Misgendering is the act of using the incorrect gender when referring to another person. It might involve using incorrect pronouns, using the wrong gendered name, or arguing with a person about their gender.

Misgendering may be accidental. For example, a person might mistake a nonbinary person for being a different gender and use incorrect pronouns until the person corrects them. It can also be intentional.

Intentional misgendering can be a tool of sexism and transphobia. Some people use it as a deliberate tool of oppression to harm people whose gender or gender expression they disagree with. For instance, a parent might insist on using an incorrect name for their transgender child, or an employer might refer to a man as a woman to insult and offend him.

The term “misgendering” often applies in a context where a person is transgender or gender nonconforming. Misgendering, though, can happen to anyone, and people of all genders may find it harmful, especially when it is deliberate.

This article explains what misgendering is, why it is harmful, and why it occurs. It also details how to avoid misgendering others.

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Misgendering means assigning the wrong gender to someone. This might involve calling them by the wrong pronouns or the wrong name. It could also include insisting that a person is wrong about their own gender.

Some examples include:

  • using he/him or she/her pronouns for a nonbinary person
  • calling a gender nonconforming person “it”
  • calling someone by the name they used prior to a gender transition, or “deadnaming
  • telling a person they are wrong about their gender
  • arguing with a person about their pronouns
  • deliberately calling someone by the wrong pronouns or gender as an insult

A person’s gender is an important part of their identity. To misgender someone is to ignore their identity and disregard their needs.

The practice can be harmful to people of all genders and gender presentations, including cisgender people. For example, a cisgender woman who is incorrectly gendered as a man may feel insecure about her gender presentation. A cisgender woman whose colleagues deliberately misgender her may be experiencing gendered harassment.

But misgendering can be a tool of political oppression directed at transgender people and gender nonconforming individuals.

A 2020 dissertation highlights that misgendering is common among trans people and can be a significant stressor.

A 2018 study of transgender individuals found that the frequency of misgendering correlates with more stigmatization. Misgendering can also contribute to a feeling of lack of social support.

Taken together, these data suggest that misgendering may contribute to worsening mental health. According to a 2020 study, transgender individuals have higher rates of suicide, suicidal thoughts, and mental health difficulties than cisgender populations. Misgendering may contribute to this epidemic.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

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Misgendering can be an accident. A person might not know that a new student at school is nonbinary or that their new colleague is transitioning genders.

But misgendering can also be a deliberate tool of oppression. Far-right politicians, for example, may refer to transgender individuals by their prior names and pronouns as a way to discredit them or undermine their identity.

Misgendering can also be a tool of transphobia.

A person’s pronouns, like their name, are important aspects of their identity. To refuse to use someone’s correct pronouns is to disregard their identity.

Misgendering can be a tool of oppression, including transphobia and sexism. Some reasons pronouns matter include:

  • The correct pronouns show respect for a person’s identity and humanity.
  • Using the correct pronouns helps avoid confusion.
  • Using incorrect pronouns is a sign of disrespect that can contribute to a hostile workplace, undermine relationships, or deter a person from seeking medical care if their healthcare professional does not use the correct pronouns.
  • Misgendering may contribute to worsening mental health and even suicidal thoughts.
  • Calling people by the correct pronouns promotes inclusivity and diversity.

Some strategies to avoid misgendering include:

  • fostering a culture in which people share their pronouns and names on a badge, in an email signature, or on paperwork
  • asking a person their pronouns and name
  • practicing using the right pronouns and names in conversations away from a person who has recently changed their name or pronouns
  • when the right pronoun is not clear, avoiding using pronouns and using the person’s name instead
  • using gender-neutral language, such as “people” or “folks” instead of “guys” or “sirs”
  • getting comfortable using they/them pronouns for nonbinary people and those whose pronouns are not clear
  • never arguing with a person about their identity or pronouns

If a person accidentally misgenders someone, they should apologize and then quickly move on.

Misgendering can happen to anyone. While transgender individuals can be a target, people of all genders can find it distressing to experience misgendering. Practicing inclusive policies fosters a safer environment for all people.

Misgendering directly affects mental health and may deter a person from seeking healthcare, so it is a significant public health issue. It is also not a political issue. Calling a person by their name and pronouns is simply a matter of respect and correct grammar.