Health

A Therapist’s Script for Telling People About Your New Pronoun

Coming out as trans or gender non-conforming might mean hammering your new pronoun into people's vocabulary until they get it right.
May 4, 2018, 10:33pm
Melissa Podor / Getty

I identify as androgyne, which is a non-binary gender identity that exists somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between male and female. Although I may present as female, the sex I was assigned at birth—my inner sense of who I am—doesn’t align with that label. Instead, I feel like I occupy a space somewhere between male and female, making me TGNC (Transgender/Gender Non-Conforming). It took me 29 years to come to this realization, and that moment brought me enormous joy and relief. But it also introduced new worries: Which pronouns do I want to use for myself? Do I want to change my name? How do I want to look physically? And, probably the most pressing concern: How do I talk about this with the people in my life?

Advertisement

These concerns are normal, according to therapist Rachel Egbert, director of the PRIDE Healing Center, crisis counselor at the Crisis Text Line, and a psychology doctoral candidate at Long Island University. They all can be handled with more ease than you’d think—Egbert provides some useful lines you can use to communicate clearly and confidently about how you’d like people to refer to you.

IF: You want to tell the people in your life—family, friends, coworkers, schoolmates, healthcare professionals, government officials, and even strangers—what your new pronouns are
THEN: Say, “I wanted to let you know that I identify as androgyne, not female, and I’m using they/them pronouns and it’d be great if you could use those. I know there’ll probably be some slip-ups at first—I’m still getting used to it too—but it makes me feel supported to hear them.

When I came out to my mom and close friends, that’s the language I used. Egbert also recommends rehearsing these conversations, however you choose to have them, and to let people know when and where you’re comfortable using your pronouns (or new name). I told my mom in person because I knew she had less experience with diverse gender identities, but texted my friends and both situations played out pretty ideally.

At work or school, I’ve found that coming out to a teacher, guidance counselor, supervisor, or Human Resources first is best. That way, they can help you prepare for future conversations with other students or colleagues. When you’re ready, add your new pronouns to your email signature—mine has my name, job title, website URL, and “Pronouns: They/Them.”

Advertisement

When it comes to healthcare providers you’ve seen before, make sure to prepare for questions pertaining to future medical treatment, including the option for medical transition, if you choose. If you’re going to a new provider, know that more offices are using forms that allow you to choose a gender identity outside of the binary and to indicate your preferred name and pronouns. If this isn’t an option, Egbert says to tell them in person. “If the staff or doctors start asking inappropriate questions, treat you in any way that makes you uncomfortable, or seem uneducated about issues that are uniquely relevant to your care, then you should choose another doctor."

If you’re interacting with strangers and want to be proactive, you can say something like, “Hi, I’m Rae. I use they/them pronouns.” It may be awkward at first, but I’ve found it gets easier with time.

IF: Someone uses the wrong pronoun and you want to correct them
THEN: [In response to something like, “Hi. Jack, is that you? I haven’t seen you in years.”] Say this: "Actually, I go by Joanne now, and I use she/her pronouns. It’s really nice to see you. How have you been?”

Remember that although you may feel uncomfortable, you’re asking for the same treatment as any cisgender person—and you deserve that respect. Also know that most people aren’t trying to be hurtful. After all, the TGNC population in the United States is only about 1 million people, or 0.3 percent of the total US population. You may be the first person they’ve encountered who has transitioned pronouns—and that requires a learning curve for a lot of folks.

Advertisement

“The best advice I heard when I was coming out was to keep things in perspective,” Egbert says. “It may take time for others to get it all right, and reminded me that I also needed to be patient and allow them the time to process and accept the changes.”

One of my editors recently changed my bio to include she/her pronouns, so I emailed them saying, “Since I identify as androgyne, I use 'they' as pronouns, which is why I'd prefer 'Lazzara is the author of…' instead of using 'she.'” They replied with, “That is hugely helpful, thank you,” which was incredibly affirming.

IF: Someone misgenders you or dead-names you on purpose
THEN: Say, “I wanted to let you know that it hurts me to hear my dead name or former pronouns. Could you say ‘my child’ instead of ‘my son/daughter’? Or maybe use my first initial instead of my dead name? Thank you.”

Egbert suggests asking yourself: “Is the person who refuses to make the change to a new name/pronoun still willing to engage in conversations with you about this topic? Are they interested in learning more? Do they seem confused and with time and education they will get on board?” If so, perhaps giving them the time and the space to catch up is a worthwhile endeavor.

However, if the answer is "no," consider whether spending time with that person is beneficial to you. This is a difficult decision and the answer is different for everyone. “No one ever wants to lose their loved ones," Egbert notes. "However, sometimes in order to protect ourselves we need to take time away from toxic relationships.”

Advertisement

I came out to someone I loved who wanted to argue with me about my gender identity and pronouns. Of course I was hurt and upset, but I told him sternly that my being androgyne wasn’t up for debate and that he needed to be respectful. Afterward, he understood and respected my identity and pronouns. If he hadn’t, I would have ended the friendship.

IF: You’re being bullied, harassed, or shunned because of your transition
THEN: Say nothing.

I’m lucky that I have never experienced this monstrous treatment, but I do fear it—as do many other TGNC folks. To be clear, this can take multiple forms, including intimidation, name-calling, and physical and sexual assault.

In these instances, Egbert stresses not to engage. As much as you may want to defend yourself (and believe me, I’d want to), the safest thing to do is remove yourself from the situation, find a safe space, and seek help from your support system. Students can talk to a trusted, authoritative adult, and those at work can contact Human Resources. If necessary, call 911 or the local police, and if none of those options are appealing or available, contact the TransLifeline.

Coming to terms with your gender identity when you’re TGNC is complicated enough in a world populated by (mainly) cis people, but talking about it with the people in your life shouldn’t be an added stressor.

As Egbert says, “Walking through the world as a gender-diverse individual requires a suit of armor. Armor not made of defensiveness and hostility towards others, but rather self-compassion, self-worth, and pride in who you are and what you bring to each interaction.” I hope this script has given you everything you need to build that armor and live in it with confidence.

Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of Tonic delivered to your inbox.