Illustration: Joey Guidone

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Address Yourself
As the lead singer of the band Against Me!, Laura Jane Grace is accustomed to the spotlight. But she uses her impressive vocals for more than punk-rock choruses: Since she started her gender transition in 2012—an experience she recounted in her 2016 memoir Tranny—Grace has become a vibrant spokesperson for LGBT causes. In 2012, she released a ten-episode web series called True Trans, in which she traveled the country gathering the stories of other members of the trans community and dispelling myths; she also sits on the board of If You Want It, a nonprofit that supports a more expansive understanding of gender. One vital step toward that goal is reframing our everyday speech—for Grace, even tiny words like he or she are a matter of R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

We're required to claim our gender countless times a week, whether deciding which public restroom to use or checking “Mr.” or “Mrs.” when ordering flowers online. And though you might never have had to think twice about your pronouns, for a trans person like me, they can be tricky. On one hand, that little part of speech isn’t the only thing that defines me. I know who I am, and I’m not devastated every time I’m incorrectly called “he.” But using someone’s preferred pronouns (mine are “she/her”) is an immediate indicator of courtesy and respect.

When it comes to being misgendered, I take things on a case-by-case basis. Recently, an old friend accidentally called me “he.” And, yes, it bummed me out. But it didn’t end our friendship— it was a simple mistake. I don’t need to be treated with kid gloves. In general, transitioning has taught me greater empathy and acceptance.

I’m really appreciative of anyone who asks how I’d like to be identified. Of course, it’s best not to shout “Hey, what are your pronouns?!” across a dinner table, but discreetly pulling someone aside to ask “How would you like to be referred to?” is easy to do.

When you’re unsure about someone else, try reverting to gender-neutral options like “they/them/their.” If that requires an expanded way of thinking and communicating, then so be it. Speech changes over time: Things that would have been linguistically proper 200 years ago would sound absurd now. Language has evolved, and so should we.