How to ask about pronouns

Someone wrote…

I’ve struggled to put this into words.

What I want input on is how to go about asking all people how they identify; I don’t want to assume.

Thing is, you ask a cis person their pronouns or ‘how do you identify’ and you (may) get some really strange looks. Then they get offended that you seem to be questioning their femininity/masculinity. You ask a trans person their identity and they (may) get another pang of sadness that they aren’t passing as how they want to be perceived. You ask a genderqueer person and you (may) get a smile in return – but you can’t just ask those who are ambiguous, because that’s simply your perception. I may perceive someone as female when they’re not, and to assume is bad. I may perceive someone as ambiguous when they’re not.
Where’s the right balance? Am I even asking the right questions?

I’d be thrilled if somebody asked me how I identify, but that’s unlikely since I have a beard.

I just want to get it right the first time, so a person gets that feeling of acceptance and satisfaction over being correctly identified.

Maybe I just ask everybody and live with the results, and become friends with the people who understand. And some people can have their understanding broadened. Perhaps.

What’s your experience?

And what are you thinking about gender right now?

Posted by on November 24th, 2013 at 08:00 am

Category: questions, your voice 7 comments »

7 Responses to “How to ask about pronouns”

  1. Anonymous

    I’m so glad someone else struggles with this. I love it when people ask how I identify, but it is very rare. In the past few months, I’ve made it a practice that when I meet someone new, I ask (usually after a few moments of conversation) “so, how do you identify? I mean, if I’m talking about you in third person, what pronouns should I use?”

    Yeah, sometimes I get weird looks, but more often than not, (particularly with the kinds of folks I’ve been meeting lately) they have been grateful that I asked. Thank you for being sensitive enough to ask others. :)


    Anonymous replied:

    One of the things that makes me happiest about Genderfork is every single time somebody says “I’m glad I’m not the only one.” :)


  2. Aurora

    I read an article that suggested that instead of asking, you yourself say, “Hi, my name is (x) and I identify as (x) or use the pronouns (x, x, x)”. That way it opens up the conversation. Cis people who might not understand why you’re doing this can learn, and trans or genderqueer people have the option of joining in and noting how they identify or what pronouns they use.


  3. Callista

    Heh, yeah, I totally get what you mean! I just kind of try to avoid pronouns, but if I’m going to be interacting with this person more than just the one time, I figure that the worst that can happen if I ask is that it’ll be a bit embarrassing or awkward.

    But I’m kind of used to embarrassing and awkward social interactions… I’m autistic, and getting the wrong pronoun is far from the worst social mistake I’ve made. Try mistaking one professor from another when you’ve had them for class for an entire quarter… Or mistaking a girl’s sibling for her child, only to realize she’s fourteen and the kid is five… Or sending exactly the wrong body language and having three security guards tailing you through Wal-mart, thinking you’re drunk when you’re actually tired and have never had a drink in your life.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is, making social mistakes isn’t the end of the world. When you make one, you apologize and you figure out what you did and why so you can prevent it from happening the next time, and you try not to be too hard on yourself over it. At least I now know better than to try to survive a supermarket while tired. :)


  4. T

    Maybe something along the lines of: “To most people, your outward appearance seems to suggest a certain gender identity, but I didn’t just want to assume because these things don’t match up for everybody. How would you like me to refer to you?”


  5. Skye

    I would ask someone how they identify and what pronouns they want me to use. It seems to keep me out of the tangled mess that assumptions can get people in. I’d rather someone ask me “how do you identify, and what are your pronouns?” than just automatically assume my gender. If a cis person finds it weird, I can tell them that from my experience under the trans umbrella, these questions are important. Trans folks come in all different shapes and sizes, and what one sees and assumes of a person based on their outward appearance may or may not be the inward reality of the person they’re looking at.


  6. Ryan

    If I were going to do this, I suppose I would ask something like, “What name would you prefer for me to call you, and what pronouns would you prefer for me to use?” Or just “What is your gender identity?” I tend to be pretty blunt and direct anyway so most people who have had more than one conversation with me already wouldn’t find that latter question unusual. Honestly, I just use whatever seems like it fits until someone corrects me. I’ve yet to encounter anyone who was offended by this. I see using the wrong pronoun less as a personal failing and more as a failure of the English language.


Leave a Reply

Can I show your picture? If you have a Gravatar associated with this email address, it will be displayed as your photo. If not, I'll just put a picture of a fork next to your comment. Everybody likes forks.

Be nice. Judgmental comments will be quietly deleted and blacklisted. There's plenty of room for those elsewhere on the web.

For legal reasons, you must be age 13 or older to post a comment on Genderfork.

You can use some HTML tags for formatting, e.g. <em>...</em> for emphasis (italics) or <strong>...</strong> for strong emphasis (bold) or <a href="http://(url)">...</a> for links.

Back to top