Question: Compliments

YourQuestioningAlly asks…

I really enjoy complimenting people on how they look. But, I’m always slightly afraid of saying the wrong thing when trying to compliment an androgynous person. Should I use “beautiful” or “handsome,” are there gender neutral compliments I could use, or should I just compliment people on their style?

I just really like making people feel good about themselves and don’t want to make them feel awkward while I’m trying to do it. Any advice is greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Please post your response in the comments below.

» Ask Genderfork «

Posted by on May 15th, 2012 at 08:00 am

Category: questions 17 comments »

17 Responses to “Question: Compliments”

  1. Gabe

    “You look good!”

    “That jacket really works on you.”

    “You look particularly fantastic today.”

    “You dress really well.”


  2. andy

    Agreed! Pick out what you like about their look, and say it. Or use a gender-neutral adjective like awesome, fantastic, great, wonderful, and so on.


  3. radical/rebel

    I think this is a place where we just need to de-gender beautiful/handsome so that one term isn’t masculine and one feminine. that’s stupid. all kinds of people can be beautiful. or handsome. call it like you see it. I like gorgeous, but I like those two words as well. just don’t use them in a way that reifies the binary.

    radical adjectives for radical beauty


    Cameron Joel replied:

    I am all for de-gendering these adjectives but i am very hesitant on the practicalities of de-gendering. Whether or not they should have genders assigned to them, they do. The associations have been made and trying to universally break them could/would hurt a lot of people. Words are fickle things in that you can say them and mean one thing, but someone else’s interpretation can be problematically different. For instance, you might tell a binary-identified trans man that he looks beautiful this evening, intending to communicate that his appearance is pleasing in a gender-neutral way. But he’s heard ‘beautiful’ used to describe primarily women or feminine-inclined people before, rarely men, so he feels like you have just called him a woman and invalidated his gender. Using myself (genderqueer) as another example, both handsome and beautiful make me feel invisible because of the gendered associations they have. I don’t want the associations to be there, but they don’t go away just because i don’t like them.

    In some situations, in some spaces, with some people, would de-gendering work? Sure, i don’t know, i’m not in any of those spaces or with those people, so i can’t say they don’t exist. But overall, the de-gendering process strives for an ideal while ignoring reality; as far as strategies go, there have been better ones.


  4. Char d'Ar

    It’s funny, actually, how seemingly gendered yet simultaneously ungendered the words “beautiful” and “handsome” are.

    First of all, it seems to me that “beautiful” and “handsome” are only gendered if you put those two words right next to each other. If we look at the words in isolation then we see something quite different: “beautiful” can be used to describe virtually anything (people, movies, words, days) but “handsome” kinda only makes sense when describing people. So in that sense the terms aren’t strictly gendered.

    Also consider the etymology of “beautiful.” Contained within is “beau,” which in French is the masculine form of “belle.” So in one way, “beautiful” actually describes man-ness! (But it can describe anything, recall.) By the same token, “handsome” also used to be fairly gender-neutral, take a look at how Shakespeare used to use that word.

    So I don’t take offense at being called either term, and I don’t really think it’s worth fretting over how seemingly gendered they are. Of course, I admit that I think about and interpret “beautiful” and “handsome” in a different way than most. In the end, I believe non-genderqueer folk would be more offended than genderqueer folk if one used “beautiful” or “handsome” incorrectly.


  5. Anonymous

    I often opt for just “You’re really good-looking.” It’s simple and works for everyone.


  6. Stella

    “You look incredible.” ::)

    “You look amazing.” ::D

    “You take my breath away.” ;;)

    Those are my favorites.


  7. dahzi

    “You look stellar today!”

    “Model much?” (being playful, of course).

    Something along those lines.


  8. Maximillian711

    I personally think that so long as a person is sincere and the compliment genuine, I can overlook a gender slip-up. Being trans shouldn’t always be about reinforcing a ‘new’ gender – sometimes we ALL need to look past the sometimes clumsy words of others and consider the thoughts behind them. People slip up, not all of them are jerks.


  9. dimovier

    snazzy works for everybody


  10. Ricci D'Pasta

    I would compliment them on a certain thing that I thought looked wonderful — like their hair-style or their clothes. But make it quick, specific and genuine to make it feel less awkward. And don’t make too big of a deal out of it, either — some people are just kind of shy when it comes to things like accepting compliments. Just because they deny it or they don’t say thank you doesn’t mean they didn’t appreciate it. :)


  11. Anonymous

    Attractive could be used for either gender.


  12. Mithrandir

    I’ve just met somebody amazing, although we’ve only had two dates, I’m seriously fascinated by them. Being a cisgender straight guy, and only having made a couple of trans friends in the past couple of months, I’m woefully ignorant of what terms to use to tell them how much I like them.
    I got in trouble using the term “girl” while chatting with them, so I feel like I’m having to tread carefully here, last thing I want to do is screw this up.
    Before we met for our first date, they had told me they were non-binary trans (met on Bumble, so I’d thought they were an extraordinary woman.
    Now I need to educate myself, any suggestions?


  13. Anonymous

    “Splendid” is the term Kant uses to describe the convergence of the Beautiful and the Sublime. I think Splendid fits the bill perfectly, probably fabulous does too?


  14. Persephone Paige

    I like to say lovely, as a gender neutral term. :)


  15. Syd He/they/Zir

    “Omg your outfit is AWESOME”
    “You definitely know how to rock a hat”


  16. Scott

    For 2020 (and the foreseeable future, unfortunately)
    “I love your mask, where did you get it?”


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