Transgender Awareness Week: Misgendering.

by Catalyst's Inclusivity Team

As part of Transgender Awareness Week, we've done a write-up on how to deal with misgendering. Misgendering; it happens, it’s understandable, but it can also have a negative impact on someone, so what do you do if you do mess it up?

You correct yourself (or if you have been corrected, acknowledge it), apologise, and move on. Don’t over apologise or explain why you messed up, as that tends to only make things worse, and understand that it’s (unfortunately) unlikely that this is the first time this person has been misgendered.

How do you avoid making this mistake?

The simplest way to avoid misgendering people is to use (and be comfortable using) gender-neutral language (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender-neutral_language). This can be hard to do if you’re not used to it but chances are you probably already refer to some people in a gender-neutral way in your everyday life, e.g. "I think someone left their laptop behind". It should be noted that you should apply this when referring to all people when you don’t know their pronouns, and not just people you think are trans.

This is a good first step. The next step is to address how an attempt to avoid misgendering someone could actually reinforce your implicit biases. For example, you might try to reinforce in your mind not to misgender them by using negative negations such as:

❌ "Don't refer to Celeste using he" or "Celeste is not a man".

This could have a reverse psychological effect as you create an association with your mind with that person and an incorrect gender or pronoun before you negate it. All it takes is to miss the negation and you end up affirming instead, leading to the possible mistake of misgendering them.
Instead, it could be more effective to use positive affirmations of a person in your mind with their pronouns, such as:

✅ "Refer to Celeste using she" or "Celeste is a woman"

This skips the negative negation from above, reducing the association and thus decreasing the likelihood that you will accidentally refer to someone incorrectly.

Thanks for reading. Making an effort to learn makes a big difference and helps everyone to feel included. We hope you found this useful, any questions please feel free to get in touch.

The Inclusivity Team