How to Address a Trans Person

One of the most common topics of conversation with cis people about trans manners is how to address trans people. Do you use sir or ma’am if you aren’t sure how the person wants to be addressed? What about non binary people? This is a difficult topic and I’m not the expert. But as a cis person navigating trans spaces fairly frequently I can give you some tips.

If you meet someone who’s gender or sex you are unsure of you shouldn’t just ask. That’s not only rude you will make the person feel terrible. Do you want to be asked that question? Well then don’t ask. But we use a language where formal terms include gendered terms so you might think you are trapped!!! You aren’t. If you are meeting the person in a networking or professional setting use the same skills you would use if you met them before, or worse aren’t sure if you met them before, but can’t recall their name. Introduce the person you’re with. “Hi, I just wanted to introduce you to the guest I brought from out of town for the reception, Ms. Jessica Smith.” The other person will likely then introduce themselves. Great. Problem solved.

But what if you’re a service person at a restaurant or a cashier or work in another job where you see strangers all day and are expected to gender them. “Ma’am would you like more water?” You don’t need to use gendered words to be polite. You can just say “excuse me, may I get you more water?” The small change in phrasing avoids using gendered language. For a non binary or trans person you may be saving them embarrassment or sadnesses. Get use to avoiding gendered language when you can. Is it always possible? Of course not. However because my wife isn’t out yet but I really hate using he or him or husband I use spouse or partner or her name instead.

What if you make a mistake? Don’t even apologize. Move on. Correct and move on. That’s it. The end.

There are other things you can do to help the trans and gender non conforming people in your life. Even those you don’t know about. If you are in management at a company you can start using preferred pronouns as part of your signature line and as a question with new clients. Not only does it help trans people it helps cis people become aware of the issue. You can include your pronouns in your social media profiles for the same reason along with your gender.

Language matters. These are easy things you can do to improve people’s lives. I hope you’ll consider them.

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