Home > Trans Equality > Use of pronouns
If you know someone who wishes to change the pronoun by which they are referred (for example from she to he), it is very important that you respect this, even if you initially find it difficult to consider them that gender.
In employment and when providing goods, facilities and services, it can be unlawful gender reassignment harassment to refuse to respect a trans person’s pronouns.
Most trans women will use female pronouns (she / her) and most trans men will use male pronouns (he / him). Most non-binary people use gender neutral pronouns (they / them) in the singular sense. You may also occasionally meet a trans person who uses less familiar gender neutral pronouns (such as zie or per) but this is currently rare in Scotland.
Sometimes the situation can be a little more complex: a person may use one pronoun (and name) in some situations, and a different pronoun (and name) at other times. This might be because the person is gender fluid in their identity or it might be because they don’t feel able to be accepted as themselves in some situations.
A very small number of trans people don’t mind what pronouns people use for them, but the majority of trans people find being misgendered with the wrong pronoun upsetting and hurtful.
In place of the gendered titles of address (Mr, Miss, Mrs, Ms), you might see the use of a newer gender-neutral title of Mx. Sometimes people may just opt not to use any title.
Once someone has let you know their pronouns and title, it is really important to try and get them right as much as possible, even if they are new or unusual to you.
If you are speaking briefly with someone and you are unsure how the person would wish to be addressed, then it is usually best to just use the gender neutral pronoun they and to avoid using any gendered terms than risk insulting them by guessing wrong.
When the interaction is long enough, you could ask the person their name (and title) to try to determine which pronoun to use, or you could politely ask: “which pronouns do you use?” or “how would you like to be addressed?”
It is increasingly common for people to state their pronouns in their email signatures or on their social media profiles. If you are holding an online meeting, you can ask people to put their pronouns alongside their name or to type them in the chat box. This can be particularly helpful even when people are not trans because poor webcam image quality can result in accidental misgendering.
If you accidentally use the wrong pronoun, just apologise once and continue with the conversation. You don’t need to apologise profusely or try to explain why it happened – this often only causes more awkwardness. Take extra care not to repeat the mistake.
When referring to a trans person in their absence, you must still ensure you use their correct pronouns. This is important in order to be respectful of their identity and also maintaining the consistency will help to prevent confusion, uncertainty and embarrassment for everyone.
It is very important to make the effort to get everyone’s name and pronouns right.
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Scottish Trans Alliance (Scottish Trans for short) is the Equality Network project to improve gender identity and gender reassignment equality, rights and inclusion in Scotland. The Equality Network is a leading Scottish lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) equality and human rights charity.
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