The Correct Way to Ask Someone Their Gender Pronouns

If you're a cisgender person, you might not have given much thought to your pronouns, but they're still a part of your identity. However, transgender or non-binary people can often find themselves being misgendered.

Although often accidental, using incorrect pronouns or a "dead name" can have a serious impact on a trans or non-binary person's mental health. With over 300 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced so far in 2022—including 137 aimed at the transgender community—it's more important than ever to get someone's pronouns right.

A number of big names have come out as transgender or non-binary in the past few years, such as actor Elliot Page, The Crown star Emma Corrin, and Queer Eye's Jonathan Van Ness.

Since transitioning from female to male in 2020, Page has used "he/him" and "they/them" pronouns. Corrin's Instagram bio lists their pronouns as "she/they," while Van Ness uses "he/she/they."

Nevertheless, pronouns don't have to remain static. Demi Lovato recently shared their decision to readopt "she/her" pronouns on social media, alongside the "they/them" pronouns they'd been using since coming out as non-binary last year.

How to ask someone their pronouns politely
Demi Lovato is seen at 'Jimmy Kimmel Live' on July 14, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. Non-binary star Demi Lovato recently readopted "she/her" pronouns alongside "they/them." RB/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

In an interview with Spout Podcast's Tamara Dhia, Lovato said they felt "they/them" alone wasn't the right fit anymore.

"Recently, I've been feeling more feminine, and so I've adopted 'she/her' again," they said.

"But I think what's important is, like, nobody's perfect. Everyone messes up pronouns at some point, and especially when people are learning, it's just all about respect."

Research conducted by The Pew Research Center found that one in four Americans now know someone who is transgender, while a quarter know someone who identifies as non-binary.

Still, a recent YouGov America poll revealed that 50 percent of Americans surveyed said they'd feel uncomfortable or somewhat uncomfortable using a gender-neutral pronoun when asked to. Confidence in using gender-neutral pronouns varied widely by age and political affiliation, as well as whether or not participants had met a non-binary person.

How To Politely Ask Someone Their Preferred Pronouns

M Fok is a counselor specializing in LGBTQ+ and gender transitioning issues. Fok said using the wrong pronoun can cause individuals different levels of emotional distress, which can have an impact on their confidence and mental well-being.

Fok told Newsweek: "We can never fully understand how much this could impact someone's emotional health because we might think this is just a one-time mistake.

"However, the person who was being wrongly addressed might be experiencing this multiple times a week or even every day.

"This can cause self-blaming, low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety."

Identifying as non-binary, Fok has a special understanding of their patient's experiences. Fok said that asking someone their pronouns doesn't have to be complicated, but you should be mindful of making assumptions.

Fok said: "Avoid suggesting the pronoun in the question. For example, "are you a she/he/they?".

"Instead, we can ask the person, how would you like to be addressed? Or what would be your preferred pronoun?"

If you're nervous, Fok recommends explaining your intention for asking, such as "I'm interested in learning more about gender identity" or "I'm interested in knowing more about you."

What To Do If You Accidentally Call Someone The Wrong Pronouns?

Fok said "accidents happen," but it's important that you apologize and correct yourself.

They added: "You sometimes might accidentally call someone by the wrong name too.

"Apologize and explain that it was not intentional and correct yourself right away by addressing the person with the right pronoun."

Anna is a 23-year-old Social Researcher based in the UK. They came out as queer at age 17 and non-binary at 20.

How to ask someone their pronouns politely
Anna came out as queer at age 17 and non-binary at 20 Anna

"It's a long story," Anna told Newsweek. "It was a lightbulb moment of hearing non-binary and genderqueer people speak and it clicking, 'that's why I've almost always felt this way'.

"I realized that just because I'm definitely not on 'one end' of the binary, doesn't mean I'm at the 'other end.'"

Anna said using the wrong pronouns can feel invalidating, especially if you discover the person is using the wrong pronouns behind your back too.

They said: "For me, my gender sometimes feels like a rather small part of my whole self, and being misgendered forces it to be the central issue because it's jarring.

"Using the wrong pronouns unnecessarily brings focus to my gender."

Anna agrees that if you get a pronoun wrong, the best approach is to not call too much attention to it.

They said: "A quick sorry and correction is best.

"If you feel a longer explanation is needed, talk to them at another time and work to carry on your conversation as before.

"Practice is a huge part of this, so people are unlikely to be angry with you!"

What To Do If You Are 'Struggling To Adjust' To Someone's Pronouns

If you're struggling to adjust to someone's new pronouns, Fok suggests asking a friend or someone who feels comfortable to practice with you, or remind you to correct yourself in conversations.

Fok advised: "If we make a mistake, they can remind us, giving us the opportunity to correct ourselves.

"We can explain our intention to them and why we would like to do this. We should always let the person know we are new to this and still learning, so occasional mistakes might happen, but we can invite them to remind us whenever they notice us making a mistake."