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Supporting Our Trans Community: Pronouns

4 Easy Ways to Respect Trans People in Our Language

person holding button that reads 'ask me my pronouns'It can seem intimidating when trying to understand how to be an ally to our trans community at Delgado, but here are four easy ways to let our trans faculty, staff, and students know with everyday language that they are respected and included.

  1. Use singular they for people whose pronouns you don't know and for people who use those pronouns.
    • You may have been taught singular they is incorrect, and while this is often true in formal writing, singular they is accepted in informal speech and in formal writing when referring to someone who uses singular they pronouns for themself.
    • Read more about singular they.
  2. Feel empowered to ask others what their pronouns are. If you're not comfortable doing that, there are resources on this page to help you. Try practicing what you will say so that you are comfortable when the time comes.
  3. Remember that a trans person's pronouns are not their "preferred" pronouns. The pronouns they use are their pronouns. That's it. Referring to them as "preferred" implies that they're optional, but that's not the case.
  4. If a trans person is using a name that affirms their identity but is different than what is on their legal ID, don't insist on using their legal name only. We often use nicknames or shortened forms of given names for cisgender people, such as calling someone named Catherine "Katie." If we can do that, we should also be able make that same switch for a trans person using an affirming name for themselves.
    • There are systems at Delgado that do require a student's legal name be used, even if the student doesn't use that name themselves. In those cases, explain to the student that we must use the name that appears on their ID. It may help if you express regret or attempt to empathize with the student. Wherever possible, though, we should always use a trans person's chosen, affirming name.
  • Isn’t it non-binary?
    • In English, we use "it” to refer to objects, and it's rude and even cruel to talk about people as though they're objects. Being referred to as "it" is dehumanizing and is as bad as or worse than being misgendered. Read on to find out more about how stigmatizing, marginalizing, and even life-threatening misgendering can be.

  • Please note that if someone tells you that they do not want to disclose their pronouns or do not wish their pronouns to be public knowledge, you can refer to that person by their name only.

Why Pronouns Matter for Trans People

We often assume a person's gender based on their appearance and then address them with the pronouns or honorific appropriate for that gender. But what if we assume wrong? We may end up misgendering that person.

According to MyPronouns.org:

"Using someone’s correct personal pronouns is a way to respect them and create an inclusive environment, just as using a person’s name can be a way to respect them. Just as it can be offensive or even harassing to make up a nickname for someone and call them that nickname against their will, it can be offensive or harassing to guess at someone’s pronouns and refer to them using those pronouns if that is not how that person wants to be known. Or, worse, actively choosing to ignore the pronouns someone has stated that they go by could imply the oppressive notion that intersex, transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people do not or should not exist."

What Is Gender Dysphoria and Why Does It Matter?

load screen for 'gender the game' with hard option selected

Gender dysphoria involves a conflict between a person's assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify. People with gender dysphoria may often experience significant distress and/or problems functioning associated with this conflict between the way they feel and think of themselves and their assigned gender. Not all trans people experience gender dysphoria, and those who do experience it to different degrees, but make no mistake, gender dysphoria can be life-threatening. (Source) 

As many as 1 out of 3 transgender youths aged 15-21 report considering suicide.

  • That's nearly twice that of their peers.
  • When using a trans youth's chosen name and pronouns consistently, researchers conducting a 2018 study observed:
    • 71% fewer symptoms of severe depression,
    • a 34% decrease in reported thoughts of suicide,
    • and a 65% decrease in suicidal attempts.
  • ​Even inconsistent use of trans youth's affirming name and pronouns demonstrated up to a 29% decrease in suicidal thoughts. (Source)

Things aren't much better for adults, either. Researchers for a 2014 study found that:

  • 32.8% of trans people surveyed reported feeling very stigmatized when misgendered.
  • Those who were misgendered more frequently experienced lower self-esteem around their appearance.
  • They who were misgendered had a reduced sense of strength and continuity in their identity. (Source)
  • The 2015 U.S. Trans Survey found that:
    • 33% of trans people surveyed had at least one experience of discrimination when seeking medical treatment.
    • 27% reported some form of employment discrimination.
    • 77% people who were out in K-12 and 24% who were out in college or vocational school experienced mistreatment in school(Source)

image reads 'my name & pronouns aren't up for debate!'Even if it's an honest mistake, addressing someone by the incorrect pronoun or incorrect honorific (such as sir, ma'am, Mr., or Ms.) may make them feel that they are being disrespected or ignored. You may be trying to show respect by addressing faculty, staff, or students as "sir" or "ma'am," but for a transgender person who may often (and sometimes maliciously) be misgendered, these words can be unintentionally hurtful and excluding, making them feel unwelcome in our college community.

Learn more about Inclusive Language at MyProunouns.org.

What should you do if you get someone's pronouns wrong?

That's a good question! While it can be awkward to use the wrong pronouns for a trans person, it happens, and it's okay. The best thing to do is apologize and move on. You may feel embarrassed and have the urge to go on and on about how sorry you are, but that will only make the person you just misgendered feel even more awkward or even that they have to comfort you!

Pronouns: How Do You Ask?

Trans-Inclusive Pronouns

What It Means to Be Misgendered

How to Get It Right (and What to Do When You Get It Wrong)

Gender-Inclusive Pronouns on Canvas