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What is Misgendering?

Palesa N.

In order to understand the concept of misgendering a person, one must first understand the concept of gender at its core.

Gender identity is not the same sex they were assigned. Unless one is is cisgender, their gender identity is not contingent on their sex assignment. It is important to remember that gender identity is fluid and is a life-long personal experience. Therefore, one must always note that gender identities extend beyond two genders (man and woman) and into non-binary, agender, gender-neutral and various other identities that one might resonate with.

A person’s gender is far more introspective than society would have you believe. Some people identify with a gender different from the sex they were assigned at birth. Using incorrect pronouns when referring to someone is not affirming of their gender identity, it is important to therefore use their own pronouns and name that they identify with.

Personal pronouns are used to refer to people, they are typically gendered. Below is a list of them:

  • She/her/hers
  • He/him/his
  • Gender-neutral pronouns are They/them/theirs

Cisgender V.S Transgender

Cisgender (Cis)

This is when a person identifies with the sex assigned to them at birth, i.e. someone assigned male at birth who identifies as a man is cisgender.

Transgender (Trans)

Someone who is trans does not identify with the sex assigned to them at birth, a trans person is not cis. This is something that has grown in awareness in recent years as more and more come to grips with the constructed nature of gender. Being transgender is not a new concept.

Gender Identity Vs. Assigned Sex

Sex Assigned At Birth:

When a child is born, the doctor in charge will assign a sex to said infant based on their sexual organs. This tends to follow the title ‘male’,  ‘female’ or intersex (depending on chromosomal features etc.).

Infants that are not born intersex are therefore assigned male at birth (AMAB) or assigned female at birth (AFAB). This puts emphasis on the role that doctors play in the assignment of sex upon birth.

Gender Identity:

A person’s gender identity is not the same the sex assigned at birth. Gender is far more personal and inward-looking than many may assume, the experience of gender identity is vast and fluid, to many, grappling with this is a life-long journey. Gender identities are not limited to man and woman, contrary to hegemonic ideas -they extend to non-binary, agender, gender-queer and a variety of other gender identities that one may resonate with.

Gender Binary

The constructed nature of gender is such that it has been taught that there are only two genders and gender performance thereof. People in the world have been divided into either one or the other, where a gender spectrum is deviant to the system. It is this system that assigns gender roles to ‘men and women’, where someone’s specific gender identity is indicative of how they are expected to behave in the world. The concept of being gender fluid in this system therefore threatens key tenants of these gender binaries.


What is Misgendering?

To misgender someone is to refer to them using language that does not affirm their gender identity. For instance, referring to nonbinary people whose gender expression is seemingly feminine, with pronouns they do not identify with is offensive and can be considered discrimination.

How Misgendering Impacts Transgender Identities

Transgender people are often at the receiving end of being misgendered. Misgendering a person not only shows a lack of respect, but it also invalidates their gender identity and personhood thereof. Regardless of the possibility of one having good intentions, misgendering a person can affect their mental health and self-actualization in general.

Nonetheless, there are ways to potentially resolve misgendering a person if you do so.


How to Act After Misgendering Someone

If you have forgotten to use gender-neutral language or the correct pronouns -it is important that you correct yourself without creating a spectacle. Misgendering someone is already an unsettling experience for them, making spectacle only male the misgendered person more uncomfortable.

How to avoid Misgendering

Avoid assumption

Someone’s pronouns are to always be asked for. Never assume based on appearance.


If you are not aware of someone’s gender pronouns, ask them. You can add your own pronouns into the question “I’m Kelly, my pronouns are she/her. What are your?”. This way, you have weaved the question into casual conversation.

Be sure of their name

If you’re uncomfortable with pronouns or this is new territory for you, inserting someone’s name in place of a pronoun can be tempting. This is obviously better than misgendering someone, but over time, the overuse of someone’s name can become loud and depending on the person could hurt them


You might not recall the details of this entire article, but it is important to remember key elements in order to respect non-binary people, the trans community and the general complexities of gendered language and gender identity thereof.  Below is a list of things to remember:

  • Gender identity and assigned sex at birth are not the same thing
  • Pronouns are not a preference, they are personal pronouns. Never ask “what are your preferred pronouns?” always ask “What are your personal pronouns?”
  • Use less gendered language on a daily basis.

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