Language & You - Misgendering


With June being Pride Month, this month’s issue of Language and You is focused on misgendering. We go into what misgendering is, the mental health effects of associated with it, and ways in which we can improve.


As with all installations of Language and You, we hope that this article will help to facilitate discussion around this issue, and that we may all come to a better understanding of one another. Additionally, we will also be listing LGBT+ resources further below in our Resources section.


Gender (Transgender, Gender Fluid, etc.)


With June being Pride Month, it’s a fitting time to talk about an issue that is prevalent within the LBGT+ community: Misgendering. Misgendering is not only hurtful to those effected by it, but it can also lead to serious mental health effects and social isolation. As such, it’s important to look at what misgendering is, how it affects mental health, and ways in which we can lessen these affects.

Before we start, let’s define a few terms:


Cisgender: Someone who’s gender identity matches with that given at birth, an example being someone who is born male identifying as male.

Transgender: Relating to someone who’s identity doesn’t match with their birth gender, an example being someone who is born male identifying as female.

Non-Binary: Someone who doesn’t identify with any gender or identifies with non-traditional genders not part of the gender ‘binary’.


Misgendering is when someone is called by a name, title, or pronoun that doesn’t match with their own personal gender identity. Being called “he” when you identify as “she”, “sir” instead of “ma’am”, “he/she” instead of “them”. This is something that can happen to anyone, but it is more likely to happen, and is in fact more mentally harmful, to transgender and nonbinary individuals. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/misgendering-what-it-is-and-why-it-matters-202107232553#:~:text=When%20people%20are%20misgendered%2C%20they,to%20function%20in%20the%20world.

It also isn’t a phenomenon that is particularly rare. Phone surveys show that 25-30% of transgender or gender non-conforming individuals have experienced forms of unintentional misgendering. Further, respondents reported that only about half of friends/family members refer to them with their correct name/pronouns. https://www.proquest.com/openview/4c7afa459c85b718940a7bffe2ed9cf3/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=51922&diss=y

While this serves as a reminder of stigmatization and marginalization that is faced by transgender people, it is also a showing of the mental health effects that misgendering can inflict. The mental health effects of misgendering are numerous, and can include:

· An increase in anxiety, depression, and stress

· Low self-esteem

· Negative body image

· Social isolation from friends and family


While these effects may be felt by those who are cisgendered, they are felt far more by those who are gender non-conforming. As previously mentioned, transgender individuals are more likely to be misgendered. This increased frequency can lead to these individuals feeling beat down by the frequency of it, making these effects more likely. https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fsah0000070


Another subset of this kind of mislabeling is deadnaming. Deadnaming is when a transgender or nonbinary person is called a name that they no longer identify with, typically a birth name. This typically comes with similar mental health detriments, though it can also cause feelings of gender dysphoria and a lack of acceptance.


The root of this problem, that being misgendering, is a societal issue. It’s an issue of acceptance that requires a major change in how we all think for it to go away. Thankfully in the time of here and now, there are some ways to mitigate the harm done by misgendering. Studies have shown that the best way to mitigate the negative mental health effects is to have a strong support network. The better the support system someone has, the less anxiety, stress, and depression they face. So, if you know someone who is facing these issues, one of the best things you can do is to let them know that you’ll be there for them.


People who don’t face frequent misgendering might have questions when it comes to the gender/pronouns of transgender and non-binary people. How do you go about asking people’s pronouns? What do I do if I do misgender someone? Zil Goldstein is an Associate Medical Director and has a few answers for such questions.


“Making pronouns part of everyday social rituals of introduction helps to normalize the practice,” says Goldstein. “Instead of reserving it, pointedly, for trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming people.”


By normalizing the sharing of pronouns, it helps to make transgender and nonbinary people feel less out of place. This kind of normalization can then also help to reduce the stress that can come with being misgendered.


Further, Goldstein says that the best way to apologize to someone for misgendering is to do just that, apologize. There’s no need to skirt around the issue, the best and most compassionate way is to address the issue and put the other person first.

You can read the full interview with Goldstein here.


As we’ve discussed, misgendering can have serious mental health effects, many of which can affect one’s social life. Cassie Brighter is a transgender activist, writer, and managing editor of Empowered Trans Women. Her main focus is that of diversity and inclusivity.


“For a trans woman, being misgendered is not an annoyance,” writes Brighter. “It is a direct blow to the heart, a jolt of negative current to the brain.”


For Brighter, misgendering was a catalyst to stop going to events, to stop interacting with as many people. What would be the point of attending such events if you would be constantly waiting for the inevitable misgendering that would occur?


Ultimately, being misgendered isn’t some mild annoyance, it’s something that can bring real mental harm. While there’s no fault in slipping up now and again, the important thing is to understand that words carry meaning with them, and that we should be mindful of how they can affect others.


You can read the full article of misgendering by Brighter here.

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