I am a transwoman about 7 months in my real life phase and not a week goes by that I am not accidentally misgendered by my some of my coworkers. That is, they use the wrong pronouns to refer to me or, rarely, use my dead name.

I have come out at work more than a year ago and since then gradually changing my appearance from masculine to feminine going totally feminine about 7 months ago. My employer has been very supportive in that all of my accounts and personal details on the intranet have been changed to my new name two months before my legal gender and name change. I'm fairly passable, especially when wearing make up to cover up the beard shadow and I always do. Random strangers address me as a Ma'am. That is, until they hear the voice, which is too low and masculine still.

Still, a fair share of coworkers (not the majority) misgender me. When that happens I correct them promptly, usually gently, sometimes with a joke and rarely sternly. Sometimes they correct themselves and apologize, if somewhat half-heartedly.

My problem is that it hurts when I am misgendered but I don't want to leave. I am fairly happy at what I do and secure employment while transitioning is a thing to cherish. I don't want to alienate my coworkers either, after all I need them to do my job properly and conversely they need me. I have not gone so far as to actually tell them that I feel as if someone plunges a knife in me when it happens.

I would of course prefer that they stop misgendering me, but that is slightly unrealistic, that will come only with a lot of time and, eventually in a couple of years, a change of venue. So the question really is how to communicate it to them that it hurts me when they misgender me without alienating them.

Clarifications:

  • At my coming out at work, I gave a small presentation about the changes I would and will be going through and once my legal gender change got through, I had a small celebration with the traditional biscuits with pink aniseed sweets that is usually done with the birth of a baby girl.
  • While I may sometimes get the feeling, there is no observable behavior that some of them are intentionally misgendering me. The feeling is probably just me being oversensitive to the issue. Real intentional misgendering has obviously happened to me but very rarely and is unmistakable.
  • My coworkers knew me for 4-5 years before coming out, 5 years tops before both legal and real life start. For those new to term: real life is living 24/7 as the chosen gender and coincides with the start of hormone replacement therapy which after a year or more is followed by the necessary surgeries. I started RL phase 2 months before HRT which is now 7 months ago. Some of them are in the same office as me, some I see every day at lunch, others once a month. I have less of a problem with the latter. Of course it only comes up in a multi-person conversation, which don't occur often (several/week).
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    As a note, the term "real life phase" is not universally what this is called. At least in my circles the preferred term is "post-transition" or the like, so I felt it necessary to point this out for people who aren't immersed in this world already and are possibly confused by the terminology being used. Obviously this varies a lot based on many factors (region, language, support networks, etc.). – fluffy Apr 7 at 21:15
  • It sucks that it still happens, and it sounds like you are handling it pretty well already with prompt, gentle, humorous corrections. So is your question actually about how to correct them (which you are already doing well), or is it actually "My problem is that it hurts when I am misgendered but I don't want to leave." – BlackThorn Apr 9 at 17:22
  • @BlackThorn. About how to correct them better because mere correction isn't working very well. See the last paragraph before the clarifications. – GretchenV Apr 9 at 17:59
  • Okay, I would suggest editing to better communicate that then, because I would have only guessed that was your question if all I read was the title. The entire body of the question makes it seem like you can handle correcting them well, and that you understand that you cannot realistically prevent accidental misgendering, but you want people to know how much it hurts when they do. If that is not what your question is you should edit to clarify. – BlackThorn Apr 9 at 18:58
up vote 47 down vote accepted

This is a very difficult situation.

Gender is something that is baked into language so thoroughly that many people don't even think twice about which pronouns they use. It's a completely automatic part of the language. Your coworkers don't know that this is painful to you because they have no idea that such small words can have such a big impact on someone's life. This isn't a big deal for them like it is for you.

So during this time, I suggest you talk to them about how this is a big deal. How you do this really depends on the level of acquaintance you have with your coworker (if you're more friendly or less) and how often they make a mistake.

I would start with a coworker you're more comfortable with and say something like this, ideally one-on-one (brackets optional):

"I know that it's hard to remember sometimes, but I really appreciate it when you get my gender/name right because this is a very big deal to me (and it makes me feel good to hear my new name)"

Or:

"This is really a big deal to me and it (really) hurts (a lot) when people get my gender/name wrong"

Or:

"This is really a big deal to me and it is really painful to hear people refer to me with the wrong gender/name"

If you convey to others that this is more of a big deal than they realise, they'll be more inclined to think twice about what words they use. And by telling them you appreciate their efforts, you're reminding them that you notice and feel good when they get it right.

Ultimately, there will be times when people mess up, and this is a situation where both sides need to be forgiving and understanding of the other person's situation. Remember that this will get less and less as time goes on and more people get used to your new gender. The worst part is over! It will get better.

Remember that you may be the only trans person they know, and that you, (just be being there) are teaching them that trans people are still people, just like everyone else. And when your coworkers get to know you, you are helping to overcome the stigma about being trans. Talking to them about the hurt their words have is just a small part of educating them in general about how trans people can live normal, happy lives too.


Not to the op, but to everyone else reading this:

Trans people are one of the most discriminated against groups of people in the world. The feelings of hurt associated with incorrect gender identity are deep and profound, and as a result the suicide attempt and self-harm rates amongst trans people are staggeringly high (pdf) (80% self harm and 40% suicide).

The feelings that the OP has are legitimate and are not the equivalent to the average hurt that most people feel on a daily basis.

The lack of education about trans people, and the stigma attached to them, means that very few people actually understand that being addressed by the wrong pronouns and name can be incredibly painful for them. It is important that trans people have a place in society today, and that their gender wishes are respected. This is why education is critically important, so that people like her coworkers can know the implications that their words have. This is why I have suggested the approach that I have.

Yes, they'll sometimes mess up, and yes, a trans person has to be forgiving when they do, but if someone understands the extent to which their words have an affect, they will be more careful to use the correct pronouns.

  • I think I'll go with this answer, as in not merely correcting but adding more information about why it is important. And yes, I currently am the only trans at work, although statistically there is a 50% chance there is another one. – GretchenV Apr 7 at 15:08
  • You can also add an example that will help your cis-gendered coworkers empathize: "Imagine how you may feel if I referred to you as X." – user8357 Apr 7 at 18:54
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    @zahbaz I am unsure how much of an effect that would have as for 'us cis-gendered people' it's really not such a big deal for 'us'. If someone makes a mistake in what they call me, I'll correct it, but I won't feel very hurt by it. Clearly for someone who's fighting for recognition of their real self, such mistakes have a completely different impact. – Cronax Jun 5 at 8:09
  • @Cronax Agreed! Most would shake off a misgendering slip up. Many men (women) would cringe at being called womanly (manly), though. That's the deliberate and painful sort of attack on identity to which I was referring, though I realize it's not exactly analogous. – user8357 Jun 5 at 15:38

I've been in the situation your coworkers are in: I'm introduced to a person, and they want to be addressed by one gender, while my gut feeling says another gender. I know what I should be doing: addressing them by the gender they prefer. But I slip up sometimes. Because I operate on "auto". I do not usually consciously think of what gender to use. I don't do it on purpose. I realise afterwards that I've said it wrong, but by then it's too late - I've said it. Again. And what's worse, I speak a more gendered language than English: "you" is gendered, every verb is gendered. So there's a lot of room for such mistakes.

What I would like is for the person not to get offended, because I really don't do it on purpose, but to remind me. I'll apologise, and I'll feel happier having had the chance to apologise, and in the end I'll get it. I'm trying to get it right, I honestly am, but it's harder than it looks. There are all those years of habit working against me. So if you're reminding me, you're helping me, and I'd appreciate the help.

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    So this answer is "Don't get offended?". That's all fine and well but it's not like the OP can turn their feelings off with a switch. – user6818 Apr 7 at 13:07
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    @Stacey Turn their feelings off on a switch - no. Feel more confident that this isn't done in purpose, and more confident to correct people - yes. – Galastel Apr 7 at 13:14
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    It seems like they're doing that already, though? "When that happens I correct them promptly, usually gently, sometimes with a joke and rarely sternly." – user6818 Apr 7 at 13:16
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    I'm not trans, but I have friends who are. You might not think it's a big deal to just be corrected, because you only interact with that person once in a while. But they are interacting with, and having to correct, other people all the time. It's exhausting. – Seth R Apr 7 at 16:56
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    More gendered languages might pose an extra difficult (e.g. gendered "you" as in Hebrew) but also give an opportunity point the correct gender just by using it yourself. For example, in romance languages, adjectives are gendered. Therefore, just by using a correctly gendered adjective on yourself you can send a very strong signal without actually correcting anybody. – Pere Apr 8 at 14:51

I should probably preface this by saying that this is something of a cooperative answer. Before I started writing, I asked my partner to read your question, and they nearly broke down in tears. Your question hit really close to home because they've been struggling with much the same thing in their workplace.

My partner is "out" at work, they use the pronouns they/them/their, and they know the pain of being constantly misgendered. Only one of their coworkers makes any real effort to use their pronouns.

Here's what my partner had to suggest:

Try not to beat them up over it.

Respond gently with "I feel..." statements. As in "When you say X, I feel Y."

You can't really force people to "get it"

Find a support group, or chosen family. People who are going to be loving and supportive. People who understand what you're going through. You don't have to do it alone.

There is of course a difference between people who mean well and slip occasionally, and people who are just being awful. Try not to treat the people who slip like they're being deliberately hurtful, oftentimes they're not, and treating them like they are can be counterproductive.

Trans folks are some of the strongest people I know. It takes more strength and courage to walk that road than most people realize. Always remember that. You're strong and you can handle whatever the world throws at you.

The last thing my partner mentioned was:

It sounds like she knows what to do, she probably just needs confirmation.

I'll second that, it really sounds like you're handling all of it pretty well. Keep your head up. It gets better.

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    I have a support group, two in fact, and my close family is also being supportive as well as they can. I certainly give them more leeway as they have known me as a male for five decades. I feel for your partner, binaries have it a lot easier in terms of language. – GretchenV Apr 7 at 21:48
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    @GretchenV Glad to hear that, having people in your life that you can turn to when the rest of the world starts to feel crappy helps a lot. – apaul Apr 7 at 21:54
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    Whilst I have sympathy for your partner, I wonder if asking people to use they/them/their could be seen as a slightly different situation - some people may not feel those pronouns actually 'work properly' from a "speaking English correctly" point of view, as they already mean distinct things that are not analogous to he/him/his or she/her. So asking people to use they/them/their is going further asking them to use the correct pronoun for someone's current gender; it's also asking them to slightly reinvent their usage of language. – user16064 Apr 8 at 13:32
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    @Stacey Singular 'they' or 'them' is a common part of the English language when used to refer to a person whose identity is unknown at the time of the utterance: "If anyone buys that TV, make sure you give them the remote". In normal circumstances, it would often be rather rude to refer to someone as 'they/them' if you know who they are. I'm not criticising this person's choice of pronoun at all - just think it's worth clarifying that it is a slightly different situation to GretchenV's. – user16064 Apr 8 at 14:52
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    From the emotional point of view, absolutely, I'm sure it's very similar. But from the point of view of the friends and colleagues needing to learn a new way of communicating, binary vs non-binary is a big difference in English, because English already has the binary terms he ↔ she, etc; there's not yet a generally-understood equivalent non-binary term (or range thereof) for people. – user16064 Apr 8 at 17:03

Edit: to clarify my opinion I refer to OldPadawan's comment who asks if some situations are on purpose. I read the question as if there are both cases, on purpose and accidentally.

At least some of your colleagues seem to simply have a problem to switch their mind. As a first means try to realize that and don't feel hurt when it's a habit that just hasn't changed. Habits need time to change.
Think about (mostly) women who marry and change their last name. It can take years for even friends to no longer say the name they are used to for an eternity. One can't expect this change to establish in seconds.
It's not a reason to feel the knife!

Try to be less invasive and not correct them at every opportunity. Maybe they'll get it on their own.

For the others who intentionally try to annoy you I guess you need to go deeper into their motivation. This depends on the persons so I doubt there can be a general answer, only suggestions that you'll have to filter and adapt. Try to ask other colleagues for advise.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Catija Apr 8 at 1:32

This is supplemental to the other answers here, but it would probably also help to show appreciation to people who have been correctly gendering you.

I don't have much experience with trans people (please correct me if this isn't the right term), but I may have a similar story from the other side.

One of my friends in college had a somewhat complicated Asian name. Most of my friends took to just calling him the first syllable of his name instead of attempting it all; I tried to call him his whole name every time.

It was always a little confusing for me to know if I should be making that effort. Noone else was, he still responded to his shortened name, it was noticeable to others I was the only one doing it, and I wasn't even sure it was that important to him. One day, though, when it was just the two of us he took that opportunity to thank me for it. Nothing huge, just "Hey man, I just want to say thanks for always calling me [full name]. I really appreciate it."

That made it a lot easier for me; I've just always called him his full name ever since, and I also noticed I stopped thinking about what to call him pretty shortly after. It really helped being certain how I should move forward.

Similarly, I know a lot of people aren't sure how to approach someone who has recently transitioned. They might not know which pronouns you like and they might not know if it's important to you. They might be unsure if they should be using your old pronouns or your new ones, and I'd be willing to bet that for every few people guess wrong, there are a few people who get it right but are still guessing.

I'd advise letting those people know you appreciate it; that it is important to you, and that have been doing the right thing. That should help those people be certain moving forward that they're gendering you correctly, but on top of that they may let other people know now that they've got more confidence. After my friend thanked me, I found myself occasionally telling other friends, "he actually prefers [full name] over [short name]."

Summary: Most strangers assume (correctly) that you are female, based on your looks. Your colleagues obviously know the history, but will also mostly see you as female and address you correctly as they would address a woman. Sometimes people adress you incorrectly. Apparently nobody does it with the intent to hurt you, but it hurts.

There are two separate problems: Sometimes you are addressed incorrectly, and when it happens it hurts you a lot. The second is something only you can change. A psychologist or counselling might help. Or if you reduce the number of situations enough, you can live with it.

For the first problem: Tell them what your real name is in a memorable way. Let's say I see you and say "Hi Gary, how are you today" (with no bad intent but hurtful). You could answer "Sorry, but didn't you hear that Gary is dead? He's been cremated, and his ashes spread in the Missouri River. My name is Gretchen". That will stick in my memory. It tells me quite strongly how you feel about it, without any lecturing. In the unlikely case that it happens again you just say "where are Gary's ashes"? and no normal person would make the same mistake again.

The important thing is you don't tell me your wishes ("I want to be called Gretchen") but you tell me facts ("there is nobody named Gary around anymore"). I can't argue with facts, can I? You change the reality. Their reality: This bloke named Gary decided to become a woman and wants to be called Gretchen; we humour him unless we forget. You change that to your reality: Gary is dead and gone, but someone sent in a replacement, a woman named Gretchen.

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    First off, you might want to be a little more clear that the first paragraph is a summary of the question, not your answer ;-) Secondly, the question has been edited, and is asking about 'how to explain people my feelings on being misgendered' and not so much about 'how to tell people to call me by my correct name'. – Tinkeringbell Apr 7 at 17:43

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