplaces, and trans-inclusive hiring

Today Kalani Keahi Adolpho and Stephen G. Krueger join us to answer questions about trans and gender diverse inclusion at work.

Kalani (they/them or he/him) and Stephen (ey/em or he/him) are the authors of the Trans Advice Column. In their day jobs, both are academic librarians who also write and present on trans and gender diverse inclusion in library work. Their most recent project (with Krista McCracken) is the forthcoming book Trans and Gender Diverse Voices in Libraries, an edited volume with chapters by over fifty trans and gender diverse library workers and students.

They’ll take it from here…

Note: We define “trans and gender diverse people” as anyone whose gender does not completely align with the sex that was assigned to them at birth.

1. How do I get my [customers/coworkers/employees] to call [me/my coworker/my employee] by the correct [name/pronouns/salutation] without confusing or upsetting anyone?

We’re summarizing several questions into this one because they’re all basically the same issue, and it’s so incredibly common. Since the answer varies based on who is asking, we’ll break it down into a few categories.

  • For the person who is being mispronouned/misgendered: If you’re asking this question, you’re probably fine sharing your pronouns (or at least you’ve decided it’s necessary even if you’d prefer not to need to), so do that wherever you can—email signature, nametag, Zoom name, verbal introductions, etc. Remind and correct people if you’re comfortable doing that. If you have allies at work, especially if they are in positions of power (for example, a manager), ask if they can correct people in group settings like meetings and when you’re not present, if you’d like them to do that. Almost invariably, however, the people asking this question are already doing all of this or have reasons not to. Often, pronoun sharing goes ignored and reminders are met with everything from confusion to hostility. There is no magical thing that trans and gender diverse people can easily do to resolve this; even if the issue is ignorance rather than bigotry, it’s not our responsibility to educate everyone we come across on the most basic aspects of gender and respect. Reminding people to use your pronouns over and over and over is exhausting and demoralizing even if they aren’t actively ignoring you or responding aggressively. And in a workplace context, you may be forced to prioritize making the other person feel comfortable even though they are the one behaving offensively, so you can’t always speak up for yourself or leave without risking professional harm.
  • For managers and coworkers: First, do the work to educate yourself about pronouns and practice ones that are unfamiliar to you, especially those you’ll need to use—for example, if you have an employee who goes by they/them pronouns, do the work on your own to get comfortable using these naturally. Don’t rely on corrections from the person affected; if someone has shared their pronouns with you in any form, you need to use them consistently. In addition to this being basic respect, demonstrating the correct language may remind people who forget or are confused. Secondly, if the person asks you for help reminding people, give them space to share what they need but also let them know some specific things you can do to support them (it’s often easier to say “yes, that” than to ask someone for something they may not be able or willing to do, especially if there’s a power dynamic in play). Some things you can volunteer to do include correcting people in the moment or in private later; sharing resources with those who continue to misgender, mispronoun, or deadname your coworker; escalating issues to supervisors or HR; and whatever else makes sense in the specific situation. Managers can be particularly effective at this type of work, and can also push for policy changes. If you’re in a position to do so, make it clear that misgendering, mispronouning, deadnaming, etc. are not interpersonal issues for trans and gender diverse employees to work through with their coworkers; referring to people appropriately is a baseline expectation in the workplace (and intentionally refusing to do so should not be tolerated). If there is pushback, focus on what conduct is expected rather than trying to convince people to change their minds about trans and gender diverse people, which is much more difficult and also not necessary for establishing and enforcing workplace behavior requirements.
  • For everyone: The real issue behind this very common question is that ignorance around the existence of trans and gender diverse people (let alone how to talk to and about us) is incredibly pervasive. One aspect of that is that treating trans and gender diverse people, especially nonbinary people, with basic respect isn’t a standard part of workplace etiquette. Ideally, someone would be able to share their pronouns if they wanted to and have those used consistently, at most with some polite reminders and corrections at the beginning. (Actually, an ideal world is one in which nobody’s gender or pronouns are assumed at all, but we’re pretty far from that one.) So really, we’re including this question as a wake-up call to everyone who doesn’t think they’re directly impacted by it. The suggestions above are band-aids at best. There is a real answer, but it isn’t for any of the people asking the question; the solution is for basic trans and gender diverse inclusion to become an expected part of workplace behavior. Very few employers take this issue on at all and even fewer do so effectively, which means all y’all have got to do the work of educating yourselves and each other. You do need to practice using pronouns apart from he or she until it comes naturally, and you do need to break the habit of assuming gender and pronouns based on name or appearance or voice. You may not know that you’re causing harm, because that lack of awareness is part of the widespread ignorance of trans and gender diverse people’s existence. It’s not your fault if a lot of this feels very new—that erasure is overwhelming, intentional, and violent. But it is your responsibility to learn now that you’ve recognized the gaps in your knowledge. This may seem like a huge amount to take on—that’s normal! We wrote about how to learn about trans and gender diverse people to get you started. But this is not optional. I promise that you are interacting with trans and gender diverse people in the world around you, whether or not you realize it, and ignorance on this topic is harmful. The very least you can do is take on the labor of self-education on basic issues like respecting people’s pronouns.

2. Looking for trans-friendly workplaces

I am trans, and because of this I am pretty selective in where I interview, looking for places that are rated highly for diversity. Late last year I was looking for a new job and was interviewing at a place that is particularly highly rated for LGBT+ inclusion. During the interview process, they also impressed me with their consideration towards my name and pronouns. I was given a great offer, which I accepted.

Fast forward to the actual start of work. To make a long story short, this is actually the most transphobic environment I have ever worked in. Myself and other trans people at the company are regularly outed and dead named. I have taken multiple steps within the company to try to address this, but no one seems willing and able to help. Needless to say, I am looking for another job.

My question is about how to prevent this from happening again. This company completely fooled me. They portrayed themselves as extremely trans-friendly and gave every appearance of respecting my gender identity during the interview process. I can’t believe how toxic and transphobic the reality was. I am hoping that you have some ideas on what to ask and/or look for so I can find a safe workplace. Thank you!

This is a very familiar and very frustrating situation to be in, and, unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. There’s no way to completely prevent this from happening because we live in a transphobic (or, at best, ignorant) society, and because most diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts are ornamental. They function as a PR project more than anything else, and so they are more invested in visible signs of inclusion over deeper, structural work. This results in trans and gender diverse people being misled into thinking they’re entering a safe(ish) work environment. But while there is no way to guarantee you’ll never find yourself in this position again, it doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do to minimize the chances of that happening.

When researching and interacting with prospective employers, make sure you keep perspective on what you find. While we do encourage trans and gender diverse people to look up how the workplace they are applying for ranks in terms of LGBT+ inclusion (if that information is available), you can’t take it at face value. Often in these rankings, LGBT+ communities are treated as a monolith; the experiences of cis LGB and trans coworkers are not separated out. Because many companies have no, or very few, openly trans workers, the criteria and results mostly tell us how a particular workplace ranks for cis LGB people in particular areas. If the data is broken down at all, can you tell what sorts of questions are asked? Can you tell how many people were surveyed? Can you tell what their identities are? Additionally, consider that anonymity might be impossible on these types of surveys, and so responding honestly could jeopardize people’s jobs. Basically, while you should probably be concerned if somewhere is rated poorly for LGBT+ inclusion, you shouldn’t necessarily be reassured if they’re rated highly, unless there’s a lot of focus on trans and gender diverse people’s experiences there in particular.

The most effective type of research in gauging how you’ll be treated at a particular workplace is by talking to current or former employees of identities similar to your own. If you don’t know anyone who works there personally, do you have personal or professional networks who can help make connections for you? Groups like the Trans Educators Network(for PK-12 educators) or the Trans and Gender Diverse LIS Network (for library workers) are designed specifically to connect trans and gender diverse people within those fields, so see if you can find anything like that for your profession. It’s very normal to post in these sorts of spaces asking if anyone has knowledge of a particular workplace; since they’re private, you’re likely to get more direct and useful information than you will from the interview. If the employer has an LGBTQ+ affinity group or something similar, ask if you can talk to someone from that, or reach out directly if the group has public contact information. It’s totally reasonable to email an affinity group asking if anyone is willing to talk to you about their experiences at the workplace or asking about specific issues.

While you may get good information this way, keep in mind that experiences of trans and gender diverse people often vary widely within a single institution based off all sorts of factors. Trans men often end up benefiting from male privilege, while nonbinary trans people face even more erasure than trans men and trans women. Someone who goes by their legal name (whether or not they changed it) won’t be outed by having it show up in paperwork, while someone whose name of use is different from their legal name may run into that issue. And of course, the immediate work environment is a defining factor; some supervisors, departments, etc. may be more or less supportive or safe than others. Additionally, trans and gender diverse people may be harmed by ableism, racism, and fatphobia among their coworkers in addition to discrimination and harassment tied to gender (the breakout reports of the U.S. Transgender Survey separate out the results by race and other factors, demonstrating the varied levels of marginalization faced by trans and gender diverse people of different identities). This is another reason why monolithic ratings like “LGBT inclusion” can be pretty meaningless.

When assessing the workplace, look for structural evidence of trans inclusion that goes beyond the hiring process. Workplace culture can be difficult or impossible to assess from the outside, but keep an eye out for systemic examples of trans-inclusive practices. Is the application process trans and gender diverse inclusive by design, or do they add on extra steps to be inclusive once they know you’re trans? Are there all-gender restrooms that are easy to access? Do they have information about their insurance coverage for trans-related healthcare available? Do they have employee affinity groups related to your identity? This isn’t a complete list of questions, but it may help you get some idea of what to look out for.

Lastly, interviews can be good opportunities to find out more. While it’s obviously worse if they don’t respect your name and pronouns during the hiring process, as you’ve found, good practices here aren’t necessarily indicative of how they treat employees. Pay particular attention to the behavior of people you’ll work closely with, since that will impact you much more than anybody else. Look beyond name and pronouns, since those things may be more reflective of how search committees are told to behave than the workplace culture or individual knowledge. From what you’re able to tell, do their policies and procedures include and acknowledge trans and gender diverse people and issues (for example, if it’s a public library, do people have to share their legal gender and use their legal name to get a library card)?

If you want to come out to potential employers (and can do this without risking your livelihood, which many people can’t due to the discrimination against trans and gender diverse people that remains incredibly common), you can ask questions more directly: What has the institution done to support and protect trans and gender diverse employees? How can you expect to be treated as an openly trans person in this workplace? How do they handle issues around coworkers not using someone’s correct name or pronouns? It is important to pay careful attention to how they answer. Are they struggling to come up with examples? Have they done anything tangible, or are they just talking about how open-minded their department is? Is the work all surface-level, or have they done anything more intensive that demonstrates real commitment? Do they acknowledge failures and ongoing difficulties, or do they pretend that everything is great for trans and gender diverse employees (which may be possible but is very unlikely)?

As you’ve unfortunately already learned, there really isn’t a way to know for sure how your experiences as a trans or gender diverse person will be in a new workplace. So in addition to doing the research described above, think about what you need to do in order to protect yourself. Maybe this means coming out in every interview and directly asking about the experiences of trans and gender diverse employees; maybe it means keeping your gender private for a while after starting a job, so that you can make informed decisions once you’ve learned what to expect. The specifics depend on what you’re comfortable with and how selective you can afford to be in your job search. And, of course, no trans or gender diverse person is under any obligation to be out to employers or anybody else, so personal preference is a factor even if professional security isn’t.

To be very clear, this answer is all about self-protection for you because that is what you and a lot of other trans and gender diverse people need to think about for our own safety and comfort. But that in no way should be taken to suggest that any of this is okay or fair. This letter and our answer to it are demonstrative of a deeply broken system which at best forces trans and gender diverse people to worry about all of this when cis people don’t have to, and at worst causes us significant personal and professional harm.

3. Interviewing trans and non-binary applicants

I’m currently on a hiring committee for an open position on my team and we just had an interview with an applicant who seems like a good fit and will be invited for a second interview very soon. However, the name on their application was a different gender than their LinkedIn profile (let’s say Kevin Smith on the profile but Leah Smith on the resume). Between that and the interview, I believe that Leah is trans and has only recently started presenting as their true gender during this job search because they used their resume name and presented as the gender associated with that name.

None of this is a problem of course, and my team is very open and accepting. However, my boss has not had much experience with trans people and is worried about inadvertently offending or causing discomfort to our applicant. I’d recommended to my boss that he verify the applicant’s pronouns (something like, “May I ask what pronouns you use? I use he/him pronouns”) but he either forgot or didn’t feel comfortable doing so in the initial interview. I recommended using they/them when referring to Leah for now until we find out for sure.

So to be clear, the awkwardness I’m feeling from my team isn’t over whether this person is trans (they truly don’t seem to have an issue there), but rather making sure that this applicant is just as comfortable and feels as respected as any cis applicant. When we bring Leah in for their second interview, what’s the best way to broach this question? What are some other “dos and don’ts” for interviewing someone who is trans or nonbinary? I’ve found tons of sites covering interviewing while trans or non-binary, but info from the hiring side seems to be lacking (or I just can’t find it) and I’d love to be able to have some guidelines to bring to my manager for improvements to our overall hiring/interview process.

First things first: Leah’s gender is absolutely none of your business; neither is that of any other candidate or employee. It’s good to regularly assess your workplace and hiring practices for gender inclusion, but do not center that assessment on a specific individual, especially one who has not made the clear and intentional choice to come out in that specific context. Based on your letter, Leah hasn’t done that at all—your assumptions about their gender aren’t based on the materials they supplied to you directly, and names don’t have genders so you can’t assume based on that anyway. While it’s true that there are patterns in some cultures of certain names being associated with particular genders, anyone of any gender can go by any name whether they’re trans or not, so it’s not a hard rule. Additionally, some cultures don’t have the concept of gendered names at all, and in other cultures, the patterns in how names are gendered directly contradict patterns English-speakers might expect, so cultural competency is as much a factor as trans inclusion.

Changing your behavior in hopes of welcoming one person who you think may be trans is likely to be unsuccessful; the changes won’t feel natural to the candidate, because they aren’t, and they won’t be the kind of long-term support that trans and gender diverse employees need. It also misses the point, which is that you should already be operating on the assumption that some of your candidates and employees are trans or gender diverse.

You’re not wrong that there is appallingly little guidance for employers on trans-inclusive hiring, but there are some things you can do generally (not only when you think you have a trans or gender diverse candidate, since that’s not something you can know or should be trying to guess unless they explicitly tell you). But keep in mind that trans-inclusive hiring doesn’t mean changing your behavior when you think a candidate might be trans or gender diverse; it means updating your regular practices so that candidates of all genders are treated well without having to come out. The fact that you’re trying to welcome this particular candidate by behaving differently than usual indicates that you need to make some changes in how your workplace operates generally.

Regarding your main question, you can use language in meetings that invites a candidate to share their pronouns if they’d like to, but don’t put them on the spot by asking directly (and especially don’t do this only when you think they’re trans). In general, the best approach is to share your own pronouns when you meet someone, which demonstrates that you will know what they’re talking about if they choose to do the same. That said, pronoun sharing always needs to be truly optional, so don’t push your boss or anyone else to do it if they seem hesitant to. In a group setting where several people are introducing themselves, the person leading the meeting can say something like “Please share your names, pronouns if you’d like to, and role” (or whatever makes sense in that situation).

If the candidate chooses not to share, then don’t worry about it; it’s not imperative that you learn the pronouns of everyone you interact with. They/them or the person’s name is fine unless a person has told you to use something else (it’s not a bad idea to default to they/them for everyone whose pronouns you don’t know rather than just people you think may be trans, but this takes a lot of practice and is likely to get pushback if you try to enforce it, especially if there hasn’t been widespread staff training to give people context). In future, it’s a good idea to have an optional fill-in-the-blank pronoun field on your job application form, as long as you’re making sure that those on the search committee know to read it and respect anything the candidate puts there.

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of other things you can do to make your hiring process more equitable for trans and gender diverse people:

  • For in-person interviews, let the candidate know where to find all of the restrooms (which ideally should include an all-gender option); don’t assume that they’ll use a particular one based on what you think their gender is, and don’t worry about which one they choose.
  • Share health insurance information with all candidates early in the process. Whether gender affirming care is covered can be a dealbreaker, and it’s difficult to directly ask about it without outing oneself.
  • Post the salary range in your ads (you should be doing this anyway, but it’s a gender inclusion issue because there is a significant wage gap between transgender and cisgender employees).
  • Include gender identity and gender expression in your nondiscrimination statement.
  • Provide information about policies that often exclude trans and gender diverse people (especially nonbinary people), such as parental leave and dress code, so candidates aren’t left wondering about them. Ideally your workplace will have made sure these policies are gender-inclusive first, but share them either way so candidates can make informed decisions.
  • If your workplace has employee affinity groups, reach out to them; they may be interested in providing feedback on your hiring process, and they might be willing to be contacted by candidates outside of the formal interview. Since you can’t know what identities a person holds and you shouldn’t make them out themself by asking who they’d like to talk to, provide information about all such groups to all candidates (after confirming that the groups are comfortable being contacted).

The thing is, all of this is stuff you should be doing generally anyway. If your workplace has a habit of optional pronoun sharing in meetings, it’s likely to happen naturally in interviews. If your employees generally respect people’s pronouns and don’t make assumptions about gender, they’ll do that for candidates. If your building has all-gender restrooms available and you’re in the habit of listing all the options when telling someone where they are, then you’re going to tell the candidate the same thing.

In general, the answer to how to conduct trans-inclusive hiring is simultaneously very simple and extremely complex: it is to have a trans-inclusive workplace, which is a lot more involved than making a few changes in the interview process. There are two reasons for this. First, it is unethical to portray your workplace as something that it is not, even if you mean well; for our own safety, trans and gender diverse candidates need to be able to make informed decisions (see the other letter in this post for a demonstration of the harm that focusing on the appearance of inclusion can cause). Second, if your workplace actually is one where people of all genders can be treated well, this will come through in the hiring process anyway.

Creative Commons License
“Getting people to use the right pronouns, finding trans-friendly workplaces, and trans-inclusive hiring” by Ask a Manager is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

{ 283 comments… read them below }

  1. sam_i_am*

    First, it is unethical to portray your workplace as something that it is not, even if you mean well

    I’ve heard so many stories about trans people who have gotten bait-and-switched by companies that pretend to be inclusive during hiring and turn out to be anything but. Please be honest during hiring; being in a non-inclusive place as a trans person can be awful.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      I’m cis and if I saw that early in my career I would be furiously job searching if I saw that kind of bullying as part of my work environment, and posting a very comprehensive Glassdoor review. At this point in my career I’d probably quit without anything lined up.

      1. Certaintroublemaker*

        I was thinking that if it was safe to do for LW2, leave a Glassdoor review. Even better if cis allies can do so.

    2. Hills to Die on*

      I can’t imagine how hard and how frustrating that would be. Like it isn’t already fraught. This is good advice to file away.

    3. sorry, you're on mute*

      Yeah, totally. I think, unfortunately, that it’s not possible to do perfect due diligence as a prospective employee, no matter what you do. It’s on employers to step it up and make sure their walk matches their talk.

      On the flipside, though, you might also be surprised where you find positive experiences. My wife is trans and works in, for lack of a better word, the military industrial complex – and she has actually had a really good experience when it comes to gender and inclusion, even when she came out while working as a federal defense employee during the previous U.S. presidential administration. For me, that’s really the most surprising thing about the whole experience. So it’s a real crapshoot, I think (though not all bad).

      1. LadyVet*

        You know, I wonder if that has something to do with most service members being referred to by rank, which typically changes every few years. I have a few buddies who got promoted twice after I worked with them, and I always take a second to try to figure out how I should refer to them in stories.

        I think a lot of military folks would have an easier time with this than they expect. Just need to work on accepting an honorific for non-binary service members, so they don’t have to go by “Sir” or “Ma’am.”

        1. Reluctant Mezzo*

          Some SF militaries just go by ‘sir’ or a modified version for everyone. As a former military member myself, that would save a lot of trouble all around in the real world.

    4. Moonlight*

      Honestly though, who’s going to openly say they’re not inclusive when that would literally run afoul of discrimination laws? Obviously, it would be nice if someone would do you a solid of being transparent in a way that isn’t openly discriminatory (e.g., “we’re working on becoming more inclusive” – because at least it acknowledges flaws versus just claiming to be really inclusive when they’re not).

      But to be honest, even if they wouldn’t want to be transparent because of discrimination accusations, I also wonder how many people have the self awareness to realize that they’re not as inclusive as they really are because people do things ALL THE TIME that are sexist, transphobic, and racist, and don’t seem to think they’re doing anything wrong. For example, I had a manager who would claim to be supportive of my being neurodivergent but would then make every bit of feedback about my neurodivergence and I was like “orrrr I just get to make mistakes like everyone else…” and she clearly had no idea how f**king ablist she was being.

      Obviously it’s idiotic because (a) not being aware and (b) not being transparent doesn’t mean they won’t run into problems when they knowingly, or unknowingly, hire people who are trans (or in my case, neurodivergent) and subject those people to discrimination, so, rationally, being transparent is probably the best idea… but if the org isn’t actively working on the issues, then what? Cause I feel like it’s easier to be transparent when you’re actually like “we’ve identified X issues and are doing Y and Z to improve it” but a lot of us end up in situations where an employer is doing next to nothing to make the situation better and are also unlikely to cop up to it.

      I don’t really know where I am going with this beyond thinking it’s not so easy as to wish for people to just be transparent/honest, even if that’s also what I want in an ideal situation.

    5. Willow Pillow*

      I’ve experienced similar issues as a neurodivergent person. I’ve seen a couple of themes…

      -People don’t necessarily understand that they’re actions are anti-trans (or anti-ND, or anti-POC…). In my case, I experienced a lot of patronizing attitudes and people thought that they knew what I needed – or was legally entitled to – better than I did.
      -People at the top of an organization may want to promote DEI, but don’t have buy-in at all levels.

      It is super demoralizing, especially the fact that the burden of addressing the bigotry and discrimination tends to falls on the marginalized people.

      1. fluffy*

        As someone who is neurodivergent and trans, I’ve run into plenty of situations where companies go out of their way to try to seem extremely inclusive and then it turns out that they’re really just trying to exploit the diversity in awful ways. And as a trans woman in tech it feels *really* awful to be held up as a champion of diversity and equality while cis women at the company get treated absolutely horribly by the very same people.

      2. just some guy*

        The other one I’ve hit with neurodivergence: all my co-workers were lovely people who wanted to support me, none of them were able to create a ND-friendly career pathway for me.

    6. Some Dude*

      …but would a company a, say “actually we are a really sh*tty place to work?” or “we are super sexist here?” Or would their version of inclusive match the applicants? Most places I’ve worked at have struggled to lived up to the ideals they claim to hold. Beyond an environment that is explicitly anti-trans, I think a lot of places would say, we are inclusive, and may or may not be.

  2. Not teenage but still ninja turtle*

    The most fascinating part of this from a writer’s standpoint is watching people continue to invent new non-binary pronouns instead of using the ones we already have (for example, “ze” has been part of English since at least the 1970s and possibly much earlier). There are lots of possible reasons: do they not connect with extant ones? Do they not know about them because we have done such a poor job teaching about their existence? Are there subtle differences that some people see between the various options that others don’t?

    It’s a cool way to see language evolve fragmentally before a culturally agreed-upon “universal” option takes hold.

    (And I want to clarify–this is genuine linguistic interest, not snark. We’re lucky enough to be able to watch a cool shift as it’s happening.)

    1. Hills to Die on*

      I love ey/em/eir as a singular pronoun. I hope that’s that we do from here on.
      Thank you for this post!

      1. Not teenage but still ninja turtle*

        I don’t have a preference, though the ones I’ve seen most often in English and Spanish tend to include “x” somewhere.

        Also, I would LOVE to see an essay studying when bursts of new pronouns emerge and why. Looking at this article (, it mentions several being invented in 1868, some around 1911, and some in the 1930s. Obviously it’s an extremely limited sample size, and they mention other years, but it seems to me as though there *might* be a connection to major social changes.

        In times of political tension, war, recession or pandemics, are people more likely to reconsider who they are and what words best represent them?

        1. LadyVet*

          Ooooh, that last question is fascinating, and one that I will probably think about and wind up researching in the middle of the night.

    2. Minerva*

      It is fascinating because “they/them” is gender neutral and despite the grammar police is perfectly fine for singular usage (much the as “you” is singular & plural) and has existed for…the history of English?

      I probably need to go look into this a bit more myself, my enby friends all used they/them so I haven’t thought about it too hard.

      1. Qwerty*

        If you run into people stuck on the grammar aspect, I’ve found it helpful to give examples of how society has been using they/them for unknown-singular-person for a while.

        Like “Someone left their bag in the lobby. They probably want it back”

        Hearing those examples helped things “click” for some of my friends and the mental grammar block melted away. Passing along in case it helps anyone else.

        1. Pineapple pizza*

          First, I absolutely use they/them for people that use them. My opinion on other people’s pronouns is absolutely irrelevant.

          Your example is why I personally don’t like the use of they/them as personal pronouns. In your example, the person who owns the bag is unknown so using they/them pronouns makes sense. But my coworker “Alex” is known so it feels personally weird to use those pronouns for them versus other neopronouns. Alex isn’t a hypothetical, they’re standing right in front of me, and that isn’t their bag.

          1. Hlao-roo*

            If this way of thinking about pronouns helps you: you know how a lot of places used to use (and plenty of places still do use) “he/him” as the pronoun set for hypothetical people? In laws, in leases, in board game instructions (“the player will move his game piece…”). So “he” was used for hypothetical/unknown people, and “he” was also used to refer to Uncle John and Cousin Tim and your manager Dave.

            I see “they/them” similarly. A better set of pronouns to use in hypothetical/unknown cases than “he/him” and also a totally normal pronoun set to use to refer to a known, singular person.

          2. Phoenix*

            One of the reasons I like they/them pronouns for myself is that I prefer other people to treat my *gender* as unknown to them – the fact that we use they/them pronouns to talk about people of unknown gender is *the point* of they/them pronouns for me personally. I wonder if thinking of it that way might help you?

            1. ButtonUp*

              Thanks Phoenix, I have the same issue where I feel rude using they/them for people I know since it feels strangely anonymous or like I barely noticed them. I’ll try thinking of it this way, that’s kind of how I already feel using they/them for babies and small children.

            2. Not that gender*

              Yes! Non-binary just means “not on the binary (all the time)” and is a catch-all for a ton of options– so likewise, “they/them” can be thought as “this is a catch-all for a bunch of options you probably don’t know the details for, including agender, demigender, xenogender, bigender, and a range of less-known genders”

              1. M*

                Yeah, this is partly why I like them. My relationship to gender is kind of finicky and I can’t say I’ve figured it all out. I don’t even think I necessarily /want/ to communicate the entire complexity of my identity to everyone. However, they/them/their works as a decent general substitute and an easy indicator of being non-binary. (Plus most English-speakers already know those words, so it feels easier to introduce. Sometimes choice of pronouns aren’t just a whole encapsulation of personal identity so much as a tool I choose to be practical with while still trying to live my life. This isn’t to knock alternative pronouns, but they’re how my priorities have shaken out.)

              2. Curmudgeon in California*

                Yes, this. As an enby, I am at a loss to describe my relation to the gender binary as other that “I don’t want to be evaluated on those criteria. Please take me out of that arena.”

                But I don’t know anything other than agender or non-binary to describe that, and even then people look at my body and slam me into a gender role because I have boobs.

          3. Former Employee*

            Shakespeare already cleared that hurdle for everyone and used such a pronoun when referring to a character who had a name and was identifiable within the context of the wording.

    3. Stephen Krueger (ey/em or he/him)*

      This is indeed fascinating! I think all the reasons you listed are true to varying degrees for different people. For me, I did try they/them and that didn’t feel right, but I heard someone using ey/em/eir for the first time and that really clicked; I’ve had trouble explaining why, though. And these are actually quite old pronouns, at least several decades, but they’re not commonly used and so I heard them for the first time less than a year ago. The lack of education/awareness about any of this is so prevalent that it’s difficult to separate anything from that.

      1. Gerry Keay*

        Yeah neopronouns were actually the norm for nonbinary people for quite some time (even predating the term “nonbinary”) — for example, Leslie Feinberg, transgender activist born in 1949, used zie/hir pronouns. They/them as the “standard” nonbinary pronoun set is a phenomenon of the past 20 or so years.

        1. Mid*

          Yes! While I also use they/them, they’re not The Proper Non-binary Pronouns, like has been pushed recently. People want an easy solution for All The Weird Genders, but it’s always been diverse and neopronouns have been around for ages, and it’s disheartening seeing people going to bat for they/them while also rolling eyes at ey/zie/hir/xe. (Not saying that’s what anyone on this thread is doing! Just something I’ve seen in the world at large.)

    4. SereneScientist*

      Neopronouns have a long and interesting history! We have evidence of them in English going back to the early modern period and even before that–Dennis Baron, who is a professor emeritus of English and linguistics at University of Illinois, researched this and found records from 1789 by William H. Marshall of “the existence of a dialectal English epicene pronoun, singular ou.”

      1. allathian*

        It’s just too bad that ou didn’t catch on more widely in the 18th century… But that’s an interesting factoid to pull out whenever someone objects to a neopronoun.

        The use of they as a singular pronoun when the gender of the person it refers to is unknown or irrelevant dates back to at least Shakespeare…

        I must admit that I’m happy that my first language is Finnish, which only has two non-gendered third person singular pronouns, “hän” for people (and frequently pets) and “se” for inanimate objects and animals (reasonable equivalent is the English “it”), but which is also used to refer to people of any gender dialectally and in spoken language, but not in formal writing.

        It’s rather refreshing to realize that gender is generally irrelevant information when talking about other people. As a corollary to this, though, it has to be said that Finnish names are generally very gendered, and our name pattern is not what English speakers expect (Pirkko is a feminine name and Pirkka is a masculine one). A sizable minority of people who change their legal name as young adults (or teenagers with parental consent) choose a gender-neutral name.

    5. CharlieBrown*

      My issue is that I never know how to pronounce them, so I am very grateful for the link to pronouns dot org. That is very helpful!

    6. Student*

      Non-binary here. I use she/her. I’d love a better option that fits me more accurately.

      I am waiting for a non-binary pronoun option that is not a literal lightning-rod for questions, arguments, controversy, hatred, snark, confusion, and bickering with grammatical overtones and discriminatory undertones.

      In short, I am waiting for the social progress first, not waiting for the perfect-sounding pronoun to linguistically evolve. I don’t really care exactly what we settle on, be it they, ze, xe, ey or something else. I just don’t want to use a pronoun to introduce myself that constantly invites people that I already don’t like to tell me that I am wrong/evil/stupid; I’d rather be a bit inaccurate. Maybe in 20 years, we’ll have moved forward enough socially that I’ll go by a more accurate pronoun.

      Note one common thing among a lot of those pronoun variants? Many can be easily mistaken in verbal conversations for a more “traditional” he- or she- adjacent pronoun, so that it often flies under the radar of people you’re speaking to unless you’re choosing to be very pointed about it. I think some of the bouncing around is just trying to keep ahead of the hate – new pronoun, takes a little while for some of the people actively targeting us to figure it out, especially if the new pronoun sounds close to he/she pronouns with the local accent. Maybe gives you a little plausible deniability until it goes mainstream and gets very clearly defined, then you can hop to the next new one.

    7. SofiaDeo*

      Well, I am happy (really, no snark intended) that someone thinks the growing pains we are going through is really cool. It’s frustrating and difficult. I am struggling with what seems to be a fair amount of chaos all around. From pushback when asking not to be called something/asking others not to use certain triggering words/terms, to people arguing about punctuation/emoji use and meaning, when asking a question is interpreted as a hostile act, when people try to inflict meaning by “tone” instead of “actual words spoken” in multicultural settings, it’s hard. Many communication difficulties are going on, let alone those of us seeking a harmonious, polite, cooperative work/life environment dealing with people who are dramatic/different either by choice or a neurodivergent personality aspect. The old “people often fear what is different/what they don’t know” is present with a vengeance, IMO.

      Regarding pronouns, I wish the business world would adopt a universal, neutral gender one (they/them come to mind because it exists) instead of trying to expect people to remember all the different pronouns for people. I have problem remembering *names* as it is, now I need to remember pronouns? And might possibly upset/offend someone who I mistakenly address, let alone whether or not I want to tell virtually everyone I have some cognitive problems so please don’t mind my forgetfulness? It’s exhausting, and I wish we could just pick something, and follow it, not to be “mindless sheep”, but to avoid miscommunications and make it easier to communicate in a business environment. I admire a number of non-English languages who have a “friend/family” mode of address, with a different one always being used for business/strangers. So even if you know Jennifer from your kid’s after school activity, you aren’t calling out “hey chica” or “hey bitch” or “hey honey” across the room like you do around the neighborhood, if you happen to work with her. It would be “Hi Jennifer. Separate the “I am at work/business” unless it’s a one-on-one with someone you actually know. Because all this forced “friendship” “inclusivity” etc. is exhausting and often comes across rude IMO. It’s generally pretty evident when things are being said by rote, as a requirement, and makes the sting of “attempting to seem friendly” even more obnoxious. Why can’t we just be neutrally polite? It seems to me that addressing everyone pretty much the same, levels the field a bit more. With less stress on both sides…..omg did I remember the right pronoun? did they misgender me intentionally, or as an insult? why can’t so-and-so remember? etc. etc.

    8. Aggretsuko*

      I don’t think “ze” and the like ever caught on like “they/them” did. Honestly, if someone said it aloud I would probably think I heard “he” and not “ze” or “hir” would sound too much like “her,” etc. I think most people don’t know about them and those that do, well…I guess they don’t connect, but really I just found them messy and hard to understand, literally.

      I appreciate that someone tried to create new ones, but there’s reasons those did not catch on and people go for “they” even if it’s grammatically incorrect.

  3. Minerva*

    LW2 No advice, but I really feel for you. I am not trans but I work for a big company regularly rated highly for LGBTQA+ employees, and I have seen situations that make me side-eye the support for the “T” in that, and HR seems to be very blasé about addressing.

    1. just another queer reader*

      Yeah, same. :/

      The line about DEI being more about PR than actual change struck me. My company likes to brag about their diversity but do very little. I think that bait and switch is really harmful.

      I’m actually pushing pretty hard to make changes and get buy-in from the top, but obv if they don’t wanna do it, it’s not going to happen.

      1. Elle*

        Exact same situation at my company. We like to crow about what a great company we are for LGBTQ people but it often feels hollow. We recently were making a public statement re: pride and our (straight) DEI team took the thoughtfully crafted, very intersectional blurb that our LGBTQ group put together and rewrote it to read along the lines of “Yay, we’re all more alike than we realize!”

        These companies 100% pay for the ratings.

      2. Minerva*

        Word. And let’s face it, LGB’s aren’t always there for the T & Qs.

        The worst incident I saw (and it was so blatant that it was addressed but the employee ended up leaving anyway and I don’t blame him) was a Black cis-lesbian discriminating against someone she liked just fine when he presented as a lesbian and women lost her damn mind when he transitioned.

        1. Elle*

          It’s really disheartening. When I joined my company’s LGBTQ group the executive sponsor was an older lesbian who was not into my presentation/me as a person nor my desire to make our efforts trans inclusive. She initially often referred to me as straight (honestly how dare you??) and then asked around re: whether or not I’m trans. Among other weird things said and done, she’s prevented us from making period products available in all bathrooms, suggesting that men will play with them and waste them? Sigh.

          1. Zephy*

            I mean, what stops someone who knows what a tampon is and what it’s for from playing with it and “wasting” it? Does she want evidence that the men (or anyone, for that matter) aren’t also “playing with and wasting” the toilet paper that the company presumably also provides?? Does your company exclusively hire second graders???

        2. Gerry Keay*

          I have seen some of the most violent, aggressive transphobia from cis lesbians and gay men. (Cis bi folks tend to be a bit better with transness, ime.) And honestly it hurts worse than when it comes from cis hets, especially given how many trans folks, especially trans feminine people, literally bled and died so cis gays could have rights.

          1. rewind*

            Re: Cis bi folks being a bit better, it’s because they don’t like us, either.

            I think a lot of it comes down to respectability politics, but we don’t have the rights we do today because people fit in well. Or quietly.

            1. Minerva*

              Word, Marsha P Johnson forever

              I’m cis-woman bi and in an extremely happy hetero relationship for 18 years, which of course means I’ve been straight all along and just experimented.

              For me, I can say I have experienced so much fluidity in sexuality I have no trouble understanding how someone can experience fluidity in gender.

              1. Anonosaurus*

                I think there’s an affinity between not considering gender as a criterion for attraction (which is how I experience being bi) and not considering gender as a fixed or definitive attribute.

            2. Curmudgeon in California*

              This. Bi folks, either cis, trans, or enby get shat on by both cis and trans folks. They most often demand that you “pick a gender to be attracted to”, and want it to be set in stone. No, folks, it doesn’t work that way. I can be bi-ace-enby, and you can just deal with that.

            3. MEH Squared*

              Yep. I’m….bi for a lack of a better word (I question EVERYTHING) and I got so much shit from lesbians about it. Ranging from “You’re really a lesbian and will realize it one day” to angrily accusing me of internalized homophobia. As a result, I roundly support everyone in their gender/sexual identities.

        3. Curmudgeon in California*

          Ooof! Yeah, even LG folks take a dump on Bi, Trans, Non-binary and Asexual folks. They often demand that you “pick a gender and a preferred partner gender”, and erase people who don’t want to be locked into those little boxes. I get really angry when LG folks are anti-trans because that somehow “lessens” them and their “struggle”.

    2. Liberal Elite Culture Not So Liberal*

      I work in an ostensibly very liberal university environment where there is much lip service paid to DEI. For example we are all encouraged (and I know this is fraught) to put our pronouns in our signatures, on Zoom, etc.

      Yet one of the few times I witnessed someone introduce themselves with ‘they/them’ pronouns, the reactions of others in the group were telling and disappointing. Comments ranged from from confusion to outright rudeness. It was shut down, but still there was much talking the talk and little walking the walk.

    3. just some guy*

      Workplaces aren’t the only part of life where people think being gay/lesbian-friendly gets them a pass on the rest of the acronym. I remember sending one venue feedback about specifically transphobic stuff and getting a response about how “pro-LGBT” they were [list of specifically gay-related, non-trans-related things they supported].

  4. münchner kindl*

    Thank you all – Allison and the interviewers – for this. It’s a lot of information, a lot to think about, some resources to learn more – and how much change needs to be done by all.

  5. ticktick*

    I’ve always found, “Do you have a particular preference as to how you’re addressed or referred to?” to be a fairly easy and delicate way of finding out what the person is comfortable with – and as a bonus also covers off whether there’s a short form of their name they prefer, or whether they prefer first name versus title and surname.

    1. ArchivistPony*

      I had this happen at a recent interview and, at first it was a little weird but I was glad because it’s an actual pet peeve of me mine when people do shorten my name without asking!

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        As someone who teaches at a university, it’s what I’ve started doing at the beginning of class:

        I go through by last name and, on the first day of class, ask the students to respond with what they would prefer to be called. This takes care of pronunciations, nicknames, and anyone who want to go by a different name than on my roster. It’s lovely that it doesn’t single out people for certain reasons AND I have a handy-dandy sheet of how to best address my students when I need to.

        1. RLC*

          Thank you for doing this! Not only are you showing respect for your students, you are also modeling a technique for them to show respect for others as they proceed through life.
          My university experiences were very much the opposite of this: instructors who deliberately called attention to my status as the only woman in an otherwise all male class. Addressed male students in normal voice as Mister A, Mister D, then me as MISS L, shouting out the MISS part. The rest of the class would then turn and stare at me.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*


            My given name is female gendered. So, of course, when I get a customer service person on the phone for a bill/account that I have to use my legal name for, invariably they call me “MISS” LegalName. Good grief, people, I’m over 60, married, and there is a perfectly good Ms to use. IMO “Miss” is infantilizing, because it’s usually used for young and juvenile AFABs.

            If they have to call me anything gendered, use “Ms LastName”, don’t get all familiar and disrespectful and call me “Miss FirstName”. They will get a lot of animosity as their habit grates on my last nerve from the start of the conversation.

            1. Pointy's in the North Tower*

              Aaaah in sympathies! I’m just under 40 and have a very AFAB first name. I loathe being called “Miss.” I started hating it during college, but I didn’t know of any alternative other than “Mrs.” (and I definitely wasn’t married, and Mrs. Pointy was my very divorced grandmother anyway).

              Now I use Mx. I’ve gone so far as to cross out all the gendered options and write in Mx. because that’s how much I don’t want a gendered address.

        2. OtherBecky*

          I do something similar for names. I also have my students write down some basic info on index cards that I collect (mostly about what if any previous lab experience they’ve had, plus something they’re excited to learn about and any formal or informal accommodations they might need).

          I’ve recently, at the advice of a non-binary friend, switched from asking them to include their pronouns to asking them to include what if any pronouns they want me to use for them. I also make it explicit that a) it’s optional and b) I’m phrasing it that way because I don’t want to make anyone choose between outing themselves to a stranger or misgendering themselves. I don’t need to know their fundamental identity; I just need to know how to tell my coworker “Chris from my Monday lab is going to be in your Wednesday section this week. (He/she/they/zie/Chris) has already handed in the homework, so you don’t need to collect it. Thanks!”

          I think phrasing it that way and being clear about why may make my students feel safer; in the two semesters I’ve been doing it, I’ve gotten more responses using non-binary pronouns than I had in the preceding three years.

    2. UKgreen*

      Yes – this is a good idea on all levels. Lots of us have our full, formal, what our mother calls us when she’s angry full name on our CV, but go by a diminutive. I worked with a girl whose email address was, and everyone called her Katherine, until she finally plucked up the courage several months into her new job to admit that she always, ALWAYS goes by Kate, but was too shy to mention it at interview!

      1. Timothy (TRiG)*

        People can be weird about names & nicknames even when there aren’t fraught matters of identity at play. For example, I’m happy to be called Tim or even Timmy in speech, and have even answered to Tom from one friend who thought that was funny, but I hate them in writing. If you’re writing my name, it better be the full Timothy. And no, I have no idea why. There is no underlying reason.

        (I’m in a small company, and my initial assigned email address was tim@; I got that changed to timothy@ with tim@ retained as an alias.)

    3. OrigCassandra*

      During first-day-of-class icebreakers/introductions, I ask students in my courses to “tell the class anything we need to know to address and mention you respectfully.” They catch my drift immediately.

    4. L*

      I really like this! I’m nonbinary (she/they), and have no desire to be out at work. But I also refuse to lie if directly asked my pronouns, because misgendering myself hurts.

      The way you phrased this leaves me room to go “Nope, is fine!” and not bring up anything about my gender, but also gives someone that has a stronger preference in that regard to be open about their pronouns. It also works for nicknames and all of that jazz, so honestly it just works on every level!

      1. Mialana*

        I really like this too! In an ideal world I would go by he/she/they. I’m not in an ideal world. I’m in biglaw.

    1. Pippa K*

      Language is a social creation and a social tool. It adapts over time to meet people’s social needs. You might feel uncomfortable with social changes and the consequent language changes that reflect and describe them, but you’re just not on solid ground asserting that language naturally, only, and immutably reflects only the social order you prefer.

      Plus, you have reason to know that taking this position will hurt and help to exclude actual people, so ethically it’s not a great position either. Maybe reconsider.

    2. T.N.H.*

      All words are made up. But Shakespeare used the singular they – it’s a separate pronoun with at least a 400 year history, not an incorrect use of plural. He also invented the words Bandit, Skim-Milk, and Uncomfortable, which I’m guessing you don’t refuse to say.

      And none of this should matter because you need to call people what they ask to be called.

      1. TootsNYC*

        most copyeditors at national magazines have accepted the singular “they,” and not just for individuals who use it.
        They accept it for situations in which a hypothetical person is being discussed.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          This is the intermediate stage. When Shakespeare or the King James Bible use the singular they, it usually has a collective antecedent, grammatically singular but referring to multiple people: “Everyone took their seat” but not “John took their seat.” The intermediate stage of a hypothetical antecedent, or one whose gender is unknown, is more recent. Here is an early example, from Pride and Prejudice: “Of whom does Jane ever think ill? And who is there, whatever might be their former conduct, that she would believe capable of such an attempt, till it were proved against them?” While this usage is not recent, neither was it common until fairly recently. The final stage is singular they as simply a non-gendered singular personal pronoun. I am old enough that it does not come naturally to me, but my teenage kids use it unselfconsciously. It is the future.

      2. Moira Rose's Closet*

        That article is fascinating — thanks for the link! I had no idea Shakespeare invented the term “skim milk”!

        1. Bagpuss*

          Just to be ultra-pendantic, he may not have invented it, it’s simply that his is the first recorded use.

          It’s probable that some of the words he’s creditied with invested were his inventions, and others were already in use but not recorded in writing anywhere which has survived, and which can be dated to an earlier date than the relevant play.

          (But I agree with you, it’s fascinating both how language changes anad how some periods and some people can be far more prolific in generating changes.

      3. Allornone*

        “And none of this should matter because you need to call people what they ask to be called.”

        This is the most cromulent advice which is guaranteed to embiggen the soul.

  6. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    “Workplace culture can be difficult or impossible to assess from the outside”
    This. In my experience, the interview process (and the marketing statements posted on a company’s public website about the work environment) is often a snow job – a fantasy sales pitch and not just on the topics of inclusiveness and diversity, but also on work-life balance, professional development, and many other important aspects of a work environment. Difficult to ferret out the reality.

    1. Lexi Lynn*

      I think also it is difficult because many companies seem to measure their inclusiveness through emoloyee surveys. My company recently asked as part of our survey how well they do providing opportunities and a good experience for new mothers, people of color, LBGTQ, older workers (not all in the same question).

      For 3 out of 4 questions (I’m old), I really needed a don’t know or skip option. Just because no one has complained to me does not mean the company is doing well. My opinion on how well LBGTQ, new mothers, or PoC are being treated is not as valuable as theirs and its wrong to let unaffected people drown out their feedback.

  7. Rain's Small Hands*

    I’ll add that there is another issue around pronouns – habits are hard to break. My youngest is non-binary (they/them) and I’ll still slip up and use she/her – even though this has been years. I’ve known them forever, its a hard switch to make, and made harder because they choose to primarily represent as female – their assigned sex at birth, so there is a lack of visual cues to remind me. Patience and forgiveness, for everyone, along with making a real effort. My youngest forgives me when I slip up, knowing I try. The trying is important and I do it less and less.

    On the other hand I have a friend who is a cis woman. For some reason, my brain has decided she uses they/them (she doesn’t) and I mispronoun her regularly. Again, I make the effort to not do so, but everyone in the circle has noticed that I can’t keep pronouns straight either with her or my own kid.

    1. Simon (he/him)*

      I know you mean well with this comment, but I promise that trans people hear “habits are hard to break” and variations thereof constantly. It’s often the first thing people say to me after being corrected when I wish they would just apologize & correct themselves instead of getting into a whole conversation about how difficult my pronouns are, how hard they’re trying, etc etc. Not saying you do that personally because obviously I don’t know you, but reminding trans people about patience and forgiveness isn’t very helpful on a post about difficulties that trans people face in the workplace.

      1. A (they/them)*

        I absolutely agree, Simon. I really do understand the difficulty: many of us over, let’s say, 30 years old, have been taught from birth that there are 2 sets of pronouns. As a non-binary person, I am absolutely asking you to rewire your brain. I know it’s hard. But I believe I deserve the dignity of being addressed in the way I prefer, just like everyone else. I don’t mean this as an attack, but I do want to push back on the idea that “it’s hard” is a valid reason to consistently mess up/misgender someone. (Mistakes happen, but at some point I start to see that you don’t value me enough to do the work.)

        1. Simon (he/him)*

          Yup!! I’m relatively binary trans and use he/him pronouns, and many people in my life still consistently misgender me after years of me being out to friends and family. I hear “I’m trying” constantly from people who don’t seem to actually be trying very hard so seeing it in the comments section of a post about trans struggles in the workplace rubbed me the wrong way.

    2. Tinkerbell*

      My kid uses they/them pronouns and I find that I now have a bit of a “she —> they” filter that kicks in even when it shouldn’t sometimes. I do love how my kid uses “they” for most of their peers, though, with the exception of friends (including cis friends) who have actually told my kid which pronouns they like.

      1. Rain's Small Hands*

        Can I ask how you think I can TRY HARDER with a kid I love without limits who I spend my life supporting and uplifting? That I would not purposely hurt for the WORLD? I am TRYING as hard as I possibly can and the purpose of this comment is to say “yes, I know that sometimes we fail, can we get acceptance of our own imperfections as humans while we give you our acceptance?” Sometimes, a misplaced pronoun isn’t a purposeful insult or a microaggression, sometimes its our brains not working like we want them to – a problem a lot of us have that I struggle with every day, not only with this, but with remembering names, remembering events, using the right word in sentences. Yes, my brain is broken, but I’ll just TRY HARDER and I’m sure it will all come back to me.

        Blaming someone who is trying for not trying hard enough isn’t getting anyone anywhere, its making everyone feel bad about it.

    3. Stephen Krueger (ey/em or he/him)*

      I’m going to echo what Simon said so well just above, and encourage people on this thread not to get caught up in explaining why getting pronouns right feels difficult. Most trans and gender diverse people know that, and we’re not pretending otherwise, but it can be pretty painful to hear it repeated over and over. Please be aware of how centering this side of the issue feels to folks who are harmed by constant mispronouning. I highly recommend Kirby Conrod’s piece on how to practice and identify your own barriers (also linked in the post itself):

    4. Just Another Fed*

      In addition to the comments above me, I’d encourage you to reflect on why you felt a need to include your kid’s assigned at birth pronouns in your post. You could have made the exact same point without that information (“I’ll still slip up and use other pronouns for them”). I mention this both because I think it would be more respectful to them not to functionally out them, even to strangers on the Internet, and because I think referencing their old pronouns, even in sentences like that one, makes it harder for you to retrain your brain not to use them. They are they. The less you think of other pronouns in context with them, the easier that switch will be to make.

    5. Mianaai*

      As a (mostly?) cis woman with a *lot* of trans and nonbinary friends, I strongly agree with Simon and Stephen. None of us are perfect and I do occasionally make mistakes, but I try to conduct myself according to two principles:
      1) Any discomfort I have with learning new pronouns for someone, especially if their pronouns and presentation or name don’t “match” (and, as eloquently discussed in the post, any expectation of “matching” itself is itself BS) is mine and for me to deal with on my own time. It’s on me to assess that discomfort and work past it, not on my friends to soothe me.
      2) If I do make a mistake, I try to move past it as smoothly and quickly as possible and return the conversation to what we were talking about before. If I catch the mistake myself, I say “I’m sorry”, correct myself, and move on. If someone else catches it instead, I say “thank you”, say “I’m sorry” to the person I misgendered, correct myself, and move on.
      I’d be happy to hear other folks chime in on the above. Regarding the latter, obviously the best thing is to not make a mistake in the first place and that’s always my goal, but my friends at least have appreciated quickly and smoothly moving past the error and not derailing the conversation with a long apology or, worse, excuse.

  8. Simon (he/him)*

    LW1 & 2, no advice but sympathy: I came out at my workplace months ago and I’m still getting cheerfully misgendered by well-meaning coworkers on a regular basis. I work in an environment that’s supposed to be highly LGBT-inclusive and it’s exhausting. I wish there was an easy solution but you’re not alone!

    1. Sharks Are Cool*

      I have a coworker who uses they/them. They are new to the team within the last year, but like, it’s been months, and I feel like I’m doing a gentle correct every single time another coworker mentions them to me. Nice, kind, politically liberal, pride-flag owning coworkers! I don’t know if my cis coworkers think it’s okay to misgender our coworker to me, a fellow cis person, when the coworker isn’t actually there? Do they do it to their face? Unclear!! (Almost definitely, ugh.) My partner also uses non-binary pronouns so I’m particularly aware of they/them pronoun use and I have a lot of practice at gentle correction, but I’m starting to feel less gentle about it when it’s every single time with most of my coworkers.

      1. Simon (he/him)*

        Yep, I feel for your coworker. I work in a setting that serves a lot of LGBTQ people, has pride flags up on the walls, professes a lot of inclusivity, etc, and people still can’t seem to use he/him for me after being explicitly asked to do so several times plus having my pronouns on every email/call/whatever. “I’m starting to feel less gentle about it when it’s every single time with most of my coworkers” is a good way to sum up my existence right now.

      2. Mid*

        You can try the slightly more aggressive approach of acting confused about who your coworkers are talking about when they misgender someone!

        Something like
        Coworker: “Wow, I loved Jack’s presentation at the meeting! She’s really great at public speaking.”
        Ally: “Who are you talking about? Is there a new Jack on our team?”
        Coworker: “You know who Jack is!”
        Ally: “The only Jack on our team uses they/them pronouns, so clearly you must be talking about someone else when you said ‘she.’ I hope you aren’t misgendering our teammate.”

        Another option is misgendering your coworkers back, but it usually needs to be done in a joking/lighthearted way, and can be more difficult to pull off in a work setting versus a social setting.

        It’s annoying and exhausting, but I’ve found it can help it click for some people, and makes them feel awkward (and then usually slow down and double check their pronouns.) And allies can be more “aggressive” about the corrections without being seen as “sensitive” or whatever other dismissive label people stick to trans people when we want our pronouns respected.

  9. Student*

    #2: Look for places flying the pride flag, or the various specialty sub-group LGBTQ+ flags. It’s not fool-proof, and depending on your employment situation and area this might not work for everyone – but this is what pride symbolism is for. Finding our people.

    It means somebody there is committed enough to LGBT+ inclusion to not be ashamed to be known publicly for it. It’s more of a commitment to our inclusion than a couple boiler-plate statements in a job ad or a hiring committee discussion, because it is on display at all times, not just at convenient times.

    Sometimes it’s more subtle than a sticker in the front window or a literal flag out front – pins, bumper stickers on cars in the lot, subtle office decorations, magnets. I wear my pin on my purse.

    1. metadata minion*

      Though unfortunately there are so many time when that’s just marketing. One of the hospitals I go to has pride flags everywhere and even lanyards saying “ask me my pronouns!”, and with a few exceptions they have been *terrible* about pronouns in actual practice. One doctor cheerfully and even almost excitedly updated my pronouns to they/them in my record…and then kept calling me “she”. I couldn’t find a non-snarky way to ask if she knew what the pronoun field was for, but I kind of suspect she genuinely doesn’t.

  10. Kelly*

    When it comes to asking names:

    If you do not need to know an applicant’s legal name until later in the application process, make it clear that they can use their “known by” name on the initial application and can provide their government name when necessary. If there is a need to know their legal name at the onset (e.g. an ID is required for ALL people to access the facilities to interview), ask for both. (Obviously unless you’re working “under the table” there is no getting around eventually needing to disclose your legal name for reporting taxes, etc.)

    Likewise, do not ask about former names until you have a need to know. Even then, if possible, instead of asking something like “Have you ever used another name?” tailor the question to what you actually need to know the former name for (e.g. “Do we need to know about the use of another name in order to check references or to access relevant records?” – this both lets the applicant know why the question is being asked and limits disclosure to when the employer has a material reason to know*).

    *For example, unless the job calls for a security clearance or something similar, most employers would not have a practical reason to need to know a deadname never used in the adult world if one (socially and legally) transitioned as a child or teen (as Alison mentioned in a non-trans context in this post from almost a decade ago):

    1. Emily*

      I’m the parent of a trans kid and the unnecessary requirement to use a legal name is probably my biggest frustration these days.

      1. Kelly*

        If it’s possible to legally change the child’s name where you live it might be a good idea to do that – for the reason that the earlier it’s done the more likely that last paragraph (regarding irrelevant deadnames) would be applicable in their(?) case (especially if they’re a teen and high school records/jobs/driver’s licenses/etc. are or soon will be an issue – if they’re still pre-teen then those issues aren’t a big deal yet). Of course if the decision to transition or the name choice is not final you shouldn’t rush into making legal changes, but for the reasons I’ve mentioned IMO you shouldn’t arbitrarily make a trans child wait until they’re an adult to officially change their name.

        1. Emily (she/hers)*

          She’s just 8, but yes, we’ll be changing it sooner than later. I want to get it done under the current administration so we can easily change the gender on her passport too. (One never knows when these things might change.)

  11. Somebody Call a Lawyer*

    Such a great, informative post! Am bookmarking this for my teenage, not-yet-in-the-work-force, but happily out trans nephew.

  12. zuzu*

    This is all very helpful, thanks! I’m the first-time chair of a hiring committee for an academic library, about to contact applicants for first-round interviews. I have no idea if any of our applicants are trans or nonbinary, but I want to do my best to ensure that the process is as safe and comfortable as an interview process can be.

  13. sequitur*

    This is such a great resource, thank you! I’ve shared it on my work’s Slack instance. My employer is very slowly getting better at trans inclusion, but largely because I forced their hand when I came out as nonbinary in 2020 (I might have come out a few years earlier if they’d had even the faintest hint of a gender diverse inclusion policy, but thankfully some leadership changes in the interim have made this whole topic a lot less politically charged than it used to be).

    One question I have as a potential hiring manager in future is how to set expectations with candidates and interviewees. The last time I did any hiring I hadn’t come out yet. My sister is hiring at the moment and is getting a lot of ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ salutations in cover letters – is it acceptable to mention in the job ad that the hiring manager would prefer ‘Dear hiring manager’, or do I just have to suck up the assumption that a significant number of potential candidates are likely to inadvertently exclude me in the way they start their cover letters?

    And is it appropriate to share my pronouns ahead of an interview? Our early interview stages are likely to be remote, where I do display my pronouns in my Zoom name (and they’re also prominent on my LinkedIn profile, which I’d expect a lot of good candidates to take a look at), but I’ve kept a forename that has gendered connotations; I suspect if I were a candidate I’d appreciate a heads up in advance rather than finding out that my interviewer’s pronouns don’t match what I was expecting right at the start of the interview. (I agree with the guest authors that in an ideal world, no one would have any assumptions about my gender or pronouns based on my name, but…this is not that world.)

    At the same time, I worry about making all of this too much about me! I’d be very interested to hear how other trans & nonbinary hiring managers have handled this stuff.

    1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

      I’m not trans or nonbinary, but do you email the candidate at all prior to the interview? I’ve worked at places where pronouns in email signatures were common, and have heard from candidates that having the first “human” contact with the company be from someone who lists pronouns in their signature can make things feel a lot safer. I would imagine that would go doubly so if the pronouns in question aren’t binary.

    2. Stephen Krueger (ey/em or he/him)*

      “is it acceptable to mention in the job ad that the hiring manager would prefer ‘Dear hiring manager’, or do I just have to suck up the assumption that a significant number of potential candidates are likely to inadvertently exclude me in the way they start their cover letters?”

      I’d do both, honestly; there’s no downside to clarifying, but also there will be people who don’t notice or ignore it. And the first suggestion has the bonus of letting applicants how it’s appropriate to start the letter, which I think a lot of early-career people aren’t sure about.

      “is it appropriate to share my pronouns ahead of an interview?”

      I put mine on my resume and cover letter headers, email signature, and everywhere else I can find to do it. I also think it’s totally reasonable to mention it explicitly when setting up an interview–it’s not self-centered at all to say something like “Please note that I use [___] pronouns.” That said, there are always people who will respond badly to the existence of trans and gender diverse people, but that’s useful information to have as long as you’re in a position to weed out those roles.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Seconding all this from a hiring perspective — the more transparency you can offer up front on pretty much anything in hiring, the more helpful it is for candidates, and also seeing how people respond will be useful info for you in screening too.

      2. OfOtherWorlds*

        I think putting “the hiring manager would like cover letters addressed ‘Dear Hiring Manager'” would be helpful to many applicants. I attended a conservative public high school in Texas in the late 90s and early 00s, and I was taught that “Dear Sir” “Dear Madam” and (less favorably) “Dear Sir or Madam” were the only appropriate salutations for a cover letter. If I did not read Ask A Manager I would still be using “Dear Sir or Madam” and I would probably think of “Dear Hiring Manager” as too informal.

      3. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

        has the bonus of letting applicants how it’s appropriate to start the letter, which I think a lot of early-career people aren’t sure about.

        This! I think it’s likely to save lots of people some wondering and worrying if you pop “Dear hiring manager” in the ad up front.

      4. A Person*

        I think it’s fine to clarify, but it’s definitely been my experience that it’s something you’ll have to deal with to some extent. I’ve been clearly listed on job ads as Mx Person, and still got a bunch of cover letters with the wrong title. There’s always going to be a bunch of applicants who either don’t notice or don’t care.

    3. Elle*

      Hey! Nonbinary manager who does hiring here. I think putting them in your zoom name should be enough for a candidate to understand the atmosphere they’re interviewing in. I would be If you do any short introductions before getting into meat of the interview, you could include it then. My company sends out an interview agenda ahead of time; if yours does, you could talk about including the pronouns of the interviewers in that communication. I try to have a breezy, authoritative “this is not a big deal but this is how it’s gonna go” vibe in any communications regarding pronouns, mainly to preserve queer comfort and to avoid time wasting, but your mileage may vary.

      At my own company I probably wouldn’t bother with including something in the job ad- gendered bs is built into society in such a deep way and addressing it there feels like addressing cancer by applying a band-aid. But maybe including something like “address cover letters to Hiring Manager” would be a good idea? I’m not involved in that portion of hiring so I have no idea how weird it would be.

  14. M2*

    Thanks so much for this. Someone very close to me is LGBTQ+ and their partner is too. I don’t want to get into too many specifics here.

    They told me people at work (especially people on the DEI team) have made comments to about them being a “heterosexual” male and how they don’t understand what it is like and how their life is easy. This person is a manager, but does not feel comfortable discussing at work. They have been pushed off of DEI things based on the fact coworkers assumed them to be a heterosexual. Someone even put this in an email!

    I think it’s really important not to assume things about anyone. I have just listened and mentioned talking to HR or talking specifically to the DEI team about not assuming things about individuals, but this person does not want to go that route anymore.

    1. Stephen Krueger (ey/em or he/him)*

      This is a super important point. The assumption that everyone who isn’t overtly out (and a lot of people aren’t necessarily actively closeted, it just doesn’t come up at work or they’re generally private about their personal lives) must be cishet is very harmful. It creates pressure on people to come out even if they may prefer not to or feel unsafe; that pressure isn’t okay regardless of whether it’s coming from other queer people. An inclusive workplace isn’t one where everyone is out; it’s one where people can choose to be or not based purely on what they want, with zero repercussions either way.

      1. BreadNinja*

        I have had this exact problem. I am bi but people assuming because I am married to someone who presents as male that I am straight. Its really irritating. I recommend if they feel comfortable saying that they shouldnt assume peoples sexuality/gender identity or require people to out themselves in order to participate. They could use their standing as a manager to say its feedback from a source which wished to remain anonymous.

        Obviouly they dont have to. They should do what they are comfortable with. They have my commiserations. Its really depressing when the LGBT community is the one being non-inclusive.

  15. Moira Rose's Closet*

    Thanks for this column. The “we’re totally inclusive but oh whoops we’re definitely not” is so common and so frustrating. I work for an ostensibly hard-core social justice organization, and until recently, I was the *only* openly queer person among 75 employees. Then a nonbinary friend joined the office, but they are so afraid of the consequences of coming out at work that they decided to present as a cis woman and use she/her pronouns.

    I have nothing to add, really, except that I appreciate this site for bringing awareness to this.

    1. anon for this*

      This. My workplace is supposedly progressive and supportive, but we have a whiny transphobe who keeps trying to assert some supposed “right” to air his opinions. Surprise surprise, it’s driving away the trans and nonbinary folks on a regular basis, imagine that. Every time I’m asked what we could be doing to better support a range of genders at our organization, I say we could fire That Guy.

    2. BreadNinja*


      In the UK a company can pay to be Stonewall accredited. And brag they are an inclusive employer. I worked at one that did this but was absolutely awful. Especially to trans employees. They attended pride too. Got to walk with their banner saying they are great. Yeah sure they were great according to 1 specific cis gay guy. The rest of us had a shite time of it.

      Nothing helpful. Just commiserations. The bait and switch is so annoying.

      1. Mid*

        I’ve honestly noticed the companies that brag most loudly about being “inclusive” are usually the ones that aren’t. The companies that are actually inclusive show it at every step, rather than needing to constantly promote it.

  16. Elle*

    Thank you so much for this! My company is one who makes big claims concerning LGBTQ employees, but the experiences of actual trans people at the company tend to vary based on team and manager. We have even partnered with a nearby medical institution with a center for gender affirming care for kids and claim to have excellent coverage for gender affirming care for our employees, but when I’ve asked for info about it (initially because my then -spouse was transitioning, but later because I became a manager and wanted a comprehensive understanding of how to access care) I got nothing but cis confusion. It’s incredibly frustrating.

    Just a note for the “habits are hard to break” crowd: this is not the explanation/excuse I think folks think it is? It’s giving “thanks for sorta trying.” It’s just VERY tiring to continually hear from people, and is especially hurtful when it’s coming from someone close. I recommend truly changing how you think of the person rather than simply attempting to change the words you’re using. Think seriously and deliberately about gender, what it means to you, and what it means to your colleague/kid/whoever. Do with this what you will, complain about the mean ole queer on the internet, but please at least consider trying a little harder for the people in your lives.

    1. MEH Squared*

      I completely agree. Yeah, it’s hard, but it needs to be done. Saying it’s hard to the people who are affected by it is a way of seeking absolution that the latter shouldn’t have to give.

    2. anon for this*

      One of my best friends switched to they/them pronouns about 12 years ago. I spent about 10 days in a row practising deliberately for about an hour a day, and had no problems after that.

    3. metadata minion*

      Oh god this to your second paragraph. Yes, it’s hard. Just like it’s hard to remember when someone decides to go by “Micheal” instead of “Mike”, or changes their last name when they get married. This is not a new skill. And realizing you’re trans doesn’t give people magic perfect-name-remembering skills. Trans people screw up, too; we just then go “whoops, sorry!” and move on like any other instance of forgetting someone’s name. Changing your name gives you the opportunity to have the maximally awkward experience of realizing that you have just introduced *yourself* by the wrong name.

    4. Chairman of the Bored*

      Here’s my response to the people claiming that it is so very hard for them to change their habits around pronouns – what if your boss, or their boss, or somebody else who directly controlled your paycheck was the one asking for it? I bet they’d probably find those habits to be easier to change all of a sudden.

      I used to work with a guy who would routinely yell at colleagues and subordinates and said he “couldn’t help it” because “that’s just the way he is”.

      Miracle of miracles, when he was interacting with his boss or some VIPs he was able to keep perfectly calm and not yell at anybody. His habits changed real quick once he was put in a situation where there would be consequences if they did not.

  17. Protected Class EEOC*

    Isn’t Gender a protected class by the EEOC? Are employee legally required to use the correct pronouns?

    1. BubbleTea*

      I believe one of the problems is defining which gender is being protected. A trans person whose transition remains entirely social (no legal documents changed, no medical interventions undertaken) has just as much right to be addressed correctly as someone who has a full slate of legal documents in their correct name.

      We’re having an infuriating (but constitutionally fascinating) issue with the law on this in the UK right now. Scotland wants to lower the age at which a trans person can have their gender legally recognised, and to accept self-ID, and in several other ways make legal transition a little less difficult. Westminster has, for the first time ever, blocked Scotland’s devolved government from legislating on an area in their power, arguing it would have consequences for gender protections in the UK as a whole.

      Constitutionally it’s very interesting because it will probably reignite a rumbling debate about independence and devolution. But it’s infuriating because the “justification” for blocking the law is based on a strawman argument put forward by people with ill intent.

      So long story short, trans people need additional legal protections because the existing ones get weaponised against them.

  18. Anonosaurus*

    As someone who is genderqueer/nonbinary, I haven’t had the courage to come out at work. We’re supposedly inclusive, but we’re also supposedly ranked as one of the top employers for disabled workers and that’s a bald-faced lie. So I wanted to say thank you Kelani and Stephen for the tips, Alison for hosting this discussion, and all the trans and gender diverse folks who are out at work and pave the way. Maybe someday soon I’ll get brave enough to be part of that.

    1. Simon (he/him)*

      Existing in a system that was built assuming you don’t exist (or one that’s actively hostile) is plenty brave! Coming out isn’t the be-all end-all of queerness, especially in an environment where you know it might not be received well. Sending internet hugs <3

    2. SJ (they/them)*

      You’re doing great, anonosaurus. I hear you and I support you in all your choices around this, past present and future. Much much love.

    3. A (they/them)*

      Adding to Simon and SJ to try to be kind to yourself. Being out is also a safety issue, and only you can know if it’s safe. Any decision you make is the right one. <3

    4. Stephen Krueger (ey/em or he/him)*

      Echoing everyone else–you are under zero obligation to come out! The only thing that matters is if you personally want to in any given situation. If you do want to and there are reasons you can’t without risking your safety or comfort, that’s one thing (and I’m sorry), but please don’t assume that there’s an inherent necessity to do so. If people assume that everyone who hasn’t explicitly come out to them is cishet, that’s their problem; it’s not your responsibility to correct their assumptions unless you want to.

    5. Generic Name*

      Screw bravery. You get to make decisions for yourself that keeps you safe. You don’t have to “be an example” or a pioneer or whatever.

  19. wondering*

    Some people don’t appreciate being referred to by they/them when their pronouns are unknown to the speaker. Although the advice is to refer to all people this way, this tends to happen more with trans and nonbinary people, and cis people who don’t dress or act in a way that would be expected of their gender. Meanwhile more gender conforming cis people are referred to with the binary pronouns, and some of them make a big deal about being referred to with they/them. I’ve heard some advice of defaulting to names rather than using pronouns at all. Since I’ve heard advice on both sides (defaulting to they/them and also not using pronouns at all), I’d love a little more discussion and context on the advice given to default to they/them.

    1. SJ (they/them)*

      eeeeeeeeeeehhhhhhhhhhhhhhnnnnnnnn honestly the thing about “some people don’t appreciate being referred to by they/them” like okay, those people can announce their pronouns ahead of time if they feel that strongly about it? Or correct folks when they get misgendered? Just like trans people have to do? It’s super annoying, believe me, I get that, unfortunately since we speak a language that has gendered pronouns, your choices are pretty much: announce your pronouns ahead of time, correct people when they mis-pronoun you, or both. The whole “but some people will get mad if you use they/them and they wanted she or he!!” yeah, okay, so don’t be an ass about it when they correct you, and move on. This is just creating a problem that doesn’t have to be a problem. sigh.

      1. Just Another Fed*

        “Or correct folks when they get misgendered? Just like trans people have to do?”

        I believe wondering’s point was specifically that some _binary trans people_ resent being referring to by default they/them, especially if they believe (rightly or wrongly) that the person doing so would not do that to a cis person and is only using they/them because they find the binary trans person in question’s gender presentation slightly ambiguous.

        1. Fnordpress*

          Some binary trans people want you to “assume their gender” (use he or she pronouns) because they use that as a gauge for whether or not they’re passing as their target gender. This is a true statement which doesn’t nullify the other true statement, “some people can’t or won’t pass as anything besides their birth sex, and those people are harmed when you just assume peoples’ gender.”

          The “use they if you aren’t sure” advice is meant to help closeted people, nonpassing people, people early in transition, or nonbinary people. It’s unfortunate when this creates competing needs in overall trans spaces (because maybe the trans man who’s been on T for 20 years would rather you just call him “he” rather than asking.)

        2. Robin*

          I definitely hear that and it absolutely does happen. Seeing somebody who “seems” trans is a reminder to do the gender inclusive thing, but then that is singling those folks out. Not cool.

          But if this genuinely became standard practice, would it rankle as much? Genuine question. Because otherwise I am not sure how to hold both that experience and gender non-conforming / nonbinary experiences with the same respect.

          1. Just Another Fed*

            I don’t have answers! I don’t think this issue of competing needs is an easily solvable one. Particularly if you throw into the mix people like Keymaster, below, who personally find it insulting to be referred to with _no_ pronouns, which is my own default when someone hasn’t provided a pronoun.

        3. SJ (they/them)*

          Right, that’s for sure a thing that happens, but it’s the same answer regardless – put your pronouns up front if you want to, and if you don’t want to do that (or there isn’t an opportunity), accept that you’ll get someone’s best guess until you correct them one time.

          There really isn’t another option IMHO. “just use names instead of pronouns” isn’t any better because you’re still clearly singling the person out for weird treatment. People should: try to keep an eye out for places someone has put their pronoun – have a second look at the email signature, re-check the zoom name, whatever, and if there isn’t one, guess or use they. Those are basically your choices. What more discussion there is to have about this generally derails into “but I’m a cis person and I don’t want to be called they! it’s misgendering too!” which, yes, we all know that. so put your pronouns up front, or correct someone the first time. I dunno, maybe I and everyone else who has tried to solve this problem is missing some magical perfect solution.

    2. UKgreen*

      I am a woman and and would be pretty annoyed at being referred to as they/them. It’s still ‘misgendering’.

      1. BubbleTea*

        Then you are entirely free to wear a she/her badge, put your pronouns in your email signature, and tell people that you use she/her when you provide your name.

      2. I should really pick a name*

        Honest question:
        How is it misgendering? They/them does not imply a gender.

        Obviously if you’ve asked someone to use she/her, they should, but what’s wrong with using they/them until your preference is known?

        1. scandi*

          It tends to be used primarily for gnc men and women (often lesbians and gay men, who already have experienced being “othered” from our gender). People say they do it to everyone, but in practise the preemptive they/them instead of binary pronouns happens primarily to those who are perceived as being a woman/man in the wrong way. Which is disproportionately lesbians and gay men, while gender-conforming people get assumed to have binary pronouns. Interesting idea in theory, but in practise nearly everyone ends up reinforcing sexist, outadated ideas of what a woman/man is supposed to be like. Calling me they/them because I don’t shave my legs is not being inclusive.

          1. Marcella*

            This has been my experience. People who claim to be super progressive “don’t assume my gender” “Ask me my pronouns” unfortunately often make assumptions about gender conforming people while only asking pronouns or they-theming GNC people. If I’m dating a woman, we get quizzed on all kinds of gender stuff, especially if she’s butch; if I’m dating a man, everyone assumes we’re a straight couple whose pronouns are obvious.

            The result is that many LGB or gender non-conforming people are publicly othered by the same people who insist they’re pro-LGBT. I know it’s not intentional. But it really does reinforce the idea of “The woman with long hair and a skirt is performing womanhood correctly so we can assume she/her …. but the one with short hair and no makeup, we’d better check.”

        2. She/Her/Hers*

          I actually highly recommend wearing your pronouns on a badge at work (especially if you have to wear a badge anyway!). You can find pronoun “badge buddies” on Etsy. I love name tags (I am bad with names) and I love pronoun badges so I never have to make assumptions.

    3. Robin*

      Cis woman perspective here: if I found out somebody were referring to my by they/them + my name, I would be confused for a split second before realizing I probably did not explicitly state my pronouns (I usually do, they are in my email signature and Zoom name, for example). I would get over it and provide my pronouns for next time.

      Folks making a big deal over being referred to as they/them until otherwise specified should probably get over it. The whole issue is rooted in the fact that pronouns are not obvious simply based on physical presentation and they need to be explicitly claimed. If that is the case, it makes complete sense for the new norm to be to use names + neutral pronouns until told otherwise.

      As for why pronouns when we could just use names: pronouns are much too helpful in flow of speech/writing to abandon entirely. They serve a genuine purpose in language and communication, I see no reason to only apply them to people who specify when we have a perfectly good neutral available.

      1. Student*

        Non-binary here:

        I think this sentiment: “Folks making a big deal over being referred to as they/them until otherwise specified should probably get over it.” is counter-productive tot he overall cause.

        There are people, cis and trans, who really want you to recognize the gender they are without having to be verbally told. They are the complete opposite of me on the gender spectrum, as they feel their one gender very strongly. Invalidating their feelings is not correct, any more than invalidating my feelings is.

        I feel like we need some etiquette to develop that sets the boundaries for when you ask vs when you assume, and it shouldn’t be “always ask” nor “always assume”. Figuring out exactly where that etiquette boundary is will take a long while and likely evolve over time. But treating people who are clearly womaning or manning as hard as they can as if you can’t see how central their gender is to their identity is silly, regardless of whether they are trans or cis. It’s just as silly as a cis person acting like an AMAB person in a skirt could only possibly have one specific, correct gender identity – clearly that’s a situation where you shouldn’t assume and should find a polite way to ask.

        1. MEH Squared*

          I agree. I’m closer to you, I think, in that my gender is not important to me (currently genderqueer/agender), but that’s not true for most people. Defaulting to they/them would be my preference in theory, but probably wouldn’t work well in reality.

          I really don’t have a solution, but I think I lean towards not using pronouns until you’re (general you) sure. Hopefully, our society will one day figure out a way to handle this with compassion and grace towards all marginalized people.

        2. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*

          If I don’t know what they look like, they/them is correct, because I’m not assuming a gender. If I meet them, and they are either obviously making an effort to perform a specific gender, or they tell me their pronouns, then I use those pronouns. But if they don’t tell me it’s sometimes hard to assume what gender identity they hold.

          I’m AFAB, non-binary, but have big boobs. Getting a reduction is expensive and requires a lot of up-front effort to just be considered. But people assume because I have big boobs that I *of course* want to be gendered female, expected to perform femininity, and will talk to them with female vocal habits, then get really irritated when I don’t.

          I have given up hoping to be respected as non-binary. I still try, and put my pronouns in my email, etc, but people really want to default to female because I have boobs, and can’t bind enough to flatten them out. I’m so tired of it.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I look upon it as addressing someone by name: in that you ask someone what their name is before you use it. You don’t assume that they’re ‘Bob Smith’ and start calling them that until corrected.

      Likewise you ask what pronouns they use (if any). You don’t assume.

    5. Spicy Tuna*

      Just correct the person and move on. If someone accidentally misgenders someone, is corrected, (whether that’s using he / she / they) and doesn’t do it again, it’s not an HR issue or the end of the world or done from a place of hostility.

      I once had some confusion as I was pre-screening some tenants for a rental property and the group, per the names and the photo IDs presented, was comprised of three men and two women. Four men and one woman arrived to the showing, and I wanted to know where the 2nd woman was as I prefer to conduct showings when all of the household members are present. The person in question said, “Oh, that’s me, I’m trans”. I sincerely apologized and referred to that person by the correct pronouns going forward.

      I have a fairly common name and yet people get it wrong all the time, often in writing. I either let it go or gently remind them that it’s Spicy Tuna, not Spacey Tuna.

      1. Spicy Tuna*

        And I just wanted to add that the “move on” part of my comment was really more directed towards a cis person being “offended” at being called “they”

    6. Echo (they/them)*

      Yeah, I have to admit my mind immediately went to the Reductress headline, “They/Them Pronouns Suddenly Easy for Person Misgendering Trans Woman”.

    7. Nina*

      The best solution to this I can suggest is using no pronouns at all for a person until you’re able to ascertain what that person’s pronouns are. It takes most people a surprisingly long time to realize that you are not using pronouns to refer to people whose pronouns you don’t know.

      e.g. when talking about a coworker Ian whose pronouns I don’t know, I might vary using that coworker’s name, referring to Ian by Ian’s job title as that’s the context we’re operating in, or as you can see, using ‘this coworker’ as a kind of gender-free pronoun.

    8. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      Another complexity here is that a fairly common form of bullying is to deliberately misgender someone, particularly as a thing I remember happening in elementary school as a bullying tactic. If someone’s personal history with being they/them’ed was as part of this kind of deliberately misgendering bullying, that’s going to be pretty upsetting for that person later if the pronouns that are correct for that person do not happen to be they/them yet those are the pronouns applied as a default first guess.

      I am just at the “everything about gender is hard and doesn’t generalize beyond the individual person telling you things at the time” point, and I wish we could all agree on a “this is the single pronoun, title, and honorific that we use for all people and that does not infer anything about the gender of the person so anointed”, but I don’t see a path for English getting there any time soon. (I am particularly tired of the Miss/Ms./Mrs. dance and would like it to stop.)

  20. SbuxAddict*

    I’m in a field and geographical area where pronoun sharing isn’t common. We have some nonbinary and LGBT people (is nonbinary part of that? I am sorry if they are and it’s offensive to mention them separately but I don’t see an N so I don’t know?) as our clients. Some of my preparers have trouble remembering their pronouns but I correct when it happens. I am a ciswoman using she/her so I feel like it’s kind of my job to step up and help out on this one when I can.

    I also have an electronic sticky note in the contact info section of client files and I add in pronouns when they tell me. That way when you look up their email or phone numbers, you see it right in front of your face. I admit, I’m not perfect. We do over 800 clients in a year so I cannot remember everyone’s names or pronouns. I have to have this big reminder or I’ll mess it up. I don’t have it in everyone’s though, so now I am wondering if it’s discriminatory to have it? Mostly I have it for people who use other pronouns because usually those are the people who tell me. I live in a geographic area where giving pronouns is not the norm and in fact is seen as being weird or a snowflake.

    1. Hlao-roo*

      LGBT people (is nonbinary part of that? I am sorry if they are and it’s offensive to mention them separately but I don’t see an N so I don’t know?)

      Generally, yes. Some non-binary people consider themselves trans (so part of the T in LGBT), others don’t. You may have seen the acronym as “LGBT+” or “LGBTQ+” and the “+” is there to capture various identities without the list of letters becoming unwieldy.

      1. SbuxAddict*

        Ah! I have seen the + but wasn’t sure what it meant. Thank you for explaining! Makes sense that all the initials can’t be in there but it’s good there’s a way to include everyone.

      2. Teal*

        I thought NB people were included under the Q (queer)– is that not right? Someone please correct me if that’s wrong.

        1. Dahlia*

          All things are included under the Q and the +, but nonbinary identities are trans identities. Trans = a gender identity different from what you were assigned at birth.

          Many other things are also included in the “full” acronym, as well, or in the much simpler umbrella term of “queer”. Asexual, aromantic, Two-Spirit, pansexual, intersex sometimes depending on the person, etc. It’s not a hard limit thing.

          1. SbuxAddict*

            I did not know nonbinary was a part of the trans “umbrella.” It does make sense the way you presented it but it never occurred to me before. I guess it would also include gender fluid people?

            Thank you for explaining this stuff. One more question – I’m at work so I can’t google but what is Two-Spirit? Is that the same as bisexual or is it something else?

          2. Teal*

            All things are included under the Q and the +, but nonbinary identities are trans identities. Trans = a gender identity different from what you were assigned at birth.

            That helps, thank you for explaining!

          3. Student*

            A correction from a nonbinary person who identifies as cis rather than trans:

            Transgender groups and organizations generally include non-binary people very broadly. They employ the literal definition used here by Dahlia: “trans = a gender identity different from what you were assigned at birth” and almost nobody is assigned as non-binary at birth (excepting occasionally intersex folks).

            Non-binary is a huge umbrella term for several (at least 3 or 4 that I could list, probably more) identities that really don’t look much like each other, except that they all reject being put in the man-woman binary paradigm. It needs sub-groups to evolve, but I haven’t really heard any terms for the subdivisions yet. It’s over-broad. There aren’t many of us, and we are generally of similar mind on major political and social issues, so that probably is why clear subdivisions haven’t fully developed.

            I don’t identify as trans for a bunch of reasons. Some context that may matter to outsiders: my spouse is a transgender woman, AMAB, so I have some personal and direct experience with transgender folks who identify as such. It’s rooted in a more identity- and in-group based definition of transgender, rather than the literal one employed by Dahlia. Under that provision, some but not all non-binary people are also transgender. Trying to summarize the couple major reasons I don’t identify as trans:

            (1) My daily and life experience of social, medical, personal, emotional, etc. consequences of my non-binary identity looks nothing like that of a transgender person who is, for example, AMAB and a transgender woman – in the transgender-binary part of the spectrum. I am privileged in this regard, much closer to the cis experience than the trans experience, though perhaps somewhere between them. I think it’s very important to recognize that, so that recognition and resources and support go to those who need them the most (not to me).

            (2) My personal experience of gender, and my ideal gender experience, is profoundly different from that of transgender-binary folks. I would personally classify myself on the exact opposite end of a gender spectrum. I can empathize with them, but I do not share the feelings that drive them, to the point where it’s hard for me to wrap my brain around it.

            From my understanding talking to my transgender spouse and other transgender friends, binary transgender folks feel their gender in some strong, important way, enough to upend their lives to live authentically to their gender. I understand some cis friends also feel a strong, important connection to their gender; think of your friends or co-workers or family who are very manly or very feminine and lean hard into gender-specific roles, clothes, hobbies, etc. I don’t feel any of that. It’s completely missing for me. It took me many years and a lot of growing up to realize and accept this was a set of feelings other people authentically had. Pretend for a moment that you’d never personally experienced anger, or joy, or pride – trying to wrap your head around a description of it is hard, if you can’t connect to the actual feeling yourself.

            (3) I’m already identifying as non-binary; I’m already a gender contrarian. This is more of my contrarianism. I reject definitions that put me in more boxes. I reject definitions that give someone else the power to identify me. So, I inherently reject a transgender label & definition that gives somebody else the power to put me in a specific gender box. I can’t get on board with a transgender definition that says the doctors’ and/or parents’ decisions at your birth get to play a defining role in your identity long after they’re all dead. Nope! So I grab onto cis, because it’s the most contrarian thing I can do to break the boxes everyone still wants to stuff me into.

        2. anon4eva*

          I thought there is a movement (at least in Canada) to drop the “Q”, as older generations of gay men felt triggered by the term (e.g. sourced from an article in The Guardian from last week).

          1. I should really pick a name*

            There are movements for a lot of things.
            Communities aren’t monolithic and there a wide range of opinions on this kind of thing.

          2. Gerry Keay*

            That particular discourse (on the communal vs personal reclamation of the term “queer”) has been going on for literally decades. As with all conversations around slurs and reclamation, I don’t think it will ever fully be resolved, simply because marginalized communities are not a monolith and everyone has a different relationship to that kind of language. Accepting that diversity of thought and experiences is something that we in the LGBTQ community could be a bit better at.

          3. Mianaai*

            Nearly every situation I’ve seen of folks trying to get others to drop the Q or stop using queer as an umbrella term because “queer is a slur” has been fairly transparently part of a push to reduce the community to ‘LG’ only and push out people who don’t fall into the neat boxes of cis gay men or cis lesbians. Mostly from young folks who have had limited participation in the community aside from similarly-aged people online. At this point, I fully consider it to be a TERF dogwhistle.

            As others have noted, communities aren’t monolithic and this discourse is nothing new, but also… ‘lesbian’, ‘gay’, etc have all themselves been used as slurs (I mean, I grew up in the 90s when ‘gay’ was a really common insult). Any word is a slur in the mouth of someone who hates you.

            I personally find pushes to drop ‘queer’ or the Q (which, also, the Q can stand for questioning!) really upsetting, as someone who identifies most strongly as queer and has had a lot of experiences of being excluded from ‘LGBT’ spaces as a result.

            1. scandi*

              The community is not a monolith, but everyone objecting to “queer” as an umbrella term is a TERF? Could it possibly be that…the parts of the community objecting to the word is also not a monolith? That, say, some of us are fine with people in the community using the term for themselves, but object strenuously to outsiders using it (just like how I have zero issues with lesbians using the term “dyke” to describe themselves, but would be outraged if a company decided to run an ad targeted at the “dyke community”)?

              1. M*

                It’s not so much that individuals’ personal experiences and feelings are incorrect or correct, but more that the push for “queer” to be entirely stopped used on a cultural or institutional level tends to be a dog whistle for anti-trans sentiment. This also tends to have a lot of stepping on each other’s toes with intra-community conflict. In other words, it’s more common for LGBTQ+ people to chastise each other LGBTQ+ people to not self-describe as “queer,” rather than informing non-LGBTQ+ people to be careful around that term.

                I usually go with basic interpersonal politeness. I won’t presume to describe anyone with only the term queer unless volunteered, but I also don’t push for queer to be erased or censored either.

                I would also note in your example, there are real lesbian organizations/groups that use “dyke” and that’s their choice. It’s obviously provocative but that doesn’t make them wrong either.

            2. Dahlia*

              As a person who grew up in the 2000s, you can’t tell me no one was out there using “gay” as a slur (there were whole campaigns about it) and yet no one’s pushing to drop that.

    2. Shad*

      Is it like a form thing where pronouns are a custom field for everyone and you’re just not filling it in unless people volunteer, or sticking pronouns in a generic notes field? If possible, I’d definitely suggest setting it up as a custom field for everyone, whether it’s completed for everyone or not. Not everyone wants to give their pronouns, for a variety of reasons, but that way it’s consistently placed and available, and at least to me, empty vs filled form is less of a differentiation than presence or absence of a note.

  21. SJ (they/them)*

    This is a tip I recently discovered is helping me navigate pronoun issues: for people who I know mean well and are trying, when they do misgender me and I correct them, I have started asking them not to apologize but instead thank me for reminding them.

    This changes the exchange following the misgendering from them apologizing and me either having to say it’s okay (when it’s not), or don’t say it’s okay and then things are weird and it feels like my fault and so on — to something that for me is much more manageable. It makes the exchange about gratitude instead of shame, they are thanking me and I am saying you’re welcome and closing the loop that way.

    YMMV of course! But this is working well for me.

    1. Gerry Keay*

      The ONLY thing that worked with my parents was making them restate the sentence with the correct pronouns. Like, I would literally say “Let’s try that one again.” You’d have to have a pretty deft hand to have that fly in a work environment, but it was the only way I could get them to change the muscle memory.

    2. Llama Identity Thief*

      Wow, that’s actually such a good little rhetorical trick. I’ve used the “turn I’m sorry statements into thank you statements” a fair amount (moreso in my personal life where myself and many of my connections are chronic over-apologizers), but this is maybe THE perfect use case for this. Thank you!

    3. anon for the sake of those I love*

      Yes! This is what my son told me to do. Either self correct in the moment and move on without comment or thank the person briefly for their correction of you. This way you aren’t making the person being misgendered do your emotional labor for you (I feel like shit when I do it, but that’s MY problem).

  22. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Excellent column, and also useful outside the US!

    One thing regarding pronouns at work – and refer to AAM post about a coworker refusing to use non-binary pronouns for deeper explaination – please don’t think that using a person’s name instead of their pronouns is an acceptable workaround when you’re having issues/trouble remembering.

    Several people I’ve worked with have tried to do that and it’s offensive.

    Regarding finding inclusive workplaces? Wish I knew.

    1. SofiaDeo*

      I am saddened to hear that calling someone by their *actual name* can be construed as offensive.

      1. Mianaai*

        I think Keymaster is referring to the situation where the offender knows that they’ll be disciplined for misgendering someone, but is entirely unwilling to use the correct pronouns for that person, so they ‘just’ don’t use any pronouns at all. I’ve seen this with name changes as well – e.g. someone transitions and changes her name from “John Smith” to “Jane Smith” and others ‘forget about’ the Jane entirely and just refer to her as “Smith”. It’s extremely offensive behavior and incredibly obvious when someone’s doing it.

        1. SofiaDeo*

          OK, I get this, thanks! I have a further question along these lines…..I have cognitive difficulties, and I am generally not interested in sharing these with others. I am seeking an inoffensive business default mode of address, because outside of a few close people, I doubt I have the mental capacity to remember pronouns, especially with folk I may see only a few times a year, or never again after a month or so of business. I am not in a traditional business setting, most often interacting with strangers for short periods of time. I have been defaulting to “they” when speaking to someone about a third person, if not the actual name that person communicated to me, in either spoken or written communications. If someone ever corrected me in the moment, of course I would switch. It hasn’t yet happened. So I am not deadnaming, or using only a last name (I do ask “do you prefer X”, with X being their spoken first name when introducing ourselves). But I don’t know if I am unintentionally offending people? I thought “they/them” was a safe default if I didn’t actually know someone’s pronouns, but it appears it may not be? If so, what do you all suggest?

          1. Kalani (they/them and he/him)*

            It’s fine to use they/them for people whose pronouns you haven’t been told. But if you have been told someone’s pronouns, you should be using them. I’m not sure what your current practice is for remembering the names of people at work that you very rarely see, but can you add their pronouns to whatever method that is (for example, if you take notes)?

            1. SofiaDeo*

              I am asking more about business transactions that occur outside of a company. Like I am a client of the service (doctor, retail store, car repair) or am employing someone (cleaner, painter, plumber) at my house. I want to be polite, and not unintentionally offend others, especially with the extreme stress service workers are going through recently. I know I am uneasy at all the “dear, honey, chica, hey bitches) even when I overhear things that aren’t directed at me. So I don’t want to unintentionally add to the stress of others. But I am also stressing when people ignore my requests (like “please don’t call us “guys” and get an argument instead of “oh, OK” from waitstaff or “please don’t call me that” when called honey or chica or whatever) and am wondering if I am somehow offending them first.

              I thought one was supposed to be more formal initially until one knew the other person, and the client was the one to initiate less formality.

              1. Kalani (they/them and he/him)*

                Thanks for clarifying. In those instances, I tend to avoid gendered language and pronouns whenever possible (for example, “your coworker/colleague said…”), but if for some reason I cannot do that and don’t know the person’s name, I’ll use they/them pronouns for them.

              2. metadata minion*

                “I thought one was supposed to be more formal initially until one knew the other person, and the client was the one to initiate less formality.”

                This depends *so much* on local culture, and (at least in the parts of the US I’ve lived in) there’s often a thing in commercial situations where service employees are expected to be very informal and call customers/clients by their first name in an attempt to sound “friendly” and “approachable”. Same thing with any communication from a nonprofit. Yes, [ORGANIZATION], I know how mail merges work. I’d actually much rather you were honest and addressed the letter to Friend to Invertebrates or Valued Donor or something, since I know nobody at your organization knows my name.

                Personally it drives me up the wall, but on the other hand I’m nonbinary and there is currently no gender-and-status-neutral term of address in English that’s in any sort of wide use. (i.e., if I have to pick, I’d much rather someone keep repeatedly calling me by my first name than Ms./Miss/Mrs Lastname.)

  23. Bosslady*

    As someone who frequently looks up credentials (niche industry with common “certificate of completion” type training that sometimes purports to be board certification) it strikes me that trans people may have their degrees and certifications in different names. I want to be inclusive and not put anyone on the spot is there a good way to bring this up if the credentials on the resume can’t be verified with the given name?

    1. SJ (they/them)*

      I have this problem. In the event you need to ask someone for a deadname, try to walk a line that is both not callous about it, but also not over-apologetic to the point that the person has to reassure YOU that it’s okay.

      My main concern in this situation would be about confidentiality. First of all, do you 100% absolutely need this information? Do you need it in writing or will a phone call work? Where will this information be stored, who will have access to it, etc? Minimizing the paper trail where the deadname exists, and who has access to that information, would be paramount.

      Good luck!

    2. Puck (ve/ver/vis)*

      I really like Kelly’s advice upthread on this ( asking something like “Do we need to know about the use of another name in order to check references or to access relevant records?” – makes it clear why you want that information and limits the needs of disclosure just to relevant information.

    3. BubbleTea*

      I’m cis and my qualifications are nearly all in a different name from the one I use professionally, which is my legal name. It’s not exclusive to trans people, which supports the point that deliberately inclusive practice benefits everyone. There should be a space to indicate this kind of detail as standard if required.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Right — like, the Red Cross always asks if I’ve donated under another name. Maybe I changed my last name with a change in marriage status, maybe I changed my first name because I felt like it, maybe I changed my whole name as part of coming out as trans. Could be anything!

  24. LadyAmalthea*

    Absolutely, and should be standard when you will be working with anyone in any way. In my last life, in retail, we had a long time customer who always went by Mrs. Last Name and it has often struck me that calling people by what they prefer to be called should be no different for pronouns than a preference for Mrs. Last Name rather than first name.

  25. Willow*

    I have a question for people who list two sets of pronouns—does that mean I should pick one of them to use or alternate and use both? Or is the first set listed better to use but the second set is still okay?

      1. Bread Crimes*

        Huh. In my experience (and my preference for other people to use with my set) is to just pick either of the offered sets and run with it.

        But, as with many things about gender (and pronouns in English and presentation and assumptions and and and…) it’s 1) rather fraught, 2) not something with a single universal answer.

        As another example of such: the reason why I resisted adding they/them to my pronoun sets for so long as what I mean it, as I’ve sometimes explained, as “they/them as in ‘not specified/not relevant’, not as in ‘non-binary specifically in opposition to binary'”. But I’m not about to put that in my email signature, because it draws even more attention to itself, which is the exact opposite of what I want.

        And another person might well have “they/them” in their signature set and want it to mean, quite specifically, non-binary, third gender, not in any way gendered, agender… So. Such is. Humans remain complex, as does etiquette.

    1. SJ (they/them)*

      Alternating is usually a very safe bet in these situations.

      I will add that if I happen to know from context that the person is newly out as nonbinary and has gone from she –> she/they or he –> he/they, I will generally default to ‘they’ for that person, simply because in my experience the vast majority of other people will default to the binary pronoun. So my individual practice may be unbalanced but it’s with the aim of balancing their experience overall. (And of course I would mix it up if they told me they preferred a mix!)

    2. Stephen Krueger (ey/em or he/him)*

      Generally you can assume that if someone has a pronoun listed, that’s fine to use; if you don’t know them well enough to ask if they have a particular preference between the ones they’ve shared, switching them up is a good approach. A lot of people will default to the first set listed or the one they are personally most comfortable saying, which is frustrating for those of us who want a mixture or who are hoping to try out a second set. For example, I’m fine with ey or he, but I know that if I put he/him first then nobody will use ey/em at all (and still that’s usually the case).

      But generally, don’t worry too much about this in a workplace context; just make sure you’re using the pronouns provided if someone has shared them.

      1. Parakeet*

        Yep, this is one reason why I put “they” first – I’m genuinely fine with either they/them or she/her, but also aware from long experience that if I put “she” first, almost everyone will go with that, while if I put “they” first, some people will default to “they,” some people will default to “she,” some people will default different ways at different times, and I’ll organically get a mix.

        Lest anyone think this is in contradiction with my other comment, the fact that I like organically getting a mix doesn’t mean that each individual person needs to mix it up for me in each conversation (which I would find a little confusing in the moment to be honest – “wait, are they still referring to me or did we switch to talking about someone else and I missed it?”).

    3. Parakeet*

      Maybe this is generational, but I’m going to complicate the answers here (as a two-setter myself) and say that yes I mean you can use whichever one. It wasn’t until the last couple of years that I started hearing the “two sets means you should alternate” idea, and I’ve been in spaces where people gave pronouns in intros and similar practices since 2009.

      Given that there’s different answers coming up in response to you, I’d suggest asking the individual. But given some of the other comments I did feel the need to state that when I give two sets I do not in fact mean you need to alternate, and that’s true for the overwhelming majority of the many, many two-setters I’ve known, so I think “typically it means to alternate” may be an overstatement.

    4. Gerry Keay*

      It’s gunna vary person to person. I explicitly tell people “I go by they/them or he/him pronouns. Truly no preference, so use whichever one works best for you.” I do this both because I am genuinely fine with anything that’s not “she” or “it” and I know plenty of people struggle with “they,” AND because I like making cis people a little more aware of their participation in the social game of gender ;)

      1. PeopleAreCrazy*

        “It?” Really? Someone used that for you, a person? I would see so much red that I would be blinded by it. Holy crap.

        I recognize I struggle with it and make a huge effort to be better but even at my worst, I would not call a person “It” unless they were a big scary clown or they asked me too. That is crazy and I’m sorry that happened to you.

        1. Gerry Keay*

          This luckily hasn’t happened in person, just on parts of the internet that I no longer traverse :) And as surprising as it may sound, but I also genuinely know some agender folks who like and use it/its pronouns!

          1. PeopleAreCrazy*

            As long as they aren’t hanging out in the sewers and trying to entice me to join them for a bloody death. ;)

            As @Yoyoyo said below, it would feel like I was dehumanizing them in the same way calling a person Oriental would feel wrong. But if someone asked me to, I’d certainly squash my discomfort out of respect for their wishes.

        2. Yoyoyo*

          There are people (mostly younger in my experience, which was validated by a recent training on gender diversity that I attended) who want their pronouns to be it/its. I have an extremely hard time with calling a person it. I haven’t had to in person yet, but I guess I would just have to suck it up and do it. Although it feels very dehumanizing to me.

    5. ecnaseener*

      Asking the person is probably your best bet. In addition to the comments above, I’ve known people who meant it as “I’m telling my friends [new pronoun] because I want you to use it, but if you hear anyone using [old pronoun] I don’t want you to correct them / out me.”

  26. Stuckinacrazyjob*

    I really wish my coworkers would get with the times. Yes the children are trans, use their right pronouns. It is not a big deal and if we’re jerks about it how will they tell us about important things? And I don’t care about your religion. They just made up that anti trans stuff 5 minutes ago.

    1. NotRealAnonforThis*

      Yup. Listening to the same person expound upon “the (fill in the blank with an adjective for a generally disadvantaged group of people, be it national origin, skin color, something related to gender or sexuality)s refusing to (something conforming to the romanticized version of the 1950s as experienced through a white middle class male lens)” is exhausting.

      Its not difficult to not be an arse. Its not difficult. I don’t understand WHY this is difficult to understand.

    2. metadata minion*

      Yessss. And the adults are trans! I went to an awesome panel on nonbinary identity where someone in their 60s said “thank you, young people, for giving me a word for what I’ve been all my life”.

  27. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

    Thanks for this comprehensive review. Some of this I knew already, but as a straight, cis, white woman who is also an HR manager, I am constantly looking to educate myself and adjust my assumptions. I’m bookmarking this link directly for future reference.

  28. alex (they/them)*

    Something I would also add is if you get someone’s pronouns wrong- please just quickly correct yourself! Do not go on a weird rant about how you’re trying really hard or you’re a bad person or something. This puts the person you just wronged in the awkward position of feeling they need to reassure you.

    1. Simon (he/him)*

      Seconding this!! Being in a position where you feel the need to comfort/reassure someone who’s misgendering you is very weird and feels bad, especially in a work setting where people may not be able to push back if they’re uncomfortable.

    2. Stephen Krueger (ey/em or he/him)*

      Exactly this. Apologize (briefly and sincerely), correct yourself, move on, and do the work to improve on your own time. Don’t make it weird.

    3. SofiaDeo*

      Please remember, some of us have had others rant at us, when we make a mistake, when we’re not, IME, “sufficiently apologetic” or accused of being “dismissive” i when we don’t apologize for the error. I can try, thanks for pointing this out, but it puts me in a position wondering. I may be damned if I don’t, now I am damned if I do?

      1. Fnordpress*

        Just try to imagine what you would do if you had a unisex name and someone constantly kept using your opposite pronouns (particularly at work.) Maybe it’s an honest mistake, maybe they’re misreading your name altogether, but in every CC or every meeting they just hit you with incongrous pronouns over and over again. It’s causing confusion at work and making you feel frustrated.

        If you decided to start correcting people in the moment, what kind of response would you want?
        a) “Thanks for the correction – I’ll remember that from now on.”
        b) “I’m so sorry. Really, I keep messing this up and I never intend anything by it. It’s just that your name is really easy for me to confuse. I don’t know why, I just find your name confusing and my brain hates it a little bit. I’ll probably keep making this mistake, but I’m really sorry. Sorry again.”
        c) “I’m not going to address your concerns about how I got your name wrong. By the way, did you know that the last time I got someone’s name wrong, they were super rude about it? It’s really damned if you do, damned if you don’t here.”

        I’m not spelling this out to make fun of you or to act in bad faith, but really try and put yourself in a trans person’s shoes here. How would you actually feel in the moment if this were happening to you?

        1. Dahlia*

          And if not pronouns, think about if your name was Susan and they kept insisting on calling you Sarah. Over and over and over, this person calls you Sarah, because it’s hard for them to remember your name is actually Susan, even if you’re wearing a name tag. As far as you can tell, they’re not really doing anything to get your name right, just expecting you to be gracious about them calling you Sarah.

          Think that might get a little old?

          1. BrainsAreFunny*

            Or you stop noticing because your brain has been trained to expect it. This happens to me so often (being called the wrong name) that I automatically and without mentally noticing what name they use answer to anything that starts with the same initial as my first (a name whose variants are much more common in people of my generation) or last name (a very common first name). Sometimes people around me notice and sometimes those people get upset about it – sometimes even upset at me for not being upset. But here’s the thing – it happens so frequently that I literally would use every ounce of my energy being upset about this if I let myself and would have time to think about little else. At some early point (5? 6?) my brain trained itself not to notice because it wanted to think about more important things. I noticed when my mother got it wrong – which happened more often than you’d think possible given she gave me the name – but otherwise usually not.

  29. MEH Squared*

    Thank you, Alison, Kalani, and Stephen for this article. The more we can talk about these issues, the better it’ll be for trans people and gender-diverse people in the long run (I am in the latter). I want to emphasize that pronoun-sharing should be opt-in. I currently identify as genderqueer/agender and don’t use pronouns. I will reluctantly answer to she/her, but I don’t identify with them (I’m AFAB and look stereotypically feminine in shape and thigh-length hair).

    In forums in which supporting pronoun-sharing is used, I often feel stuck because I don’t want to seem like I’m anti-use someone’s pronouns, damn it. I suppose I could declare I’m agender and that I don’t use pronouns in those situations. I just want to make it clear that I support using people’s correct pronouns.

    1. Lily Rowan*

      Can I ask a clarifying question? Would you want people just to repeat your name or are there non-gendered pronouns you are OK with?

      1. MEH Squared*

        Personally, I would prefer just using my name. I have not found a pronoun I identify with yet. I may one day, though! I do care for they/them for myself. I do know, though, that it’s awkward to repeatedly use someone’s name and that’s why we have pronouns in the first place.

    2. Kalani (they/them and he/him)*

      Absolutely. Pronoun sharing should always be voluntary, otherwise you’re putting some people in the position where they have to implicitly out themselves or ask to be mispronouned. That’s also why it’s better to share your own pronouns if you’re interested in learning someone else’s, rather than asking them directly what pronouns they use. If they feel comfortable sharing their pronouns with you (and, also, if they understand what pronoun sharing is), they will. It’s also important that, if you’re in a group setting where people are sharing pronouns and someone doesn’t share theirs, there are plenty of reasons someone might not and it’s not anyone’s business to guess why or make assumptions.

    3. Agender*

      Agreed! My last job made pronouns in email signatures and on zoom mandatory in an overbearing attempt to be inclusive. I’m agender and at the time I didn’t have the language to explain that. I ended up just putting she/her in my signature because I’m AFAB but it made me feel very uncomfortable.

    4. squidss*

      Currently getting up the nerve to put (none/any) in signatures, because assigning something to myself feels much more deeply wrong than anything other people use to casually refer to me.

  30. Nomes*

    Thanks for making space for trans people to field these questions, Alison, and thank you Kalani and Stephen for your advice!

  31. not Baltimore's Divine*

    My question (& I doubt it’ll get answered but) how the frick do I get HR to stop coming to me as the token queer/NB human asking how the workplace can be more inclusive?

    I’m not poo-pooing their efforts, it’s greatly appreciated and I know it’s genuine effort vs lip service. On paper it’s better that they seek out a member of the community instead of wildly guessing what is/is not appropriate.

    But I don’t have the bandwidth to figure it out for them. I am one person who if I’m honest, is just trying to live & get the day, not be the spokesperson for office enbees.

    1. Stephen Krueger (ey/em or he/him)*

      This is highly relatable and exhausting. What I do (whether it’s HR or a coworker or anyone else) is point out that there are actual resources they can learn from; my librarian-ness tends to come out in the form of directing them to specific materials that I think are good or people whose actual job is to know this stuff, but you can also just say something like “That’s not my area of expertise, but I’m sure you can find information that’s been published on it.” (If it’s as general as workplace trans inclusion, this is absolutely true and not difficult to find.) If it’s happening repeatedly, is there someone you can contact to be like “Hey, this keeps happening and it’s not my job, can y’all find other ways to learn about this stuff?” In both cases, while this isn’t your responsibility, it might help to have some materials in mind that you can point them to since they’re already showing that they don’t know how to look appropriately.

      1. Gerry Keay*

        Yeah, I think the options are to either grey rock it with “Sorry can’t help” “sorry too busy” ad infinitum, OR have an explicit conversation of “hey knock this off.” I don’t think hinting or implying is gunna do the trick in these moments.

        As much as it shouldn’t be on us trans folks to do either of these things, sometimes the simplest path is to tell people to stop doing the thing. Since it seems like HR at least wants to do well, hopefully they’d be receptive to “Hey I know you’re trying here, but I can’t be your in house expert on everything nonbinary and it’s actually making my experience as a nonbinary employee worse.”

    2. M*

      Stephen’s suggestions are good and I would also add there are freelance workplace consultants for these very issues. So you could suggest HR to research people who can give them the exact advice they’re looking for.

  32. S*

    I wish I felt able to come out. Hearing my boss refer to my team as “ladies” (which he only started doing after our male boss left and I was promoted) is so demoralizing. But I don’t want to deal with the antipathy and misguided comments… but every week it feels less and less possible to just stay closeted. Ugh. I don’t want to have to change jobs and start over but I might.

    1. Dahlia*

      Can you swing it as a sexism thing? I’m a cisish womanish and I find being called “ladies” as a group CONDESCENDING as all get out, and would ask that to stop.

      1. Catherine*

        I’ve managed to get a manager to quit doing this by turning around and asking, “Where?” every time. Obviously, this is tactless and I don’t recommend it.

  33. Avery*

    I just want to offer up my experience in case any trans/nonbinary person is reading this and thinking the worst: being trans can totally be a non-issue in the workplace, too!
    I’ve been out in my three most recent workplaces: one a nonprofit (though not one especially connected to LGBTQ+ issues), two small law firms. Two of them, I just put my she/they pronouns in my signature; one, I mentioned it to my boss briefly on my first day. Other than the boss clarifying my pronouns after I mentioned being nonbinary, it hasn’t come up once.
    I had a feeling these workplaces would be understanding when I saw other employees with their pronouns in their signatures (though afaik I’m the only trans/nonbinary one who worked at any of the three places).
    So it really does happen that some places won’t even blink an eye at it. No misgendering, no awkward questions, no becoming the spokesperson for LGBTQ+ issues.

    1. metadata minion*

      I had a similar experience! I think it helped that I was the second nobinary person at my workplace to come out (now there are *four* of us — gosh, who would have thought that people feel more comfortable coming out at/working at a place where there are already happy out queer people?)

      One tiny silver lining of the pandemic for me was that since everything was on Zoom I could change my Zoom handle and people just…switched. I’d started going by my middle name among friends, and a little at work, and Zoom meant that I didn’t have to have a big awkward conversation about HI I WOULD REALLY LIKE TO GO BY [NAME] ALL THE TIME NOW.

      1. Avery*

        That makes sense! It’s probably worth mentioning that the workplaces I referenced are all places I was working remotely, though the conversation with the one boss was during a brief bit of in-person training. That might make it a bit easier, since my pronouns are visible in my email signature for easy reference during email exchanges, which is the vast majority of my work communication anyway.

  34. Fily*

    Thank you, so much, for all of that about how DEI is basically just PR at most companies, and not the reality, and how all of the ratings for LGBT+ are unreliable.

    It’s essentially the same for disability, and as someone who has experienced horrendous issued being disabled and both working and trying to get hired, it’s even worse having to explain to those who haven’t experienced it that no, DEI efforts aren’t aimed at helping me, and there’s really no way to tell ahead of time if I’m headed into a cesspit, and it’s not safe for me to either disclose or not disclose.

    And thank you for explaining that there is no obligation on behalf of the individual to educate – their obligation is to keep theirself (or however they refer to themself) safe, and that is it. Too much victim blaming and obliging minorities to advocate for their group as a whole continues to happen. It’s hard enough just surviving.

  35. Six Degrees Now*

    I saw someone from work update their preferred pronouns on LinkedIn. I corrected another colleague when they were mentioning that person, but now I’m hoping I didn’t out them. (We are in different departments and do not work closely together, although we’re on friendly terms.) Should I not have corrected them, or should I have asked the colleague in question when I saw them what they prefer (seems awkward for everyone)?

    1. RagingADHD*

      Maybe I’m wrong, but I would think anything posted on LinkedIn is pretty much as out as one can get. It is one’s public work persona, for all to see.

    2. Hlao-roo*

      LinkedIn is a public space, and a professionally-oriented one, so it sounds to me like the colleague who updated their pronouns is (now) out professionally. I think you were perfectly fine to correct the other colleague later on.

    3. Commenting Anonymously*

      I have a coworker (“Elena”) who apparently only came out to a small percentage of those on staff. Elena told that group to use they/them pronouns. Meanwhile, the rest of us who weren’t told had continued to use she/her. One-by-one people were getting corrected, but not by Elena; it was by those in the know. And sometimes interactions weren’t polite because those doing the correcting assumed incorrectly that Elena had let people know as time went on. So those who tried to correct coworkers found out quickly that it was not common knowledge at work. The way I found out was in a different way. I heard coworkers mentioning Elena: “Elena’s going to work on x project tomorrow. They need us to get the materials set up for them.” It has been awkward and since Elena doesn’t work there full-time, it’s bound to happen again.

      I would actually like to hear AAM’s guests’ opinions on this.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        It sounds to me like Elena tried to use the “let a small group of coworkers know about [news] and then let them spread it around the office” method but missed the step of saying “I haven’t told anyone else yet and would appreciate if you would let them know when it comes up,” which led to sometimes interactions weren’t polite because those doing the correcting assumed incorrectly that Elena had let people know as time went on. That’s the only problem (a significant problem, to be sure) I see here.

        Now that those who are “in the know” know that not everyone is, can you be more proactive/gentle in your corrections with those not “in the know?”

        So if you bring Elena up first: “you’ll be working with Elena on this project–by the way, Elena uses they/them pronouns–anyways, you’ll learn a lot from them, they’re a great resource.”

        If they bring up Elena first: “I sent an email to Elena but she hasn’t responded,” you can gently interject “oh, so you know, Elena uses they/them pronouns. I’ll follow up with them to see what the hold up is.”

    4. Stephen Krueger (ey/em or he/him)*

      You’re probably okay since they shared their pronouns in a place that is visible (presumably, unless that part of their LinkedIn profile isn’t fully public) in a professional context. The relevant factor is if the person you corrected could have reasonably been expected to have access to the same information you did. You might also check if the person’s email signature or Zoom handle or anywhere else within your workplace has been changed as well, in which case you can assume that they do in fact want those pronouns used for them at work.

      If the person hasn’t also updated their pronouns at work and hasn’t said anything to you, I wouldn’t make a habit of correcting people there; if they want coworkers (including you) to use different language for them, they’ll mention it, as they likely won’t be assuming that everyone is checking their LinkedIn profile. Since it’s sometimes tricky to figure out how to tell coworkers about this sort of change, you could ask. Language you might use: “I noticed you updated your pronouns on LinkedIn. Would you like me to start using those pronouns for you here?” I wouldn’t say this in front of other people, though. If they say yes, you could optionally follow up with “Would you like me to let others know to call you by those pronouns too?” For some trans and gender diverse people, this would be very welcome; others might not care or prefer not to talk about it directly. But since they’ve shared the information in a professional context that they know you can see, it’s fine to ask at least the first question, as long as you’re not pushing for more information than how they’d like you to refer to them and drop it immediately if they don’t seem like they want to talk about it.

    5. Kalani (they/them and he/him)*

      In my opinion, it’s always safest to check with the person. You could just say, “I saw your LinkedIn profile recently, and noticed it had different pronouns on it. Can I ask if you’d like me to use those pronouns moving forward at work?” And if they say yes, then you can ask as a follow up, “If I hear someone using your old pronouns, would you rather I correct them or not?” LinkedIn is indeed public, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re entirely ready to come out at work. Outness isn’t a binary, where you’re either out or you’re not. You can be out in some areas, but not others, to some people, but not others, etc.

      1. metadata minion*

        Yeah, I agree. LinkedIn is public, but it’s not necessarily somewhere you interact with people all that often, depending on how you use it. So it can be a really good place to test the waters if you’re just starting to come out in the workplace. I changed my work signature to include my pronouns months before I officially “came out”, in the certain knowledge that nobody would notice except possibly other trans people.

  36. fwiw*

    Allies can help by putting their pronouns in their email signature or introducting themselves with their pronouns, especially when speaking with new employees.

  37. insert pun here*

    I’m curious to hear if anyone has any input on this — I work closely with someone who transitioned recently (including a name change.) The nature of our work is that we are working on several hundred projects at any given time, but most of them have significant dormant periods. A typical arc would be 3-4 months of intensive activity, followed by anywhere from 6 months to several years to the better part of a decade of not much happening at all, followed by another 12-18 months of intensive activity. During the first period and the last period, there are a lot of emails, and we often need to save and refer back to those several years later (sometimes, but not always, for legal reasons, but also because we’ve both of us plain forgotten what decisions we made and why.) Anyways, the point being, I often need to refer back to emails with this employee’s deadname, resurrect old email threads, forward those email threads to someone else, etc. Is there… some obvious way around doing this that I’m not seeing here? I try to minimize recirculating emails with employee’s deadname, but in some cases it’s just not possible (e.g., the information we need is in the email back-and-forth itself, not an attachment, and it’s relevant who said what and when they said it, so we need the header/address info.)

    1. Stephen Krueger (ey/em or he/him)*

      First of all, ask your colleague what they’d like you to do. It’s perfectly possible that they won’t care…or they might be very uncomfortable having their old name circulated around (and it’s even possible that could endanger them if they are outed to people who didn’t know them before). And then you really need to find a way to do what they are most comfortable with. Maybe you end up summarizing emails and noting the origin/date/etc. and then sharing that instead of the original email. This might be some extra labor, but if your colleague doesn’t want their old name shared or shoved in front of them, it’s pretty awful to ignore that very basic request. Think of all this in terms of how you can revise your process generally, since it could happen again, rather than orienting it around one specific individual (and possibly getting frustrated with them even though none of this is their fault). Maybe you’ll even find that you develop a system that works better and happens to avoid the specific problem along the way.

      1. insert pun here*

        Yes, in some cases (low-stakes or routine things) all of this is possible. In others (sorry I’m being deliberately vague for anonymity, but things with long-term legal implications) it’s just… not. The statement or document needs to be attached to a responsible person and that needs to be kept on file pretty much forever and (in some cases, not all) it needs to be accessible to others in the org. I’d be curious to hear from folks who have worked in contexts with legal documents, contracts, things like that — are there best practices here around deadnames?

        1. I should really pick a name*

          Part of the benefit of talking to the coworker is that you might learn that they don’t care and you don’t need to do anything.

          1. insert pun here*

            very true — and in this specific case, I think extremely likely! But as Stephen notes above, we shouldn’t be designing general processes around specific people/situations. And given the nature of the work we do, as well as the fact that my colleague is not the only trans person in the universe, this conundrum is likely to recur.

    2. Kalani (they/them and he/him)*

      Seconding everything Stephen said. I’m also wondering if it is possible to just update their name (and pronouns, if that changed) in the emails when you resurrect the threads or forward them. For example, my institution uses gmail, and when I click the “show trimmed content” (“…”) on my email, it’s just plain text and I could technically edit whatever I want. If you can’t do that, can you copy and paste it in a word doc and update it there and share it as an attachment? I would just check if this is possible, so if your coworker does say that it makes them uncomfortable, you can suggest different options for handling it instead of just asking them what they’d like you to do.

      1. insert pun here*

        yes, that would definitely work for some of the non-legal things, thanks! (Most of the time this is the two of us going “wait, I haven’t thought about [thing] in four years, what did we decide and/or what were we thinking and/or were we out of our minds at the time?????” and then I find some clue in my email. I do always ask “do you want me to forward this back to you so you have it?” so they do have the opportunity to say no thanks, I’ve got what I need, etc. Part of the problem here is that SO MUCH of our business is done in email, and for various reasons, that’s unlikely to change any time soon.)

    3. Grace*

      As a trans person, I’d be fine with you handling it the usual way (I do not have issues with my old name), but the summary idea is excellent and I’d probably mention that as an option. In any case, I’d recommend including something about “Susan has transitioned to Billy since this email was sent” when forwarding it to someone who doesn’t already know that, unless your co-worker has serious objections – if your co-worker is still involved in the email, that’s important to know so people can understand who they’re dealing with.

      1. Kalani (they/them and he/him)*

        I would strongly discourage the language suggested above (“Susan has transitioned to Billy since this email was sent”) unless your coworker specifically volunteers that option without you offering it. Not all trans people have the same opinions on this (evident by the fact that Grace and I disagree here), but I prefer that people pretend they don’t see my deadname if it is visible and can’t be avoided (and I try very, very hard to avoid it), I would not be comfortable with coworkers ever saying it out loud or using it in writing in reference to me. If I saw an email to coworkers or external partners explaining “[deadname] has transitioned to Kalani” I think my soul would leave my body.

        1. Stephen Krueger (ey/em or he/him)*

          Agreed. The real message here is that you need to ask, because trans and gender diverse people demonstrably have different (and often directly opposing) preferences for how we want to be talked about. While the wording Grace suggests is totally fine if the person suggests it themself (which they might, if they don’t mind their old name and the fact of their transition being shared and want to err on the side of clarity), it would be really awful for a lot of us and actively dangerous for some. Sharing that someone has transitioned is just not something you should do unless they specifically ask you to.

  38. NonBinary Pal*

    I’m currently bouncing around PT retail gigs because I’m in school FT, and I’ve gotten a good amount of practice advocating for myself. Finding a work buddy who is also trans/NB to have an ally who will use my correct pronouns and be willing to correct others has been the best strategy; I’ve noticed that it’s way easier to advocate for someone else rather than yourself, and the inevitable “it’s sooooo hard/I get confused/let me tell you a long anecdote about my neighbor’s trans kid who hasn’t gotten surgery yet*” when you correct someone is easier to put up with if it isn’t about you directly.

    The other dirty trick I use is to put the person who can’t remember my pronouns on the spot in front of witnesses (bonus points if some of them are allies or your boss). “I know, it’s hard to get in the habit. How would you like me to correct you in the moment when you misgender me?” Usually they don’t have a suggestion so I just continue with “How about I just chime in with my pronoun when you mis-speak?” In my experience people tend to assume that misgendering someone isn’t going to come with much pushback especially in the moment (either that I won’t notice or won’t want to make a fuss), and for that reason aren’t proactive about changing their habits. Making it clear that they’re going to be interrupted and corrected if they misgender me seems to motivate folks to make an effort.

    I’m saltier than most and like I said working jobs that aren’t going to be long-term, so feel free to soften the language if you find this helpful, lol.

    *yep that happened, yep I hated every second

    1. SofiaDeo*

      My mind is being blown at how your gender is coming up in a retail transaction, I can’t imagine why people would think it is appropriate to make any kind of comment about a relative stranger in that setting. I used to work retail decades ago, and back then we were instructed in the “miss ma’am sir” thing. I no longer do it At All as a customer, because of the potential for problems nowadays. Saying “thank you for your help” “appreciate the help” or whatever without adding a Miss or Sir or whatever after it, really isn’t difficult and avoids offending people.

      1. dude, where's my cheese?*

        I’d assume it’s coming up in the course of a work day interacting with coworkers, management

        1. epizeugma*

          You’d be surprised how many customers/clients feel comfortable with point blank asking a service worker what their gender is.

  39. Database Developer Dude*

    One thing I didn’t see in this article or anywhere in the comments concerns those of us who are cisgender. One of the big things we can do is including our pronouns in our email signature blocks. If we do it, it normalizes doing that, and transgender PEOPLE (emphasis mine) will feel free to do the same and be who they are.

  40. Bookworm*

    I just wanted to thank everyone involved with this column. It was very informative (some I knew, some I didn’t, some I wasn’t sure about some of the language or didn’t really understand some concepts until I saw them here, etc.). Thank you!!

  41. Bear in the Sky*

    Alison, I have an accessibility request for this post: I can’t read most of it because the blocks of text are so long. I have extreme difficulty reading electronic text if it doesn’t have a line’s space at least once every 5-7 lines, and I can’t read it at all, no matter how hard I try, if it goes any longer than 8 or 9 lines without a space. Most of your posts are broken up into short enough paragraphs that I can read them, but not this one.

    I am neurodivergent, but don’t know if that’s related. Possibly.

  42. Sunnydale*

    I’m so glad for this post and for the resources I’ve discovered through it!! I’m an academic librarian as well, and your upcoming book is definitely going on my order list. Thank you!

  43. Reb*

    I just want to emphasize not to judge people if they don’t answer your optional question about pronouns – and definitely make it optional. I worry that people will assume I’m transphobic if I don’t answer, especially if everyone else is. But I’m actually non-binary and haven’t found any pronouns I like. In some settings I’ll say that, but in others I don’t want to come out as being in that unsure a place.

    1. allathian*

      Yup, making it optional is definitely the way to go, both for people like you who don’t identify with any pronouns and for those who’re questioning their gender identity.

      Elsewhere online I’ve even met someone who’s very genderfluid, and actively wants people to use whichever pronoun matches their appearance on a given day. So a dress or otherwise obviously feminine clothing and makeup gets a she, and masculine clothes and no makeup gets a he. But (s)he will accept they from people who find switching pronouns constantly for one person to be too difficult.

    2. Kalani (they/them and he/him)*

      Absolutely. I think I said this in another comment, but pronoun sharing should always be optional and people should refrain from making any assumptions about why someone didn’t include their pronouns. As you’ve stated, someone might not have found any pronouns they like. Additionally, someone might be in a position where sharing their pronouns would implicitly out them, or their other option is to share pronouns they aren’t comfortable with. There are lots of reasons for someone to not share their pronouns, so don’t assume someone has bad intent just because they didn’t share theirs.

    1. Stephen Krueger (ey/em or he/him)*

      Huh! I did not know that about the names. The situation in the letter feels realistic to me–not in the sense that the writer has a great understanding of how to respectfully welcome a trans candidate, but in that a lot of people have very similar reactions when they realize that they may be talking to a trans or gender diverse person. Honestly, the intensity is also something I’ve seen a fair amount; even well-meaning people without much experience interacting with openly trans folks often misdirect their wish to be supportive into inappropriate focus on an individual. So while I think the writer needs to change their approach and mindset significantly, I also think the situation is one that happens often enough for the reply to be valuable (whether the version described is literally real or not, which there’s no way to know for sure).

      Is there anything specific that feels off to you apart from that?

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Just a note that Stephen, Kalani, and I decided to change the names in the letter to make sure it doesn’t inadvertently send out any dog whistles.

Comments are closed.