Pronouns are what we use to refer to someone without using their name, and using someone’s chosen pronouns is a sign of respect and a recognition of someone’s humanity. They aren’t inconsequential, but vital. Pronouns help a trans person move comfortably through their day-to-day life, without mental, emotional, or physical threat.

There are numerous pronouns that someone can identify with, and a brief list of them has been compiled here from ACON:







she her hers

shee, her, herz

he him his

hee, him, hiz


they  them  theirs tha, them, therz
ze hir hirs zhee, here, heres
ze zir zirs zhee, zhere, zheres
xe xem xyrs zhee, zhem, zheres

While we as a society are used to hearing he/him and she/her pronouns to refer to a singular person, some people use “they” as their singular pronoun. Singular “they” is most commonly used by someone who identifies outside of the male and female genders, otherwise known as nonbinary.

While some of these may seem like new pronouns, in reality most of them have been in use for centuries.

Always begin by asking someone for their correct pronoun. Even if you think someone isn’t transgender, it’s best to make this a regular process and ask everyone. However, be mindful that not everyone is comfortable answering this question, especially if they’ve been singled out in a group. As such, it’s best to ask everyone in a group for their pronouns, and also add that they can share if they’re comfortable doing so. That way, trans people aren’t isolated and treated differently from other peers, and can feel more comfortable in a group.

The best way to grow accustomed to using someone’s chosen pronouns is to believe them. When someone introduces themself with their chosen pronouns, it shows a sign of trust and strength, and the best thing we can do to applaud someone for this level of vulnerability is to believe that they are who they say they are. When someone doesn’t believe a trans person who shares their identity, it can lead to severe harm and distress.

And then, simply practice. Practice saying their name and pronouns, so that you can express to them that you value their presence in your life. Trans people understand that mistakes will happen, and that’s okay. But, trans people also can tell when someone is actively working to respect them or actively choosing to disrespect them.

Making an honest mistake with someone’s name or pronoun will always happen, and that process is harder for some than it is for others. If you are having a hard time, remember that your intent is still appreciated and meaningful, and ask the person in your life what you can do to best support them.

Language to Adopt and Avoid

Language matters. Learning common phrases, questions and words to adopt and to avoid can help you be a more supportive ally to trans people in your family and community.

Don’t Use These

Use These

Transgenders/Transgendered/transgenderism Trans person/trans man/trans woman
Transsexual/Transsexualism Transgender
Transgender as a noun (ex. he is a transgender) Transgender as an adjective (ex. he is transgender)
Preferred pronouns/preferred gender Pronouns/gender; True/correct pronouns/gender. Being trans isn't a choice, and using the language of "preferred" takes away the importance of addressing someone correctly. 
Gender Incongruence/Gender Identity Disorder/Body Dysmorphia/Gender Incontinence  Gender Dysphoria
Biological male/biological female Sex isn't the same as gender; using language about biology is a tactic to "other" and dehumanize trans people; refer to gender identity unless otherwise specified based on a trans person's comfortability.
“ladies and gentlemen,” “men and women,” “boys and girls” Such phrases should be avoided, as they isolate many trans and nonbinary people. While there’s not a direct gender-neutral phrase that can replace these, broader phrases such as “everybody,” “all people,” or “children” may work to replace these in some contexts.

Questions to Avoid


Avoid Asking These Questions


What is your real name? The name that a trans person has chosen is their real name, not the name they were assigned at birth. Most trans people are uncomfortable sharing their name given at birth, but if they do share it, it’s crucial that you don’t call them that name. Instead of inquiring about their birth name, avoid the topic altogether.
Have you had "the" surgery? Regardless of whether someone is transgender or not, it’s seen as offensive and improper to ask about their genitals. A trans person’s surgical status is private information, and it’s inappropriate to inquire about.
When did you become transgender? Being trans is something that is innate within a person, and not something someone “becomes” over time. Instead, ask “when did you begin your transition?” Or even “when did you realize you were trans?”
How do you have sex? A person's intimate sexual life should be left private to them, regardless of whether or not that person is trans. 

How to approach learning experiences

We live under a system of power where we’re conditioned to behave a certain way with regards to gender and sex, and as such, mistakes are bound to be made. That’s okay! It’s a vulnerable process to learn something new and mess up every now and then in the process of unlearning all that’s been taught about gender identity. However, it’s important to stay open to correction. Here are some ways to respond to corrections that communicate your intention for learning more:

  • The most important thing you can do is listen to a trans person. When speaking to a trans person about their life/trans topics in general, it’s important that you give them the proper attention they deserve. Instead of interrupting or interjecting your own opinions, listen to what they have to say. While you have an idea about what being trans means, they have a lived experience and wisdom with trans issues. Trans people face the discrimination in front of them every day, and it’s important to give them respect for those experiences and knowledge.
  • When corrected about someone’s name or pronouns, don’t be overly apologetic. If you made an honest mistake, there’s no need to apologize. Instead of apologizing and explaining why you messed up or how hard it is to learn, it’s most effective to say “thank you” and continue the conversation with the correction in mind. By doing this, you communicate that you respect the person with you, and you don’t get caught up in your own personal excuse narrative.
  • When asking questions, make sure you ask a trans person if asking questions about their identity/trans issues is okay with them first. While your continued process of learning is important, not every trans person has the capacity to be a part of that process.
  • You may accidentally ask an inappropriate question, and that’s okay too! If someone shares that they’re uncomfortable answering a certain question, respect that choice and move forward. If they’re comfortable answering why that question is inappropriate, feel free to ask and learn more.

Remember that trans people are not monolithic – there are many differences among people within the trans community. Just like cisgender (non-transgender) people, the trans community includes people from various political parties, religions, races or ethnicities, etc. Trans people will differ in their level of comfort with these questions or their opinions on topics, which is why it’s always important to ask rather than just assume!