Do you use Boy Words or Girl Words? Or the other words, but I can’t ‘amember them.

I met Alec when he was 3 years old. I was coming over to babysit – I had met some of Alec’s parents (4 of the 7 of them) at a polyamory event. Seven parents, all over the gender and sexuality spectrum. Eleven children, ages five months through 12 years. Two big houses. Alec was the only kid in the living room when I knocked. He full on bounded toward the door.

“Hi I’m Alec are you the babysitter mommy said that we can go to the park if you want to and feed the ducks do you like legos?”

“Yep, hi, my name is Andy.” I said, kneeling down, “Let me talk to one of your parents first, ok?”

While I was saying this Alec was looking me up and down.

“Yeah ok, hey, Andy, do you use boy words or girl words, or the other words but I can’t really ‘amember them?”

I looked curiously at his mom, Amelia, who was busy tiding up the table.

“Oh,” she said, “he can’t remember the word pronouns.”

“Ah,” it clicked, “I use boy words. What about you?”

“I use boy words, too. Do you like legos?”

“Of course I do!”

In that 45 second exchange Alec showed me that he knew more about gender than most adults I’ve met in my 23 years on this planet. Alec was, of course, in a unique spot, having three parents who didn’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. But his question, “do you use boy words or girl words or other words” (he/him/his, she/her/hers, some gender neutral option) was really a variant of the “are you a boy or a girl?” that I hear from half the kids I meet. He wanted to know what to call me. I later learned that the kids asked this question of almost any adult who walked into the house, regardless of their gender presentation. They had learned that momma’s friend, who may have long blonde hair and big boobs and be wearing a pink dress, might not use the pronouns she/her/hers. The older kids even occasionally asked a person they knew again if their appearance had changed drastically since they last saw them.

These were kids who Got It.

Sure, these kids grew up living with multiple transgender people in their house. Some had breastfed from somebody they referred to as “daddy” and they had no mental disconnect with that. But that same level of comfort with asking about gender can be explained to a kid who grows up the child of a heterosexual couple.

I have known Dorian since he was a baby, and intermittently lived at his house for 3-7 week stretches (I will never, ever know why his parents tolerate me). I came out as trans to his parents when he was under 2 years old (I believe his mom’s response was “no worries” and his dad’s was “it wasn’t exactly a shock” – point being these are cool folks). Dorian has pretty much always known me as Andy and heard people use he/him/his to refer to me. But the last time I was over, I guess sometime in April, he seemed to have no idea what I was. At one point he asked his mom and she said, “Honey, do you remember what Aunt Sarah said to do if you can’t tell if somebody’s a boy or a girl?” he didn’t respond. “You ask.”

You. Ask.

You don’t guess or dance around the subject or hope somebody else clues you in or wait for another person to use a pronoun so you can use the same one. You ASK.

Sometimes when a kid asks I ask back, “well, what do you think?” sometimes, to save time or a pissed off parent, I just answer what I’m feeling that day (or, to be frank, what I think will piss off the parent less).

But my point is that kids get it. That this world is changing and that kids GET it. There are kids being raised to simply ask about gender if they are uncertain. Have you ever heard a person refrain from using a pronoun for an entire conversation instead of asking? It’s one of the most awkward things ever. Kids aren’t OK with that nonsense. They just ask.

And there are adults who get it, too. Adults who are OK with stopping mid-something and having conversations like this

“So Andy and I were talking and… Hey, I realize I don’t know, what are your preferred pronouns?”

“he, him, his”

“Thanks. And he said that he can house-sit on the 9th, so we can go do Tom and Carole’s wedding if you want.”

No OH MY GOD FREAK OUT, no evasion, no awkwardness, no Big Giant Deal. Just “Hey, I realize I never asked, what are your pronouns?”

If 3 year old Alec can get it, then you can, too.

120 Responses to “Do you use Boy Words or Girl Words? Or the other words, but I can’t ‘amember them.”

  1. Soooooo good, thanks for this post.

  2. So glad I came across this post. So well said. Thank you. :)

  3. Sounds like an awesome household to live in!

  4. I am a heterosexual cis gen male, and although it is good practice (as a sign of respect to the individual) to ask, I never stress out about gender because there are only two reasons for it to be relevant, maybe when your in the sack and you just don’t like that type of person or when your in a social situation, such as a conversation where pronouns are used. I often use the persons name rather than their perceived gender.

    Keep in mind. This is a gender conversation. At the biological level, there are only two sexes: male and female, which is why you come out of the womb and the doctor identifies it for sake of your birth certificate. And it takes XX and XY chromosomes to create a child.

    • Actually, there have been many instances of alternate chromosomal patterns (XX and XY are not the only options, though they are “normal”), and in addition there have been cases of people being born with a physical sex different from their chromosomal “assigned” sex (including intersex individuals).

      Not stressing about gender is a fine way to look at it, but it really does come down to respect. Using the wrong pronoun can be quite offensive, in addition to being just plain disrespectful. If gender is an important part of that person’s identity, then it definitely does matter for reasons other than being “in the sack”.

      i don’t really know if this is a helpful response – just my two cents.

    • At the biological level, there are only two sexes: male and female, which is why you come out of the womb and the doctor identifies it for sake of your birth certificate.

      except for the number of babies at whom the doctor looks at with much confusion and either takes a wild guess, writes down ‘undetermined’, or starts applying surgery to force one option or the other! I haven’t known many diagnosed intersex people in my life, but it’s greater than zero, and I haven’t been looking all that hard either.

      Also, children can be created from pairings other than XX + XY, although it sometimes requires a bit of help. There are many recorded pregnancies with one XXY parent, and XYY males generally have normal fertility. It would take far too long to go through all the other possibilities!

    • When I taught “Psychology of Intimate Relationships” even the text book we used (which I frequently supplemented with additional sources regarding all sorts of related topics) acknowledged that even within the medical profession, there is a growing consensus that biological sex is not binary. So even at the biological level there are more than two sexes.

    • Actually, it’s incredibly screwed up to think you can tell someone what their own body is. You, a cis man, can define your body as male. You have the power to do that- go you! A trans man can do the same, regardless of if he wants to transition or not. YOU do not have the power to tell HIM what HIS body is. He does. Go him! I can define my body as whatever I want, again, I have the power to do that. Go me.

      And, of course, you’re completely erasing intersex kids who have various other chromosome patterns (including just X, mosaicism/chimeraism, etc) and various other sexes.

      • Except the thing is, if you are MALE, like with the correct chromosomes and all, that is what your body is. You can’t pretend you are a woman even if you want to be. You can dress that way, or undergo surgery, which is fine be me, but you can’t lie to yourself about what your body is. Feel like a woman all you want, it doesn’t matter, your BODY is that of a male. Do you get what I’m saying? You can feel like a woman and act like one, but technically, biologically, (assuming you aren’t intersex born) you are MALE. Look are your crotch. That’s how you tell. Don’t get me wrong, I am gay rights and all, but you just can’t lie to yourself about what your body is. Be logical.

      • TJ-

        Truly, that’s about the dumbest thing ever, not to mention a fine display in cissexism. That’s like people that go “I’m not a racist but-”. For one, gender is between your ears, not between your legs. Sex is between your legs. The genetics of a trans person’s brain are opposite of the genetics of their physical body. So in essence, they have both boy and girl parts if you want to go down to the core of everything that makes up the human body inside and out.

        What’s more important, your mind or whats between your legs? Your mind. The mind is a powerful thing, more so than anything else in the body, and it is key factor that makes you who you are. Last time I checked your body doesn’t house your personality, it doesn’t dictate the way you think and feel or how you perceive the world. If you lose your mind, you’re out of luck. But if something between your legs gets broken or blown off… hey that can be repaired… or changed if its not correct.

        So, be logical yourself. Here’s an interesting bit of information… all males and females have BOTH sets of hormones. And if you really want to tackle genetics… then genetically speaking, trans people would be male and female. One genetic side you can’t physically see and another genetic side you can see. Because YOU can see it… doesn’t make it valid or correct. You can see a mirage too, doesn’t mean there’s water there. Life is not so clean and orderly as you want to believe it is. And because you’re “gay rights” doesn’t excuse you from cissexist comments or mean that you are “trans rights”.

      • Wow tj, I think you might be lying to yourself more than a transperson ever has. And I’m not sure you have the authority to say to anyone besides yourself that “you are lying to yourself”.
        Not all of us follow our dicks/crotches/other.
        Be open, it doesn’t hurt. I promise.

    • It must be nice to have the privilege to not stress about it.

    • Actually there are three sexes, there are hermaphrodites who are born with XXY , so they are genetically both sexes.

      • That’s not true, either, Erin. first off, the term “hermaphrodite” has been all but rejected by the medical community for a number of years – the term “intersexed” is a lot more appropriate. and there aren’t “three sexes” – that’s not medically accurate ether.

      • Erin, it is good that you know that there are more than two sexes. Awesome. However, you should look more into intersex issues (and if you’re trans, brace yourself for some transphobia/ignorance when you do so, the two communities don’t get along and there’s a lot of ignorance on both sides). There are WAY more chromosomal combinations than just XXY. XXY generally results in Kleinfelter’s syndrome, and I don’t believe that it’s considered genetically both in any way. There is also mosaicism/chimeraism, so a person can be XX in some cells and XY in others- this is more genetically both.

        Also, “hermaphrodite” is a VERY offensive term. Intersex is better, but some intersex people ahve a problem with it and want to find a better term to describe themselves that wasn’t made by the medical community.

      • there are multiple (almost infinite) variations in chromosomal sex. The same goes for gender, sexuality, and any other identity we can align ourselves with. I think terming it as both and/or neither is problematic in that it re-inscribes a binary “normalcy” with respect to sex (or anything else). If you look at the information, the medical community has well documented the fact that variations in binary (male/female or both) is not only exclusionary but also entirely false. Variations in chromosonal sex happen more often than we think.

    • At the biological level, there are only two sexes: male and female, which is why you come out of the womb and the doctor identifies it for sake of your birth certificate.

      Except that erases the intersexed. A doctor may “assign” a sex to an intersexed baby, and even perform surgery to make that baby’s genitalia match that assignment, but that doesn’t mean that intersexed children are never born. (Or that an externally-imposed assignment matches the child’s own gender identity.)

    • Actually “SomeIdiot” there are more than two sexes… and there are people with three chromosomes. So even at the biological level it’s not as simple as you (and most folk) would like to think.

    • someidiot, the fact that you identified yourself in the beginning of this post is the point. if gender identity didn’t matter, you wouldn’t have put this. period.

    • There are actually not only two sexes, my friend. The existence of the ‘third sex’ is quite commonly known (intersexed folks), and there are actually 14 different chromosomal combinations to determine sex. It is not quite as easy as XX or XY.

  5. SomeIdiot, I notice you saying that there are only two reasons to worry about gender identity, and I must say that I’m happy for you that you don’t feel the need to stress about it all that much. However, I’d like to make the point that Andy seems to be saying exactly that: there really *isn’t* a reason to “stress” when it comes to this particular issue. Just as people don’t usually get all knock-kneed at the idea of asking, “What did you say your name was?” at the end of a conversation with a stranger, there’s really no reason to become tense about the gender pronoun question.

    Also, there is a large difference between biological makeup and gender identity. Although one might argue that XX and XY are the only options physically, other discoveries about this have already been made. I’d advise you (and anyone else who might be interested in researching this) to read sources about people who are born intersexed.

    Since this is not just a discussion about physiology, however, one would be hard pressed to say that psychology carries less “weight” than physiology because of its relative intangibility. Everywhere there is evidence that people can be biologically one thing and psychologically another; i.e. it is possible to say that someone can be physically unhealthy but psychologically sound; or one can be born of Italian parents but identify more strongly with, say, Swedish culture. This is my point: psychology is not dictated entirely by biology.

    Gender identity is real. Given freedom to figure ourselves out, we don’t have to be corralled by physiology or society’s perceptions. It is becoming increasingly clear that gender identity is no longer binary; it is individual. Just as people are continuing to move beyond ideas about ethnicity and race, we will also be forced to view gender identity in different ways than we have in the past – which is what Andy’s blog post seems to be all about.

  6. This is a great article for someone who is only recently understanding that there are more than two genders. However, I’m a cisgender female and I know that if I were having a scrub day (no makeup and clothes that hide my body), and someone were to ask me what pronouns I use it would hurt my feelings. I would be afraid to hurt someone else like that too. Some people think it should be obvious and it may not be…but just asking the question can be a blow to their self-esteem. How would you deal with that situation?

    • People need to get over the idea that gender is obvious- it’s not. You just get lucky in being able to guess right some 90% of the time. You, specifically, are also lucky in that most people can guess yours correctly- imagine if they couldn’t. I mean REALLY imagine this, imagine that even on the best day when you’ve got your best make-up on and your hair done up fancy and you are really looking and feeling good, maybe you’re on a hot date or a girl’s night out, and you go to a bar or resturaunt or somewhere and the server says “What can I get for you, sir?”- completely politely, this person honestly thinks you are a man. Now imagine that on every day, every time someone meets you, you hear people talking about you as you left “Oh, him? He just asked where we kept the bath towels…”. No matter what day it is, people get your pronouns wrong.

      Imagine how incredibly exhausting it is having to say to everyone you meet “Hi, I’m [name] and my pronouns are she/her” and have people look like you came from mars or be confused. Now, after constantly getting this, imagine someone saying “What pronoun do you prefer?”.

      This isn’t the same as the bitter or caustic “Are you a boy or a girl?”, it’s a polite respectful “I don’t know you, but I respect you enough to want to make sure that I refer to you in a way that makes you comfortable”.

      You’re having a scrub day- so what? You’re still just as much a woman as you are when you’re dressed to impress, and you still have a right to consider yourself beautiful if you want to. Now why can’t a woman who has a beard get the same respect to be acknowledged as the woman she is and considered beautiful? Why shouldn’t a man whose version of dressed to the nines is a push-up bra and slinky dress have just as much right at being correctly gendered as you have?

      • Well, here’s what I do. It’s the most respectful way I know how to get pronouns right without offending people either by using the wrong one, or offending them by asking. See, in the above case that woman with a beard might be really offended by your asking..it says to her ‘you’re not doing a very good job passing’, which can be just as hurtful.

        If it’s clear to me someone is obviously performing as male or female (i.e. we’re at the bar and you’re have long hair in a curly updo, makeup, and a skirt), yep I’m going to say she/her, whether you also have a beard or not, because you’re clearly performing female. If I’m questioning at all (young man/young woman with short hair and a baseball cap? androgynous? something about their appearance/performance/friends/whatever hints they may prefer a different pronoun?) I’ll ask their name, and go with that name’s gender (if it’s a name like Bill or Suzy). Genderless/unfamiliar name? I’ll avoid pronouns alltogether until I can ask someone else discreetly, “which pronouns does jaime prefer?”. If I accidentally use the wrong pronoun and am corrected? I’ll apologize profusely, and use their preferred pronoun from then on/until they change their preference/ we’re in a different situation (ie. outside the bar) where they prefer to be called a different pronoun.
        This has been the least offensive way I’ve figured out. I’ve used this method for years, and I’ve never had any complaints, so I think I’ll stick to it.

      • I’m glad you have a way that works for you, Madelyn. I would like to point out, though, that I laugh when somebody refrains from using pronouns for entire conversations instead of just asking me. Like it’s something so big and scary that its’ better to to just TOTALLY IGNORE IT instead of, you know, taking 3 seconds to ask and then being able to have a normal conversation.

      • A quick note for Madelyn:
        Your method of using names is shaky at best. I’m genderless but have a traditionally female name. I didn’t change it because I happen to like it and would only be doing so for the benefit of other people (i.e. a stupid reason). Also there’s nothing more irritating than having a person you just met ask someone else about your gender identity. This has happened to me and it ended up with everyone feeling really awkward.
        My recommendation: Just ask them straight up. You’re being respectful so they should get over it.

  7. Awkwardness-
    My first question in response to that would be, why does that make you feel awkward? To me that puts transgender people “below” cisgender people. It’s OK to ask trans people their pronouns but heaven forbid anybody ask a cisgender people their pronouns? That seems pretty unfair.

    And then my next question is – really, has this happened to you? You leave the house without makeup and a baggy sweatshirt and suddenly everyone sees you as male? I wish it was that easy – My hair is cut short in a “men’s” style, my clothes all come from the “men’s” department, I bind my breasts, I used to consciously lower my voice… and I am still “gendered” as female a good 75% of the time.

    We have got to stop being so afraid of gender. Somebody accidentally genders you as male, you correct them, life goes on. You are “insulted’ because… at first glance somebody who you have never met before thought for a minute that you were male? Why does that matter?

    I have posted about it before, but I had a talk with my former minister once about being genderqueer and how it bugged me when people got my pronouns “wrong” when there was no reason for them to “know better” – the guy at Subway, the person who works at the gas station, etc. And… well, she was right. Why does it bug me? Why does it matter? Those are not the situations I am talking about. We don’t need to ask in every instance, ever. I don’t even correct people in those situations. I just buy my sandwich and go on with my life.

    I am talking about situations where there is the likelihood for continued contact. Babysitting, friendships, college classes, etc.

  8. You are a very cool person, Andy.
    Any friend of Coral is now a friend of mine.
    And what a great article.

    Nice to cyber-meet you.
    Adam

  9. Beautiful! Its been my experience that young kids handle gender diversity with so much more ease than the rest of the population. They’re so much more fluid in their understanding of who a person can be.

  10. brilliant post. will share it with my students too. that’s how I want the world to work too… just ask just tell :P

  11. Andy: Thanks! This is so helpful for me as an adult and now I’ll have a way to teach my daughter. My concern, though, in asking is generally not to someone who is obviously identifying as other (for lack of a better word), but innocently asking the question of someone who happens to be identifying as male or female, but I just don’t see it. I feel like that might come across as offensive – or me as ignorant. What do you think? What would be a good response if I unintentionally hurt or offend someone?

    • Everybody has preferred pronouns, even if their preference is to not care.

      Read my response to “awkwardness” above and let me know if you have further questions?

  12. My heart swelled when I realized what he meant by ‘boy words’ or ‘girl words’. This was lovely to read! Yay for hope!

  13. Yup, yup, to live in a world where gender identity and expression or just other things about a person that are OK to inquire about. So, what do you do? What kind of food do you like? What pronouns do you prefer?

    In some instances, though, I could see “asking” as hurtful is with the many trans women that I know who so dearly want to be read as 100% feminine or female but who are often read as male simply because of some of their physical traits. So, although in some cases I am wrong, and get corrected and that’s fine, I tend to assume that a person who is dressed in a very “feminine” (according to North American mainstream standards) manner would prefer feminine pronouns simply because I have many trans sisters who are hurt day in and day out by being “he’d.” Then again, I know some butches who get frustrated by being “he’d” because of the implication that their “masculine” (again, according to N.A. mainstream standards) appearance necessitates a male identity, whereas they are proud of their identity as butch WOMEN.

    SO, yeah, it’s a complex issue. To be in this (IMO) utopian society where gender would just be another thing, we’d also need to get to a point where there wasn’t so much hurt and stigma associated with being gender non-conforming, so that people’s emotions wouldn’t suffer from the very question of whether they identified as female, male, in-between, both, beyond, etc.

    I find the further I get into my transition, the less it worries me. Early in my transition, it irked me when people she’d me, even though I’ve always continued to identify, to an extent, as genderqueer. But I needed that recognition that I was changing and not a “she”. If there were some other option than “he” that was widely recognised, I would have chosen that but “he” was as close as it got to expressing “me.” So I picked it. Now . . .meh. I do prefer “he” over “she” and I haven’t found gender neutral pronouns other than “they” that I feel I can use for myself comfortably but if someone she’s me (rare, now, with the beard but may come back if I ever shave because of my smooth and round features and relatively androgynous voice), it’s no longer a big deal.

    Anyway . . . I ramble. Nice to “read” you. I’ll subscribe to your blog and keep track.

    Cheers;
    Jacky

    • I said in an above response to a comment that I don’t ask every time. I, too, have too many trans sisters and brothers who have been hurt that when I see somebody, especially who I perceive as on the trans feminine spectrum, in traditionally (same definition as traditionally as you) feminine or masculine clothes? I’ll assume. And sometimes I’ll get corrected. And I’m not always perfect with pronouns.

      • “And I’m not always perfect with pronouns.”

        Thanks for saying this. (And thanks for this whole article!) i identify as a female-bodied genderqueer who is okay with she/her pronouns (but wouldn’t be offended by he/him pronouns). my partner identified as a butch dyke when we first got together and now identifies as trans male, who wants he/him pronouns but doesn’t get uptight over she/her pronouns when they happen, and who is mostly read as male since the T changes even though He has not had chest surgery and doesn’t really bind His moderately large chest. We have met several new trans friends recently (there’s not much of a visible trans community here in central Oklahoma) and have had several conversations lately about not being perfect with other people’s pronouns, which i think surprised us both a little bit.

        i actually love asking people who appear to be cis what pronouns they prefer just to make them think about it. :)

  14. Such a sweet post. Thanks.

  15. I am a cisgendered woman who is occasionally misgendered. Like many middle-aged women, I have hair sprouting from my chin, and I don’t always care enough to remove it; that plus pants and non-frilly clothes sometimes gets me an automatic “sir” from deli counter workers and such.

    The conversation tends to go something like “Si, señor?” meaning “What would you like sir?” (The previous customer having ordered in Spanish), me saying “Roast beef on rye, please” and the guy hearing my high voice and immediately apologizing. The training is there that it is an insult to misgender someone, and that people may be upset when you insult them, so apologize. (My hunch is that someone who was insulted would more likely say “That’s ma’am!” or “How dare you call me sir?!” than “Roast beef on rye, please.”)

    A trans acquaintance of mine says that not-caring is a sign of privilege. It is in the sense that I don’t worry that I’m going to be attacked because of that mistake, and that it doesn’t happen often. A strange child at the zoo, once, asking “why do you have a beard?” followed by “Why are you a woman?” is interesting and possibly a teachable moment; if it happened every week it would be wearing..

    But it’s also that one relevant axis for gender is how much a person cares about it; my identity is female, but “woman” isn’t the first thing I’d choose to describe myself. Frankly, I’d rather have “sir” than “sweetie” from a stranger in a commercial transaction.

  16. Where is this magical place and can I move there? Geez, that is really awesome. I want to do that, just ask everyone I meet what pronouns they use, but cis people get so freaking annoyed if you ask sometimes. It’s aggravating. There’s a male-bodied trans guy who’s blog I follow who doesn’t bind or take T or anything and always introduces himself with his names and “I go by ‘he’.”, and it can get the worst responses from people, apparently he used to ask other people their pronouns but gave up. I’d really love to do what Alec does but I can’t open myself to the transphobia enough to stand it.

  17. thank you for this post! i grew up with a trans parent and hearing stores like this give me hope :)

  18. Thank you for sharing this. It warmed my heart today. ♥

  19. Absolutely brilliant.
    I love this family without even knowing them.
    They practice so much what I’d like to say I preach….
    But I don’t do the whole practice/preach dealio well.
    <3

  20. Thanks. I reblogged it so my friends (who don’t know many differently gendered/Trans-leaning people if at all) can read as well.

    And I will keep this in mind myself.

  21. I can see how this conversation has a lot of weight in this community, but I think it will appear irrelevant to most cis people. In the cis world, a person who dresses and looks like a man is a man and a person who dresses and looks like a woman is a woman. Take note, they have spent their entire lives being who and what they are. I am a cis male and have lived every day pretty confident that people could tell I am a man. If someone asked me what pronouns I prefer, my first response would probably be to ask, “What, again, is a pronoun?” because I haven’t used that word since English class, years ago (I don’t mean this to be a joke, only a reminder that not everyone you meet will have spent nearly as much time thinking abstractly about these sorts of things). My second response might be to smile, laugh and then suggest they take a wild guess.

    In the cis world, gender and sexuality are not separate. The way one dresses, speaks, acts and carries out tasks is often a subtle reminder to any observing that they are a male or a female and (at least in the back of my mind) a guide toward sexual activity. The more a person is seeking sex, the more important it will be that they are sending out an accurate image to those around them. A young cis male dressed up and looking for a mate is going to feel like a total failure if somebody honestly believes that they are a female (or vice versa). How will he ever get a mate if women don’t think of him as a man (both in terms of gender and sexuality)? On the other hand, someone who is not looking for a mate and really doesn’t care about being selected for the next reality show, will likely put little or no value in someone misgendering them.

    For cis people gender is a long established, widely used (and, yes, changing) strategy for identifying and attracting mates that begins long before two people ever formally meet. I see how your arguments in favor of asking a person’s favored pronouns seems like such a minor thing from your perspective. You’ve realized cis ideas of gender do not mean very much for the life you live. I might suggest, though, cis ideas on gender still serve a function for cis people, which is part of the reason there is such resistance to changes that at first appear to be minor.

    Now that I have read the post, the comments, and have processed some of my thoughts, I will make sure I give a polite answer should someone ever ask me what pronouns I prefer.

    • I don’t really get why you think trans people don’t know this. Trans people are brought up in “the cis world” just like everyone else. Just like non-straight people are brought up in “the straight world” and people of color are brought up in “the white world”. Trans people have to know how cis people think, it’s cis people who are allowed to be painfully ignorant of trans people.

      Also, in “the cis world” gender and sexuality ARE separate- there are gay men and straight men and bi men and ace men and all sorts of men of other sexualities who are all, in fact, men. Heteronormativity is as bad as cisnormativity.

      On the other hand, someone who is not looking for a mate and really doesn’t care about being selected for the next reality show, will likely put little or no value in someone misgendering them.

      This is bullshit, asexuals are just as likely to get upset when they’re misgendered as sexuals- it’s pretty damn fucked up for you to assume that the gender identity of asexuals doesn’t deserve to be respected just as much as the gender identity of sexuals. It does.

      • Wow. That’s a lot of disrespect in that post for someone who is asking for respect in return, Dreki.

        Nicholas is trying to explain why the question of gender will probably not be asked by the majority of people for a very long time. Being sarcastic does not help you or anyone else get their point across about gender issues. Maybe he was stating his thoughts for someone who doesn’t understand quite like you do. Maybe he’s stating them for himself.

        Implying that all transgendered people think the same way is just as bad as saying that asexuals don’t care about being misgendered, by the way. They do not, I assure you. Some are more biased than others, just like some cisgendered people. Some are more stubborn than others, just like some cisgendered people. And some couldn’t give a flying flip if you asked what gender they preferred to be recognized as, just like some cisgendered people.

        Gender is just now becoming a widely discussed issue that many people take notice of and bravely speak their opinions about. Giving someone like Nicholas a little leeway and explaining the differences between sexuality and gender for him wouldn’t be too much to ask. Maybe it gets annoying to have them confused over and over, but it it’s something that comes with the battle. Getting mad only makes everyone else fighting the battle look like brats who just want to fight over something.

      • You make some really good points. Under normal circumstances I would even say that you have enlightened me in some fashion, being that I did grow up privileged and often have difficulty understanding the other side.

        But, honestly, when you said that I’m “pretty damned fucked up”, my respect for you dropped like a rock. Now I don’t much care what you have to say.

      • @salire- “In return” implies respect was there in the first place. Nicholas’s post was incredibly bigoted and patronizing. I see no respect there.
        I know why gender will not be asked by the majority of people for a very long time. I have never met a trans person naive enough to believe otherwise, I’ve even met trans people who don’t want this to happen because they benefit from passing and binary privilege and don’t want to lose that.

        However- I never said that trans people all “think the same way”. I never said that, but that does NOT change the fact that trans people are raised in “the cis world” (as Nicholas put it) or that we aren’t raised being taught how cis people act and think because we are raised with the expectation that we are cis. Even the 7 year olds who are transitioning socially are being raised with this because they still get taught it in school and on TV and in books. How we respond to this, how we feel about this, what we think about this? These are all individual things. That we are raised in societies where cis is the norm and trans is rarely ever mentioned beyond as a cruel joke? That is a reality that everyone, trans and cis, lives with.

        Talking about gender is not the same as talking about trans people and how our lives are in a respectful manner. Not at all. And, yeah, I’m not going to give someone leeway when they’re treating me like a 5 year old who doesn’t get basic concepts. Especially not when all it would take is a bloody google search to figure out the difference- it is NOT my job to explain this to him. If he doesn’t want to educate himself, I don’t see why I should be obligated to educate him

        @Nicholas- You were being incredibly acephobic. I don’t ask for your respect, I really don’t care for it, but if you can’t handle being called out on your bigotry, then you sure as hell don’t deserve mine and you certainly don’t deserve to demand respect from the people you are bigoted towards.

      • Dreki, I am going to ask you to please stop this conversation. It is not accomplishing anything. Thank you.

      • @Salire: Are you sure? My interpretation was that Nicholas was trying to justify why straight + cis people shouldn’t *have* to learn the difference between sex, sexuality, presentation and gender identity

  22. Thanks for this post! Seems like such a “duh” solution, but most of us don’t realize that it’s ok to ask. Thank you for reminding us.

  23. I would have never, ever thought about this…just out of sheer cluelessness about asking. I am so grateful to know now and have read this!

  24. Thank you so much for this post, Andy. I have a couple trans-gendered friends who have met my son (a 4-year old), and I always try to make a point to be sure he knows how they prefer to be addressed. He goes along without question. :D

  25. Great post – this really made me think. At first, my initial reaction was basically what Awkwardness posted – I like to think my gender is pretty obvious, and I’d be surprised if someone asked… but if they were actually trying to be polite, I don’t think I’d be offended at all.

  26. Excuse me if this sounds like a stupid question, but I am a bit of a stupid person.
    How exactly does he have 7 parents?
    This was an excellent post, but I didn’t understand some of it…
    A little help?

    • His parents, presumably, are polyamorous (seeing as how the author met them at a Poly event). This means that their intimate relationship is not between a couple, but equal and shared between all seven of them. Thus, regardless of who of the seven he shares his DNA with, all 7 act as his parents.

  27. This is a great post, and it’s nice to hear about some etiquette for certain situations. Although, I am one of those females who occasionally gets “sir” at work when I’m in the unisex uniform. I don’t really get offended, it just bugs me that people don’t really LOOK at me. I have super short hair, yes, but otherwise look very female. As a server, I definitely play the “dance around the pronoun” game if I’m not sure. I would rather not make any assumptions, since we’ll only be knowing each other for an hour or so. But I definitely have a few transgender regulars who I know appreciate that I use she/her/ladies.

  28. This! My partner asked me the other day about my gender pronouns because she noticed I was identifying more and more towards gender neutral. I was so glad she felt comfortable enough to ask.

    I work in a gender orientated position (being that of having to answer to ‘Miss’ at the school where I work). One of my kids insists to anyone who will listen that “Miss Roslin is a boy”. Got to love that kid, because they see that my body and my gender don’t match up. And it’s closer to my preferred ‘boi’ anyway.

    Children often see past anything preconceived and don’t like to take things for granted. The problem occurs when society molds them further and further into accepting the binaries. It drives me round the bend. Even children a year older than my little friend in my class, laugh when I get called a boy because they have been taught so hard that I’m a girl because of their parents’ preconceived notions that were drummed into them as kids.

  29. Sounds ridiculously confusing to me…I respect you but disagree with this entirely

    • What is so confusing about the author’s suggestion to ask what pronouns to use? It’s incredibly clear to me. I think your confusion is a result of being presented with a new idea (that gender!=sex).

      • What’s confusing is that we still haven’t established any guidelines as to when one should ask. Do we ask every person we meet every day? That makes the asker sound incompetent. Most people most of the time tell us what pronouns they want used by the way they live. Do we just ask the most difficult to guess? Then we individualize them and identify them as weird or abnormal. You can imagine when meeting a group of people, one might automatically guess (correctly) that two of them are men who use boy words and two are women who use girl words, but the fifth is …. ? Is it appropriate to blatantly ask them in front of the group?

  30. My only concern is offending a transsexual person for whom being read as a particular gender is toweringly important. I get round that with someone I don’t know by discreetly asking one of their companions. Often, in my social circle, gender identity, relationship configurations, etc., are openly discussed, and asking is considered polite; I am aware, though, that there are people for whom being misread just one more time can be horrifically dangerous (I’ll never forget the woman who phoned a crisis line I volunteered with who had taken an overdose and wanted someone to talk to before she died – she’d had one too many misreadings of her gender since her GRS and just couldn’t cope any more).

    As a cis gendered woman, my current understanding is that I am not insulted or distressed being occasionally misread (even with plucked eyebrows, large breasts, wide hips and small waist) because I do not have to struggle to establish acceptance of my identity – other people automatically read me as woman, aside from the odd occasion when I’m bundled up from head to toe and not wearing make-up and get mistaken for a fat teenage boy. I consider that a huge social privilege, and it makes me aware that not everyone gets that automatic acceptance.

    And that leads me to adapt to circumstance – at a gathering of friends who openly discuss these things, I will certainly ask; otherwise, I will try to ascertain how open the individual is to the subject being broached, not for my sake, but for theirs.

  31. wow, this is really touching :) I hope everyone in our society would be as tolerant as that young child!

  32. I like it when people refer to you as your gender rather than your sex. Gender refers to what’s in between your ears, while sex refers to what’s in between your legs. More people need to understand that.

    As for asking, I think most people are just afraid to offend the person. I, personally, don’t ask them unless I really can’t tell by being observant. (I’m usually very good at telling if someone is bio male/female, and also if someone is trans. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to tell.)

    I swear, more people need to understand. More people need to ask. But until then, we just need to educate them in a non-invasive, unobtrusive way. Even if they don’t walk away understanding, they may someday. That’s how I teach people about such things.

  33. Well that just made my day :D

  34. This made my day! What a sweet kid. I hope that if I ever have any, I can raise them to be half so thoughtful and aware :)

  35. I love this post! Alec said it better than most kids, do though–mainly because he was not judging when he asked. So many children have asked my son (who has long hair, and wore a dress for years) “Are you a boy or a girl?” using that *tone.* He would say to me, “It’s not their words, but the way they asked just didn’t sound nice.” I’ve always thought: wouldn’t it be nice if someone asked him that out of curiosity, not hostility?

    I blog about raising my gender-noncofnorming son at http://www.sarahhoffmanwriter.com. I’m glad to have found you!
    Sarah

  36. Out of my four children, I have two male identifying boys who are regularly misgendered by strangers on a regular basis. The older one has mostly gotten past it, but for a long time he would introduce himself by saying in one breath “Hi I’m Raffi I’m a boy but I like long hair”. It was MINDBOGGLING how many kids argued with him. I also have an almost three year old girl who seems a little confused about her own body and I’m trying to give her the space to work it out in her own time to her own satisfaction… she claims to have a penis (penukh) as often as she will say she has a vagina (‘gina), prefers to urinate standing and (like all of my children at that age) has no preferences of toys based on her gender. Cars and babies have always been the most popular toys at her age for my kids and all four nursed the babies (and sometimes their cars, too).

  37. I love this post because I found it very educational. It’s lack of knowledge that causes those awkward moments.

    My daughter, who is 3, has a friend at school who has same sex parents. The other day while playing with my daughter she told my husband that she and I were his two mommies. It felt somgood to hear!

    She does not judge…heck she doesn’t even care…she doesn’t even know that hadshe been 20 years older it would have been something to talk about! Imlove the world our children are growing up in!

  38. I’m Finnish, and there is a reason why I love my mother tongue.

    Finnish language doesn’t have gender-bound pronouns. At all.

    Everybody should learn Finnish! (haha, half joking)

    Great post, though. Kids are great.

  39. I see the point of this, but it rubs me wrong. Maybe because I’m genderqueer and not trans. I just default to using name / them / they / their, and only asking if it seems necessary. I ironically much more commonly use gendered terms when referring to my trans friends than my cis-gendered friends because they more often care. With the small amount that someone’s gender actually affects my interactions with them, and how little it should affect most people’s interactions, this is not something I need to know right away.

    Putting the question of gender out there first and foremost in conversations with new acquaintances sounds to me like a great way of enforcing the idea that you should treat people differently based on their gender. I understand most of society does treat people of different genders vastly differently, but pandering to that horrendous habit feels like a step in the wrong direction to me.

    I accept that you are not likely to agree, but wanted to give a dissenting opinion I hope you’ll at least find valid.

    • First off, hi, I am genderqueer.

      Second, that’s great that you have a way to work around pronouns. A lot of people don’t. A lot of people want to pull the all too familiar “are you a boy or a girl?” question right away, or they guess, or they just avoid talking to you. I thought that this family had come up with a great way to counter that. And *I* know that *I* prefer to be asked rather than people assume (because people will always “assume” female with me unless I am in trans-friendly spaces or guess or avoid me.

      • Bah, I got that you were genderqueer at some point, but after reading through most of the comments it was not on my mind, I’m sorry I insinuated you weren’t. I ended up thinking of “asking someone’s preferred pronounce” as a concept more in line with trans/cis identified people rather than genderqueer. This is partially because I tend to use genderqueer in a more gender neutral fashion as opposed to genderfluid or genderf*ck following closer to working within the gender binary and playing with it instead of tossing it out altogether. I sacrificed clarity there for brevity and used a mental shortcut for myself that didn’t make sense to others. This did not help.

        I feel this is _a_ way to counter those negatives, but imagine doing this for ethnicity or religion. I could assume most people who celebrate christmas are christian, but I know I’d be wrong a fair portion of the time. Starting a conversation finding out new acquaintances’ religion, race, or ethnicity would be ludicrous. I understand those describers aren’t as engrained in our language, and people have an easier time avoiding talking about them, but putting this much weight on gender in situations where it shouldn’t matter, e.g. meeting your friend’s sibling, babysitting, is as useful as asking “Would you like to go watch a movie with me and my Protestant/Indian/lactose intolerant/female identifying friend?” None of those adjectives are necessary unless the other person has anti-(demographic your friend falls into) sentiments.

        I know telling people how to raise children is a incendiary topic, but I think I’ll stick to teaching my children that they shouldn’t judge someone differently or treat them differently based on their gender rather than helping them use a method to quickly find out everyone’s gender, insinuating and instilling in them that it’s something of great import. I know for some people, especially trans people (which you are not) their gender is something very important to them. To each their own.

  40. Lucky (and awesome) kid. I hope the world never beats it out of him. <3

  41. This is a great article! Kids’ responses to gender are very interesting, and very different from the average cisgender adult’s responses and struggles.

    I very much support asking pronouns. Its a good thing to do especially in a meeting or gathering of a lot of new people. All GBLT groups should include pronoun preference in introductions. If they do not, they exclude many trans people immediately from feeling like full participants.

    However, sometimes I might not ask pronouns, but if I don’t ask them, I make an effort not to use them. My assumptions have often been wrong in the past. I am genderqueer and can usually pass as a girl if I want to, but I still prefer male pronouns at those times. A huge number of cisgender people and even some trans people have no fluency on this subject. They embarrass themselves by going on and on about how I have a male name but I’m a girl (wow!) but my name is still “pretty”…. Please! I feel that I want to come out to people as genderqueer more often, even if they don’t know what it means. Articles like these can help to establish a little more fluency in the general population, which we will benefit from.

    And some cis people are actually delighted to be asked what their pronoun is. They may have been assumed to be a man because they were born male, or a woman because they were born female, all their lives, but actually identifying that way in a trans-positive context means that they actually can make this their choice.

  42. Thank you! I’ve been trying to get my two-year-old not to mis-pronoun people; the “uses boy words” vs “uses girl words” distinction will help in explaining why “has breasts” isn’t always the best rubric for making the distinction. He has four parents, but all cis, which I suppose has made him a bit slower on the uptake.

  43. An enlightening post. This may be a bit unrelated, but I experienced another kind of child-like innocence:

    My boyfriend and I have been together for eight years. Two years ago, his sister’s son made the : “Oh, that’s so gay” comment. His mother asked him: “Son, you know what gay means? You know your uncle and his friend are gay, and that simply means they love each other”.

    The kid dotes on his uncle, and he pretty much thinks I’m awesome too. So he then said to her: “Oh, so being gay is COOL!”.

    That is my fondest memory to date. Children know what love is. =)

  44. Hey Andy! Greetings from Philly! First off, wanted to put it out there: You rock :D

    A friend of mine linked this on their facebook a couple months ago. I enjoyed it.

    Another friend linked it today and I re-read it. I loved it even more the second time around. So much so that I re-linked it to my own profile again :)

    More people should just be open about things and not be so afraid to talk. It’s really that fear that causes people to be awkward about things.

    Very educational. Alec seems like a sweet little kid and is sure as hell wiser than most adults I know.

  45. A really good text! I really liked that and I gave it to my friends so they could read it. :)

  46. I never stress out about gender because there are only two reasons for it to be relevant, maybe when your in the sack and you just don’t like that type of person or when your in a social situation, such as a conversation where pronouns are used.

    Saying you “don’t stress” about gender is actually just another way of saying you “have hella cis privlege.”

  47. I know I’m a year behind, but you might like this poem by Andrea Gibson, if you haven’t heard it already:

  48. Great story.

    I’m a little confused about some of the implications that avoiding using gender pronouns is obvious an awkward. I mean, I guess for some people?

    For the record, I’ve kind of always sucked at gendered pronouns. I think I’ve gotten a fair bit better since I gained a bunch of transgendered friends – I mean, if I randomly used the wrong pronoun on a cisgendered person, people generally took this as reflecting on me, not on them. So I try a lot harder. I like Turkic languages, and Chinese, that don’t use gender pronouns. (And languages like French or German, that apply gender pronouns to everything? Oy.)

    Once upon a time, I met an awesome person at a party, really hit it off, and spent the whole evening talking (and flirting) with them. It wasn’t until some days later when relating the incident to a friend, when I ran across a space for a gender pronoun and realized I had no idea what to put in it that it occurred to me that I didn’t know their preferred gender identity. (Or, clearly, particularly care. Except inasmuch as it was important to them.) It just didn’t come up.

  49. I think that some people who express that they do find, or want to find, gender or race or orientation “irrelevant” or “not important” — people who also have the privilege of identifying mainstream or at least being easily able to and comfortable doing so — are not ignoring that there are people for whom it’s vitally important, absolutely relevant, interesting, often stressful, and necessary to call attention to to make progress.

    If we (because yes, that’s my position/opinion/dream, even though sexuality, to name just one facet of one example, is a HUGE and necessary part of everyone’s identity) express that in our awkward way, it’s because we wish we could all, all of all of us, jump to that future world where those identities are just another non-fraught thing about which to make conversation or not. We want it to be like liking broccoli or preferring train travel or being from Finland — other things we can’t control but are just fine with. Details that are respected and valued by others as part of human diversity, but not cared about so passionately, i.e., the question isn’t loaded, and all the answers are the “right” answer. We want to jump over the difficult part of enlightenment because we don’t like anyone to suffer.

    Today, if you ask me my orientation, for instance, what I’ll really want to say is that I’m not single and there’s therefore no reason for you to ask. I know that isn’t true, but it’s how I feel (perhaps because I think of it as one of those “impolite personal questions”), and I’m looking forward to “future world” where I not only don’t care if you know (which is currently true), I don’t care that you want to. :)

  50. I’m married to a very feminine XY who doesn’t identify as either gender. It’s a bit more complicated than that actually; she looks very male but loves skirts, make-up, having long hair, and being girly in general. She also prefers female pronouns but is content with having a penis and wouldn’t dream of changing it. So even though she’s technically a queer, she doesn’t fit into the category, and thus, she feels like an outsider to her local queer community.

    My first language (Indonesian) has no regards for gender pronouns, so I still mess it up sometimes. It’s a bit embarrassing, as I like to think of me being fluent enough in English. ^^; However, it does have one positive effect: My idea of sex, gender, and gendered pronouns are quite detached, Meaning, I would not fret over which pronouns to use, I’d just go with whichever makes the person happy. When I use the wrong pronouns, though, 99% of the time it has more to do with language skills than gender identification.

  51. I was the bus stop with my then-two year old, this summer. Now, I should mention that my daughter is -huge- for her age, and looked about four or five.

    There was a transgendered woman, sitting at the bus stop, near us. She was clearly demonstrating with her clothing, makeup and hairstyle, that she was identifying herself as female. But, my kid still hadn’t figured out gender pronouns, and regularly referred to her straight, bearded daddy as “she”. It wasn’t an issue for us; we’d simply correct her, and remind her to refer to him as “he”.

    She referred to the woman at the bus stop, asking, “Can I sit beside him?” I replied, “Sure. You can sit beside her.”

    The woman gave me a horrendously dirty look at my child’s question. It was one of those momentary encounters, where I felt blocked by time and the fact that this was a stranger, and felt no opportunity to get into a conversation with her about her pronoun preferences, or explain that my daughter was’t being obtuse, or making a statement; but simply hadn’t even learned which pronoun is attached when people’s sexual identity is clear and obvious, never mind when I, as a reasonable adult, might feel the need to ask.

    I have several transgendered and intrasexual friends, but none of them happen to be in the circle that she encounters on a regular basis, so it’s never come up, yet. I think it’s an excellent idea to teach her to simply ask. But we were still at the developmental stage of “some people are referred to as he and some as she”. We hadn’t even got to the “this is how you determine which is which.

    With friends, or even friendly acquaintances, and new acquaintances, I have no problem asking. But, with a random stranger on the bus, I tend to go by the visual clues of their clothing, jewelry, etc.

  52. Standing up and cheering. Amazing post. I am trying to raise kids like Alec myself.

  53. I appreciate this a lot… “But it’s also that one relevant axis for gender is how much a person cares about it; my identity is female, but “woman” isn’t the first thing I’d choose to describe myself.”

    I occasionally end up discussing whether or not I’m “out” within certain circles that I run in. Sexual preference doesn’t play the hugest role in my life unless my partner is going to be involved with that aspect of my life (family, long term career yes, people I occasionally go to the gym with or consult for occasionally, not so much). If I were to describe the essence of who I am it would be smart, funny, dedicated, passionate. If you asked me who I wanted to marry or what pronouns I preferred it would be “a woman” and “she/her” but that’s not how I define myself.

    I’m not saying everyone should look at it that way, because your gender preferences may matter more to you than mine does but do you care if the 5-second exchange at the grocery store leaves the other person with the impression that you’re a polite respectable person or knows that you’re him/her/unlabelled/etc in your own mind?

    Andy great post. I’ve been a little awkward before with kids that get jumpy and offended when you screw it up (some don’t seem to know what they want some days either).

    • Comments like this really show privilege.

      You have the ABILITY, the PRIVILEGE, to not care and to not have it at the forefront of your mind, because society isn’t constantly shoving it there.

  54. Great post. I always wondered about this and never asked. Now I know. thank you

  55. “Have you ever heard a person refrain from using a pronoun for an entire conversation”
    Yup. I’ve been an open transwoman for more than 3 months, and my mum still consistently does this when she doesn’t just forget to not call me “he” =/

  56. I LOVED this article. :-)

  57. i just read this today, in 2013.

    i am so glad there’s no male/female pronouns in any of my country’s languages/dialects, and that i grew up around cross-dressing people. i thought it was normal for people to cross-dress, until i got introduced to american movies with lgbt topics.

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