Jay Sennett |||

Manners: Those Pesky Pronouns

Manners get a bad rap, I think. American informality gets confused with poor behavior. Manners are really about making other people feel comfortable around me. By making other people feel comfortable around me, I feel more comfortable with myself.

The purpose of manners is that simple. I know I want people to feel comfortable around me, especially if they are struggling or have a problem they want to talk through. They can’t do that, though, if I’m known for talking with my mouth full or I use offensive language, both of which I used to do more frequently. I study manners to save me from myself.


Having lived in Hong Kong and Japan for a number of years, I learned at a young age the importance of cross-cultural manners. I’ve also learned manners and cultural are intertwined. This means context is always appropriate.

What I want to talk about today is an area of manners extremely important to transgender and transsexual people. Pronouns, which one, if any, to use, and when to use them, are serious concerns for us. Using the wrong pronoun at the wrong time may not only make a trans person uncomfortable, it can be life threatening. I cannot think of other failed attempts at manners that have such potentially dire consequences.

So here is the mannerly approach with transgender and transsexual people with regard to pronouns

If you are unsure as to what pronoun to use and/or when to use which pronoun, ask!

Realize you may make a mistake and use an incorrect pronoun. It happens. I sometimes have to think through which pronoun to use when I am describing my past, especially my childhood. If you do use a pronoun other than the preferred pronoun, keep going. I think it is important to not draw attention to one mistake. However, if you keep using the wrong one, then you need to ask yourself why you keep making your friend/child/parent/lover so uncomfortable. While doing this, you should apologize.

I know it may take some work, but I find using the correct one in private, helps develop the new habit. In the end it is worth it, as is the pursuit of mannerly behavior at all times. You will die well-loved and well-liked.∗

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