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Respecting Name and Pronouns

by Dr. Elyse Redden
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Two Spirit, trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming identities are becoming more visible. Such people have always been with us; however, there has been growing acceptance and recognition that these ways of being are legitimate and worthy of celebrating.

These identities are not mental illnesses. Two Spirit, trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people often have mental health difficulties, but these are typically related to discrimination and maltreatment. Sadly, many people are rejected and hurt by people they love, which is associated with difficulties such as depression, trauma, self-injury, and suicide. It is not the gender non-conforming part that causes mental illness; it is the rejection, abuse, and discrimination.

How can you support someone who is Two Spirit, trans, non-binary, or otherwise gender non-conforming or gender fluid?

  1. Listen. It is important to listen to each person about what they need and desire. Some (but not all) have gender dysphoria, which is distress because their bodies do not match their gender experience/identity. There are many strategies that may help, including connecting with people from their culture and/or community, changing one’s name and pronouns, changing the gender noted on legal documents, medical affirmation (like taking hormones or having surgery), and/or making fashion and aesthetic choices that fit with how they see themselves.
  2. Respect their identity. Parents lovingly selected names for their children and have longstanding ideas about their gender identities. Sometimes it takes effort to shift how you remember someone’s name and gender. Also, it is especially important for parents to show that they accept their children and are along for the journey. By putting in a genuine, consistent effort to use their name and pronouns, you are demonstrating acceptance. You are showing them that you are open to hearing about their journey and learning how to support them. This helps to decrease feelings of alienation and opens communication.
  3. Help them connect to Two Spirit, trans, non-binary, gender non-conforming, and gender-fluid people and organizations if they are open to it. https://ok2bme.ca/ is one local resource. Two-Spirit/Trans* Services – Anishnawbe Health Toronto (aht.ca) is an Indigenous resource.

Ultimately, trans, Two Spirit, non-binary, gender fluid, and gender non-conforming people are likely to face marginalization. I hope that you will do the learning that is necessary to be an ally to gender non-conforming people in your life. You decide if you will be a safe person for your loved one. Visit https://pflagcanada.ca/ for more online resources.


Thank you to Michelle Walt at OK2BME for her helpful feedback on this blog.