Question: Writing about gender reassignment

Danielle asks…

When you write about a trans person, you use the pronoun they use for themselves. Seems like a simple rule.

However, what about if you’re writing about them before their transition, when they were still going by their birth name, and gender assigned at birth? Do you use the pronouns they used then, or do you use the ones they use now?

Please post your response in the comments below.

» Ask Genderfork «

Posted by on February 24th, 2014 at 08:00 am

Category: questions 8 comments »

8 Responses to “Question: Writing about gender reassignment”

  1. Gabrielle

    Unless they have specifically told you to use their previous name and pronouns, DO NOT USE THEIR COERCIVELY ASSIGNED NAME AND PRONOUNS.

    They may not be out as trans. They may feel it is an attempt to invalidate their identity. They may have internally not consented to such names and pronouns at the time but were unable to say so, perhaps due to lack of power in a family situation.


  2. Corax

    I’m a transguy, and I for my part appreciate if others use male pronouns for me even if they speak (or write) about my past. I always felt male, even if my body was seen as female and I had a female name which my parents gave me according to my body. The transition only changes the appearance, not my identity.
    But if you write about a specific person ask them what they prefer. I’m quite sure, that not every trans person feels the same.


  3. Alan

    You absolutely still use the name and pronouns that they currently prefer, unless they explicitly say otherwise.


  4. Impysh

    Depends on the person. Standard manners is to use current name and pronouns to refer to the person in the past, but it’s generally best to check. (When talking about my own past in the third person, I will use either set of pronouns, depending on how I feel, but then I am comfortable with saying ‘when I was a girl / when I experienced myself as a girl / when I was playing the part of a girl’)


  5. Hanne

    When I personally talk about my past I almost never gender it. Instead of “when I was living as a boy/girl” I would say “when I was younger” or “when I was a kid/child”, “back when I was in Scouts” or sometimes something like “before I came out”.


  6. Anonymous

    I would guess the rule remains: Ask the person what pronouns/names should be used for events that occurred before social transition.

    I think trying to create a rule only prevents people from asking the necessary but uncomfortable question. Many people will say “always use my chosen name”, but same people may embrace their past and view that part of their life in their parent’s -named identity.

    I often hear how trans* people want the question, “What pronouns do you prefer?” to be common; why wouldn’t writers ask, “What name do you prefer for events before transition?”


  7. Kay

    The formal rule is to use a person’s present identity, even when referring to them at a time before they were able to express it, recognize it, or conceptualize it at all.


  8. Danielle

    Thanks, that sounds simple enough. Asking is the best policy.

    I don’t suppose one can go too wrong using the current pronouns even for the time before transition; even if someone wanted the assigned-at-birth ones, it doesn’t sound like using the current ones would hurt them. I will consider that as the default, if unable to contact the person and ask (very common problem for me, as I am writing about historical people).


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