3 Tips: Name Etiquette and the Transgender Community


Bruce Jenner’s highly publicized "20/20" interview with Diane Sawyer is sure to dominate water cooler conversations this week. In it, the former Olympic gold medalist best known for being the patriarch of the Kardashians opened up about being transgender and transitioning to life as a woman. 

For some, this may have been their first exposure to the subject of what it means to be transgender, an umbrella term for people whose gender identity or gender expression differs from what sex they were assigned at birth. While it’s impossible to know exactly how many transgender people live in the U.S., common estimates site 700,000, which is more than the population of Washington, D.C.

As stories such as Bruce Jenner's and programs such as HBO's "Orange is the New Black" and Amazon Prime's "Transgender," which both feature transgender title characters, catapult this community into mainstream consciousness, it's valuable to understand the naming conventions that come with it. How to identify those in the transgender community can be an intrinsically delicate matter that warrants sensitivity.

Here are some tips from GLAAD:

Don't ask a transgender person what their "real name" is

Respect the name a transgender person is currently using. If you already know someone's prior name, don't share it without the person's explicit permission. Sometimes a transgender person's birth name is one that causes anxiety and is something they wish to shed completely.

If you don't know what pronouns to use, ask

If you are unsure of which pronoun to use, and you really need to know, just ask. Most transgender people won’t be offended and see this as a sign of respect. Sometimes it will be "he/him" or "she/her," and other times the preference is "them/they."

If you make a mistake with a pronoun or name, move on

Apologize and let it go. Consider it a teaching moment and avoid drawing attention to it, especially if you're in a crowd setting -- no need to make things uncomfortable.