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When we talk about our identities, we can use plenty of words. If you’re trans, nonbinary, or exploring your gender identity, you also get to decide which words feel like the best fit to describe you. 

If you’re a cisgender person learning about how to support trans and nonbinary people, using the language that people share with you is key to showing respect. 

Why are there so many different words?

Language is always changing. Describing identity can be complex.

For many people, language can be exciting and freeing. For others, terms and labels might feel confusing or overwhelming.

If you haven’t given much thought to gender and gender terms, you might wonder, “Why are there so many different ways to describe a person’s gender?”

Some words might not be familiar to you, even though trans and nonbinary communities have used them for a long time. Other words are newer.

How do I refer to someone who is transgender or nonbinary?

Use the words people use to describe themselves — or the words they tell you to use for them. It’s a good idea to ask new people about the name and pronouns they use, and always use the name and pronouns they tell you.

There’s no one set of words used by all trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people. Transgender and nonbinary people use many different terms to describe their identities and experiences, and not all terms fit all people.

If someone isn’t sure which identity labels fit them best, give them time to figure it out for themselves. Don’t put labels on people that they haven’t approved of. The terms a person uses may change over time, and that’s totally normal and OK.

What if I mess up by using the wrong name or pronoun?

We all make mistakes — just try to do better next time.

To avoid hurting transgender and nonbinary people, meet them with respect, awareness, and a desire to learn about gender. Someone with good intentions can still cause pain and embarrassment. These moments are an opportunity to listen, learn more about gender identities, and get used to using new terms or language.

Using the wrong pronouns or other gendered language for someone is called misgendering. Using a previous name of a transgender or nonbinary person is often called deadnaming.

Here are some things you can do if you misgender or deadname someone:

  • Recognize that you might have hurt that person. Misgendering or deadnaming someone can make them feel disrespected, invalidated, dismissed, embarrassed, unsafe, alienated, and/or dysphoric
  • Apologize, correct yourself, and move on.
  • Don’t share excuses or make a big deal about apologizing — it makes the situation about you.
  • If someone tells you that you misgendered or dead-named someone, don’t get defensive. That person is probably trying to make sure that everyone feels safe and seen. 
  • If you make mistakes often, pay attention to when and why it’s happening. While mistakes happen, misgendering or deadnaming someone often or on purpose can be very harmful.
  • Read about transphobia (also called transmisia).

Learn more about pronouns and other gendered language in our glossary.

Are you a teenager who wants support?

  • Q Chat Space hosts live chats where LGBTQ+ teens can give and receive support.

  • imi offers guides to help queer teens explore their identity and care for their mental health.