Catalyst's Pocket Guide To Pronouns

The Two Golden Rules

  • 1) Ask! Preferred pronouns and terms can vary from person to person. The following information represents the most common usage, but many may identify with different terms, prefer different pronouns, or expect different ettiquette. If in doubt, take the person aside to privately and politely ask what their preferred pronouns are!
2) Many people who identify as transgender are not out of the closet and ready to use the pronouns that reflect their proper gender. If a friend or family member comes out to you in private, make sure you have their permission to use pronouns that reflect how they identify in public. They may not be in a safe position to come out entirely and may need you to continue using improper pronouns. Don't surprise them!

What does it all mean?

Transgender or "trans" is an umbrella term referring to a person whose self-identity does not conform to traditional definitions of a man or woman. Transgender as a term can refer to many different gender identities, including those who were assigned as one gender at birth who identify as the other, those who may identify with both or many gender identities, those who may not identify as any gender,  and those who identify as a third gender. Below are some words often associated with transgender people and their definitions.
A person who identifies as a girl/woman, but was raised as a boy. Also often known as a Transwoman.
MTF (Male-To-Female):
Pronouns that can refer to anybody of any gender. The English language has a gender-neutral pronoun, "They/their". Some prefer other gender-neutral pronouns such as "ze".
Gender-neutral pronouns
The pronoun(s) an individual is most comfortable with. Some people are okay with more than one, others may not have a marked preference.
Preferred Pronouns
A person who is cisgender or "cis" has their body reflect their gender identity. This gender identity is the most common. Despite being common, one shouldn't refer to this gender identity as "being normal" as that implies abnormality of other gender identities.
A person who is bigender identifies as two genders. Possibly both at once, or alternating between the two. Note, the two genders are not necessarily man or woman.
Genders beyond "man" and "woman" (which are genders and not to be confused with the biological sexes "male and female") are often referred to as third genders. In some cultures, third genders have played an important role since antiquity.
FTM (Female to male):
A person who identies as a boy/man, but was raised as a girl. Also often refered to as a transman.
An individual who is agender does not identify with any gender.

Attaching the pronoun to the person

  • Because it can't be stressed enough, ask. Only they can tell you what pronouns they like!
  • MTF  individuals/transwomen typically prefer female pronouns and identify as women. She and her pronouns should be used, along with feminine nouns such as "actress", "waitress", "grandmother" etc. and she should be referred to as a woman like any other. If you may have formerly known her as your brother, or son, it would now be proper to call her your sister,  or daughter, Former familial terms are not exempt, you will want to refer to them as their proper gender. A transwoman who is (exclusively) attracted to men would be a heterosexual woman, a transwoman who is (exclusively) attracted to women would be a homosexual woman.
  • FTM  individuals/transmen typically prefer male pronouns and identify as men. He and his pronouns are typically preferred, along with masculine nouns such as "actor," "waiter", "grandfather" etc., and he should be referred to as a man like any other. If you may have formerly known him as your sister  or daughter,  he would now go by the terms brother, or son. Former familial terms are not exempt, you will want to refer to him as his proper gender.  A transman who is attracted (exclusively) to women would be a heterosexual man, a transman who is attracted (exclusively) to men would be a homosexual man.
  • People who are agender should be asked about their pronouns. Gender neutral pronouns are typically preferred. It should be noted that many agender individuals may object to being under the umbrella term "transgender" because being transgender implies having a gender.
  • People who are bigender should be asked about their pronouns. It is possible for some individuals to not have a fixed prefered pronoun, and for their prefered pronouns to change based on how they identify.

What NOT to do

Even if your intentions may be good, careless questions, statements, or phrasings can lead to hurting transgender people. Keep in mind that the following should not be done:
  • Phrasing their birth name as their "real" name. Chances are, you don't even need to know or bring up that name, they don't go by it for a reason. If you actually really do need to know, there are other ways to phrase it, such as referring to it as their birth name.
  • Do not ask them if they are undergoing sexual reassignment surgery, or any questions about their genetalia. Not only is it insensitive, it is highly invasive. Would you be okay with somebody asking you questions about your privates and expecting you to go into detail and describe them?
  • Do not out them. If they want somebody to know about their gender identity, they will. It is not your place to tell.
  • Don't tell them they aren't a real woman/man, or that cisgendered women and men are in any way more legitimate than them. A gender is not something that can be defined as either real or not real to begin with, and no good can come from policing somebody's gender expression. Just don't do it.