With more awareness of different gender identities (including, but not limited to, transgenderism) comes the responsibility of cisgendered allies to acknowledge the gender and pronouns of their non-cisgender friends and acquaintances. If you misgender someone, your mistake can be forgiven. However, it’s important that you apologize properly.
What is Misgendering
Misgendering can be simply defined as referring to someone as any gender besides the one by which they want to be referred. Misgendering could include referring to a transgender man as “she” or a transgender woman as “he.” It could also include giving a male/female pronoun to someone who identifies as non-binary.
How Misgendering Happens
Misgendering happens often out of ignorance. You can make assumptions about something based on how they look. When speaking to another person whose gender identity you already know, you might refer to them by the incorrect pronoun.
Why Misgendering is a Problem
You might misgender someone as an innocent mistake and quickly apologize and own up. However, countless non-cisgender people have to deal with being misgendered on a daily basis, often maliciously. Those prejudiced against them will use the wrong pronoun as a means of mental and emotional warfare.
How Misgendering Makes People Feel
Cisgender people might not think that misgendering is a problem worth caring about. If this is you, consider something for a moment. How would you feel if you were referred to as a man when you know you’re a woman, or a woman if you know you’re a man?
It might not make much of a difference if it happened less than a handful of times in your life. However, when it happens on a consistent basis, it can feel incredibly demeaning. Many people feel their identity is being trampled on when they’re misgendered, and they’re not wrong for feeling that way.
How to Apologize for Misgendering a New Friend
When you misgender a new friend, you need to apologize. Even if you did so out of no maliciousness, your new friend can feel incredibly hurt. Apologizing for misgendering should not come with any caveats or spreading the blame.
Once you’ve made the mistake, own up to it. Don’t wait for someone to call you out on it. Doing so will just make you seem particularly arrogant and oblivious.
Keep It Short
This is an apology for a faux pas. It doesn’t need to be a full-on courtroom defense. You don’t want to cause any further embarrassment to your friend by drawing more attention to what happened than necessary.
Make It Sincere
A half-hearted apology isn’t any better than no apology. It’s a big problem if yours seems like it’s being done out of begrudging social obligation and not actual remorse. You should look the other person in the eye and let them know that you are fully remorseful for your mistake.
If your relationship with the person grows into a particular intimate friendship or romantic relationship, you can discuss the incident and misgendering more in-depth. Otherwise, consider the matter taken care of unless they bring it up again.
Don’t Make Excuses
You might want to save face by offering reasons why you misgendered your new friend. Don’t bother, as any will just end up sounding insulting. For instance, saying that you “forgot” someone identified a certain way indicates that you can’t buy them as the gender with which they identify.
Hold yourself accountable
When we make mistakes, our responsibility is to learn from them and not make them again. After apologizing for misgendering someone, realize that you have a responsibility to adhere to. As you meet new people, remember that you cannot assume their gender identity.
Hold others accountable
Do you want to be a true ally to non-cisgender people? Then, you need to be unafraid to speak up when they are misgendered. They don’t have to be there to be misgendered and for you to speak up.
For instance, suppose you’re with friends and another friend (who isn’t there) is brought up and referred to as the incorrect pronoun. Don’t let it slide. Politely, but firmly, remind them of that person’s gender identity.
If you’re in the presence of the person who is misgendered, speak up but know your place. Don’t fight their battles for them if they don’t want you to. Let them have a chance to speak for themselves.
Misgendering is a problem that too many people have to deal with. It can be humiliating and demoralizing. If you misgender someone, it’s important to apologize and work to not repeat the action. This can be accomplished by:
- Apologizing immediately and sincerely
- Not making assumptions
- Holding yourself and others accountable
By following these tips, you can create a much better society for non-cisgender people to live in. Remember that your privilege of not being misgendered is not shared by everyone. Act with respect for others, and you’ll be a much better ally.
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