We are beginning to live in a different world were gender is a more vague concept and self expression is everything.

Sometimes I meet people that appear very gender neutral and I do not always hear what their name is, or they do not tell me. By 'meet someone', I mean not in a formal setting, just in passing.

What is an appropriate way of finding out their gender? Is is socially acceptable to ask them straight out "what gender do you identify as?" or would this offend them?

Update: I know some people are asking: "does this even matter?" and to answer this, maybe it doesn't, however, I think in social settings it is nice to know what a person's gender is. It helps you to judge how to appropriately talk to them and interact with them.

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    You meet people, you don't hear what their name is, and that's why you want to know their gender? I'm not really following the jumps you're making here... So, let's start at the beginning: Did you try asking them to repeat their name? We're talking complete strangers here, why is knowing their gender important to you, would that somehow help you figure out their name? Also, could you add a location tag? Socially acceptable differs for each society so we need to know what society we're dealing with (at least).
    – Tinkeringbell
    Jul 9, 2018 at 14:30
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    Also, if this a complete stranger, how would we know if they'd be offended? Do you have more details on the person you're dealing with, so that we can properly answer that? Otherwise, it might be better to just drop the second question...
    – Tinkeringbell
    Jul 9, 2018 at 14:31
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    "Sometimes I meet people that appear very gender neutral and I do not always hear what their name is." I don't know why the name comes into it. I have a friend named Noah who is actually female, which is why this statement doesn't make much sense to me. Jul 9, 2018 at 14:34
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    KAS, are these really people you meet in passing, like they're strangers and you're not likely to meet them again? Could you explain how knowing a gender helps you to appropriately talk to them and interact with them (again, this may be because a location/culture is lacking, is this related to how your native language is constructed? In English you can use 'you' for about everything except talking about said person). Right now, it's still very hard to see why a person would be offended, and thus what an answer should take into account to avoid said offense...
    – Tinkeringbell
    Jul 9, 2018 at 16:24
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    @DaveG If KAS could include one such example in their question then, of where they've struggled relating because they didn't know gender, that might be helpful with answers focused on avoiding offense as well (since that's even more difficult if a person is already offended by you through a wrong interaction). Right now, this question is asking how to avoid offending any stranger, which is really too broad/a lack of detail (and I might say virtually impossible to answer 'right')
    – Tinkeringbell
    Jul 9, 2018 at 16:55

1 Answer 1


I have multiple friends who have transitioned, as well as a non-binary partner. Here's what I have seen cause the least amount of grief when they interact with people they do not know very well:

Avoid phrases like "what is your gender", as this can be off-putting for a number of reasons (person is transitioning, person is non-binary, person is questioning their gender identity, etc). On top of this, asking "which gender" they are can make them immediately feel on guard and uncertain of why you are asking, which is why I'd suggest avoiding it if these are people you don't know very well.

Instead, ask about which pronouns they prefer you use in reference to them. Here are a few variations, whichever feels most comfortable to you:

"What pronouns do you use?"

"What are your pronouns?"

"What pronouns do you go by?"

Pronouns will tell you a lot about how a person wants to identify (he/him = masculine, she/her = feminine, they/them = non-binary, etc.), and accomplishes the social goal of understanding how you can communicate about this person without causing any offense.


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