Gender / Pronouns

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“How do you get your baristas who have known you for 2+ years to use your new preferred name/pronouns?”

- Question submitted by Anonymous

Dannielle Says:

The key here is feeling comfortable and confident. I think it’s so silly how worked up we get about making others uncomfortable. WHEN REALLY, we are all constantly growing and changing and it’s so much more important to feel good about it and be able to say I HAVE MADE THIS CHANGE THAT I LOVE AND I FEEL SO MUCH BETTER NOW.


Remember that you are doing this for YOU and not your barista. You want to feel good about telling someone you have different pronouns than they are using. These aren’t your preferred pronouns. These are your pronouns. This is you. That’s all there is to it! So when your barista says, “she’s getting the same!” all you have to say is, “actually, my pronouns are ‘they / them / theirs,’ I’m not going with ‘her’ anymore.” and when barista is like “omg shit i didn’t know” you can just say, “haha of course you didn’t, i literally never told you” and then if they’re still uncomfortable and all, “hah.. yea,” just say, “I would PREFER if you read my mind, but I totally understand if you’re not there yet.”

If your barista is still uncomfortable, guess what. THAT IS THEIR DEAL. You were polite and asked for a thing that will literally change your life. If every person you interact with uses your correct pronouns, the way that you feel about yourself, the validation that you receive, the message it sends to people who are also struggling with feeling comfortable using new pronouns.. it’s just… IT’S THE BEST. You’re asking for something REALLY FUCKING COOL.

You got this. There is no reason to feel uncomfortable just because you’re making a small change for someone. My dad always says, “when people say they hate change it makes me wonder if they wanted to stay in diapers forever.”

fuck diapers y’all

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“I’m about to start a summer internship, and I haven’t been able to figure out the gender identification of my soon-to-be mentor/coworker - who I’ll call ‘Alex.’ I have not heard anyone else refer to Alex with pronouns, and so far I have managed to only ever refer to Alex directly by name. I suspect that Alex may be trans, but I’m not sure and I don’t want to make assumptions. What’s the most respectful way to ask Alex about Alex’s gender identification/how Alex would like to be referred to?”

- Question submitted by Anonymous

Dannielle Says:

I’m having a lot of thoughts about this because a lot of people think it’s offensive to ask for someone’s pronouns. Which, I’m sure if we break it down and we get even more intense about it, like, you think it’s offensive to ask for pronouns, because society has taught you that being trans is abnormal, and you don’t want to suggest someone is abnormal…

BUT THE TRUTH IS… It’s not offensive. It’s incredible, so necessary, and the only way to be inclusive. AND if you’re like “hey, what’re yr pronouns” to a person who responds with, “WHY?! WHY WOULD YOU ASK THAT?!!? ISN’T IT OBVIOUS?!?!” You can simply say, “I always default to asking over assuming, I like to know for sure, rather than try to guess.” You can even take it one step further and talk about the number of people who are mis-gendered on a daily basis. You can throw out some statistics about suicide within the LGBTQ community, you can point them to specific stories of transgender youth who have taken their lives because of shit like this. You can also take a step back and say, “hey, I’m just doing my part to be as inclusive as possible, I want to be a part of making our work environment a safe space and it’s one of the quickest and easiest ways to make everyone feel comfortable.” And, I know you’re not exactly in a power-position here, so say something like, “Hey Alex, can you let me know people’s pronouns as you point them out to me? I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable.”

I encourage everyone to implement small things like this in their workplace. Asking for pronouns from all co-workers (or employees if you’re a manger or boss). Having gender neutral bathrooms is another easy thing to do. Are there two single-stall bathrooms? With their own door? Why is one “men” and one is “women”?? Why not make them both gender-neutral, or ‘unisex’ or however you wanna call it so we aren’t making demarcations for no reason?

Also, take note that a lot of this can be solved during the application process. A lot of people have driver’s licenses that don’t match their identities. The world makes it pretty fucking difficult to live your life sometimes. SO, When they’re filling out the app, simply walk by and say “oh, the job application from 1945 doesn’t say this, but if your ID doesn’t match your preferred name or the pronoun you identify with, just make a note so we all know!”

Changing the world isn’t that hard. Making your workspace more inclusive isn’t that hard. Being a dope ass mother fucker is not that hard. Be kind, be aware of your own privilege, recognize that we all deserve the same privilege and do everything you can to pass it on. I am so fucking privileged to identify with the pronoun a doctor shouted when i plopped out of my mom’s vagina. I recognize that and I spend my days trying to make sure those around me feel that way, too. AND ESPECIALLY knowing that one tiny thing I can do is ask someone their pronoun and then use it correctly… THAT’S IT?! Cool. Then yea. I can do that.

I just ranted, sorry. hi.

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“I recently accepted my identity as genderqueer and have asked my closest friends to use they/them pronouns for me. However, I didn’t realize how complicated this could be because so many things are gendered in our world. Am I still a lesbian? Can I still participate in girls’ night? Can I be somebody’s girlfriend? How do I deal with the weird feeling I get from being on a women’s intramural team? Help!”

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Red Davidson as a part of Everyone is Gay: Second Opinions.

Red Says:

Hi! Congratulations on coming out to some of your friends, that’s a huge step. Gender is really confusing and can be hard to talk about with people, so asking your friends to use they/them pronouns for you is a huge accomplishment.

Gender is complicated, and non-binary people identify in a wide variety of ways. Because of this, figuring out how other aspects of your identity or labeling change—and even how you relate to yourself and others—can indeed be really hard to figure out. Gender is deeply personal, and everyone defines their gender in different ways, which means that everyone will have different responses to how they choose to change how they identify after coming out as trans or non-binary.

Regarding your specific concerns, I think the biggest question to ask yourself is: Is being a woman or girl a part of your gender? Though I usually find it easier to try not to label my own gender, the word that comes closest to fitting for me is “demigirl,” which means I consider being a woman part of my gender, but it is not the only or even always the most important/dominant part of my gender. However else I identify mostly falls within the range of “agender,”—which is to say that “maleness” is not at all an aspect of my gender, even if I sometimes present in a more “masculine” way. All of this is to say that being a woman makes up a significant enough portion of my gender to mean that I still feel directly impacted by misogyny/sexism, and that when people read me as a woman the discomfort I experience is not so much about them being wrong,but that I consider that reading to be incomplete.

If all or most of that resonates with you, then I think it makes more than enough sense for you to still consider yourself a lesbian. If not, then you might need to do some digging for yourself about what feels best to use as a label, if you feel like you need one.  For you “queer” might suffice. “Bi” and “polysexual” also allow you to articulate an attraction to women and non-binary people—or otherwise any formulation of “not men”—if lesbian no longer feels like a good fit for you. (Bi is now commonly defined as “attraction to two or more genders” and there is absolutely no reason why “men” has to be one of them. Polysexual means “attraction to many genders.”) As for whether you can be someone’s “girlfriend,” that is entirely up to you! If I were in a relationship right now I would probably prefer “genderfriend” (though I understand that sounds very informal) or “partner.” I have a friend that uses “datemate.” But you can use literally anything you want that feels comfortable to you. Here’s a list of some gender-neutral titles, relationship titles are featured toward the middle.

As for “girls’ nights” I would imagine that’s something to bring up with friends who are having a girls’ night. Chances are if you’ve had girls’ nights with these same friends for a long time, that whether or not you are in part a woman, they will be used to you joining in on those gatherings.  However, if your friends have more complicated feelings about including someone who isn’t a woman in those activities, you should respect that. You can obviously still hang out with all of those people on other occasions. Also, if you don’t feel comfortable including yourself in that space, then that is obviously something to share with your friends. Both you and your friends’ feelings on this may change—it may constantly change, so for something that is so interpersonal, you might have these sorts of conversations more than once.

Why exactly do you feel uncomfortable on the sports team you are currently on? If you aren’t out to your team, does it feel like you’re lying? Remaining in the closet to keep yourself comfortable or safe is not deception. Do you feel like you’re lying to yourself or that your presence on the team is inherently misgendering to you? If that is the case then that team may just not be the place for you to be. Is there a mixed gender team for the sport? You could consider switching to that team. If not, and if being on a men’s team feels more uncomfortable/unsafe than being on the women’s team, then you might just need to stick that weird feeling out for a bit. Talk to the friends that you are out to about how you’re feeling, and if one of them is on the team—or if there is someone on the team you trust to come out to—talk to them whenever you might feel like you need reaffirmation or reassurance.  I think this question might be the hardest one, because a team both includes many other people, and is also more structured than a friend group. I will admit that I don’t know the best ways to go about addressing this particular problem, but when in doubt, communicating with people tends to be the best choice.

I hope this has helped at least a bit, and please know that your gender is allowed to be complicated. It is allowed to change. You ultimately have more right to self-determination about how you identify than others, because you know yourself and your gender better than anyone else ever can (even if you knowing yourself just means you have a more sophisticated understanding of how confusing everything is—being confused is completely valid as well).


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"What are the correct pronouns for intersex people?"

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Claudia Astorino as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Claudia Says:

Hey, there, Anonymous!  First off, I need to tell you that I’ve been listening to a lot of Sleater-Kinney since the release of their fantastic new album, No Cities to Love, and I’ve been revisiting a lot of myold fave tracks too.  So when I read theword “anonymous” today, my mindbrain heard it in Carrie Brownstein’s delightful sing-yell voice – “AHH-NON-UHH-MUSS!”  So if ya don’t mind, Anonymous, I’m gonna call you AHH-NON-UHH-MUSS!  (If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, then I highly advise you to check out “Anonymous” here– your ears thank you in advance!  THIS HAS BEEN YOUR DAILY RIOT GRRRL UPDATE, YOU’RE WELCOME <333 *feedback*)

Okay, AHH-NON-UHH-MUSS!  It’s time for a lil’ pronoun go-around – one that’s intersex-inclusive, of course.  The short answer is that there isn’t any one way that intersex people identify – pronouns or otherwise.  What all intersex folks have in common, at least broadly speaking, is biology:  we have a combination of what are traditionally considered “male” traits and “female” traits in the same body (and sometimes, also traits that are uncommon for typical males or females).

But move a toe’s length beyond these basic commonalities, and intersex folks are as diverse as any other group of people.  Although we might not explicitly say so, folks assume that your pronoun usage matches up with your gender identity.  Intersex people may identify their gender in a variety of ways.  Some intersex people identify as female or male. Some intersex people who strongly identify with their being intersex may identify their gender as “intersex.” Some intersex people have other non-binary gender identities, fluid identities, identify as genderless, or don’t identify with any gender terms or labels.  WE IDENTIFY HOW WE WANT, ya know?!

In the same vein, different intersex people have different preferred pronouns. Some intersex folks use she, her, hers.   Some intersex folks prefer he, him, his. Some intersex folks refer to themselves with non-binary pronouns, which might include they, them, their;  ze, zir, zirs;  ze, hir, hirs;  or other non-binary pronouns.  You can check out a list of some of the many non-binary pronouns that folks use here!

Bottom line:  for all folks, regardless of how we read them, regardless of what groups and communities we perceive or know they’re a part of, we cannot accurately infer how a person identifies.  And even if we could, one person’s identity can’t represent the many, many identities that members of a group share – there’s no one-fits-all gender identity or set of pronouns we can just apply to all the people in X group.  It just doesn’t work like that since identities are so highly individualized.

Soooooo AHH-NON-UHH-MUSS!, I’m gonna answer your question by basically telling you I can’t answer your question.  I can’t advise you on what pronouns to use when talking to any ol’ intersex person, because that totally depends on the specific lovely intersex person you’re talking to!  Instead, I’d suggest that when you meet new folks, ask them what pronouns they prefer you to use when referring to them, and then use ‘em when talking to or about her/him/them/zir/hir/other preferred pronoun.  SEE WHAT I DID THERE, I’M NOT MAKING ANY PRONOUN ASSUMPTIONS, BOOM.

One thing to keep in mind is that even though we conflate gender identity and pronoun use, those two things don’t have to match up in a binary way.  Just like we are free to identify as we choose – using binary terms or not – within an identity category, we’re also free to mix and match up our various identities across categories as we choose! So like, maybe you’ll meet an intersex person who identifies their gender as female, and also prefers they, them, their pronouns.  That’s totally cool!  Maybe another intersex friend you’ll make identifies their gender as intersex sometimes and genderless sometimes, and also prefers he, his, him pronouns. That’s also totally cool!  None of those gender identity & pronoun combos contradict one another because one’s gender identity/ies and pronoun usage/s don’t need to line up in any particular way.

I think you’re all set, AHH-NON-UHH-MUSS! Have the best day.


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"I am a feminine-appearing person who recently realized that I am genderqueer. How do I strike a balance between wanting to be open about who I am (pronoun preferences, I don’t like to be referred to as "miss" or "lady", etc) and not wanting to have to explain my admittedly confusing gender identity to every family member, friend, and co-worker?"

- Question asked by Anonymous and answered by Red Davidson as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions.

Red Says:

I‘m going to be 100% honest with you: these are things I am also currently struggling with, down to finding my own gender confusing. So first I’d just like to say: coming out to yourself is just as hard (if not harder) as coming out to other people. So good job and congratulations.

I’m so glad that you know you don’t have/want to explain everything about your gender to other people. Because you really don’t owe an explanation to anyone (not even yourself, remain confused about your gender for however long you please).  Assuming you are surrounded by nothing but wonderful, accepting people, the way you come out doesn’t have to involve anything beyond saying “I don’t identify as a girl, and I’d prefer you use [your pronouns] to refer to me.” And you can also specify what sort of gendered (or non-gendered) language you’d like people to use for you (here’s a list of gender neutral/queer titles!) As long as people are respecting you, and referring to you using the language you prefer, you really don’t need to worry about whether or not they know the complexities of how you identify.

Of course, not all people are wonderful.  I would brace yourself for invasive and insensitive questions—even if you’re surrounded by well-intending people.  In that case you can direct them to trans 101 resources online (or just tell them to google it themselves). A quick Google search pulled up a “Tips for Trans Allies” article on GLAAD’s website.  I obviously don’t know your family, friends, or co-workers, and I definitely hope that they will at least try to be accepting, but if there is a chance someone will react with outright transphobia and hate, please know how to prepare yourself for that. Is it safe to come out at work (physically, emotionally, and for job security)? Is it safe to come out to all of your friends and family, or will you need to make some difficult decisions about who you come out to and who you don’t?

Also know that you can come out to different people at different times and in different ways. If you know a few people who are likely to respond really well, tell them first so that you have a system of support in place in case coming out to other people goes poorly. If it’s easier to come out to some people via written words, send e-mail or write a letter.  If you want a large group of people to know at once, you can make a Facebook status about it.  Maybe try buying or making a pin with your pronouns on it. I occasionally write my pronouns on my wrist in sharpie, although that’s something I do more for myself than for others. And if you want to give a more detailed explanation to some people, do!

Also know that if the way you identify and think about your own gender might change over time, and that’s okay! It might mean you are asking for different things from people, or that the way you come out may change over time. Gender (and sexuality) can be just as much of a process as coming out is.


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