Quite Frankly

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Hey Frankie,

One of my best friends just came out as trans. I am super supportive of their journey. However, I can’t seem to remember to use the right pronouns. The wrong one comes out almost automatically. I recognize that this habit can be hurtful not only to my friend, but also to others who are in [a] similar situation [to] them. Do you have any tips for remembering people’s pronouns, or what to do if you accidentally slip up?

Pronoun Ponderer

Dear Ponderer,

Quite frankly, no one gets new things right all the time. After I first changed my pronouns, I even misgendered myself, notably terming myself as a “French fry-loving gal.” Linguistic and grammatical habits are deeply ingrained. Changes inevitably require an adjustment period. I know it’s painful to see that your mistakes cause your friend discomfort, but these missteps are, unfortunately, part of transitioning. Try not to fixate on them. Focus on improving.

To that end, here are some primary methods. Probably the easiest tip is to avoid pronouns altogether. It’s natural to use “you” to reference to them in person or to use their first name if they aren’t with you. This is a training wheels approach, which will gradually accustom you to using the right pronoun. That said, you should be working to incorporate the correct pronoun. Longterm avoidance of pronouns is erasure. This is also a good temporary tactic for someone whose pronouns you don’t know.

To incorporate the right pronouns, I suggest you do some pre-planning. Intentionally construct sentences in your head before you say them to get used to how using the right pronoun feels. This can be tricky, because we often like to speak spontaneously, especially with friends. Even if rehearsing a sentence seems unnatural, I’d hazard a guess that your friend will appreciate your effort.

Finally, what if you or someone else misgenders your friend? You should discuss this with your friend because it centers on their preference. In fact, you should have a conversation with your friend anyway; I’m sure they’d welcome some active listening. Generally, if you slip, correct yourself without drawing attention to the blunder; normalize the correct pronoun without emphasizing your failure. If you notice that someone else misgenders your friend, pull them aside privately. As a friend, you should enforce whatever language and practices help your friend feel comfortable. The goal isn’t to publicly shame someone for making an error, but to help avoid that error in the future.

Best Wishes,
P.S. If someone maliciously misgenders your friend, however, publicly calling them out on transphobia and bigotry would be completely merited (as long as doing so doesn’t embarrass your friend).

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