How to Correctly Address Elliot Page and Other People Who Identify As Transgender

The following article is intended as a guide and is not a comprehensive resource for correctly addressing people who identify as transgender.

After actor Elliot Page came out as transgender earlier this week he was praised and supported by the Hollywood and LGBTQIA communities. 

The star of The Umbrella Academy shared his truth on Instagram on Decmeber 1 writing, in part, “Hi friends, I want to share with you that I am trans, my pronouns are he/they and my name is Elliot.”

The announcement was quickly picked up by the media but sadly, not all coverage was approached consistently. 

Studio 10 host Sarah Harris has since issued an apology to Page after using incorrect pronouns when relating the actors’ news. On the show, she misgendered the actor and also referred to his transition as “confusing.” Harris apologised on Twitter and then again on air on Thursday morning. 

“I completely got flustered around the pronouns and made a joke,” Harris said. “That was insensitive, it was a genuine mistake and I am so sorry. It was just a brain snap.”

“Lots of people said don’t apologise, but I felt really lousy and I would hate to have anyone feel like I was attacking them in that way. It was just a moment. I am really sorry about that and genuinely sorry. I like to own my mistakes and it made me feel pretty lousy, so that is my apology.”

Harris’ incorrect use of pronouns brings to the foreground a deeper conversation around the appropriate ways to address and refer to members of the transgender community. 

According to the National Centre for Transgender Equality, “Transgender people are people whose gender identity is different from the gender they were thought to be at birth. “Trans” is often used as shorthand for transgender.”

Anticipating such a discussion, was 17-year old Martin, a trans and queer creator from Canada who took the liberty of sharing what they call “very basic trans etiquette” on Twitter.

In the thread, Martin relays that it is imperative to make the effort to use the right pronouns and to correct others when they use the wrong ones. Martin says that it’s okay if you make a mistake and to correct yourself and to move on. 

Also important to remember is to no longer use the person’s birth name (it’s called deadnaming, but more on that later) and to absolutely never ask a trans person what surgeries they have had or are planning to have in the future. 

“Everyone transitions in their own way and at their own pace,” Martin explains. “You don’t get to police that. Don’t ask them if their label on their sexuality has changed. They’ll talk about that in their own time. Just be f–king respectful, people, it’s not hard.”

Being respectful as a cisgender person (a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex) interacting with a member of the transgender community hinges on a willingness to listen and learn and an appreciation that feelings about gender can be complex with no “one size fits all” term for every person who identifies differently than you. 

According to a guide published by Planned Parenthood, it’s important to ask people what language they would like you to use and always use the pronouns they tell you. Remember to also keep in mind that the language a person prefers may change over time so be respectful and make the effort to adapt if that is the case. 

Equally important is being aware of which words and phrases are outdated or offensive and to avoid using them. Even if certain terms were “acceptable” when you were younger, it is crucial to update your vocabulary to reflect what is sensitive now. Terms such a hermaphrodite, tranny, transsexual, sex change operation, shemale and pre/post-op are not okay to use unless you are specifically told by someone that that is how they identify. 

Now, remember earlier when we mentioned “deadnaming”? Here’s why you should never do it. 

Referring to a person who is transgender by their non-affirmed name can feel like a dismissal of the person’s identity and make them feel as though you don’t support their transition. In other words, it can invalidate their lived experience and potentially invoke any trauma or feeling of negativity connected to their birth name. 

Keep in mind that people who identify as transgender are disproportionately discriminated against and suffer alarmingly high rates of violence, isolation, harassment, bullying and the mental health issues that stem from such treatment. 

So, while referring to a transgender person by a name that they no longer align with might seem like a harmless slip of the tongue, we must remember that it is one part of a much larger problem that we should all be working to dismantle. 

For more information on the correct terminology and etiquette when interacting with a person who identifies as transgender, please visit GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) and familiarise yourself with their guidelines. 

Additional Resources

— Trans Pride Australia: Trans Pride Australia creates a safe and supportive space to: Connect with other TGD people and family, friends and allies in a closed online environment.

— The Gender Centre: The Gender Centre is committed to developing and providing services and activities, which enhance the ability of people with gender issues to make informed choices.

— LGBTQIA Support Services – ReachOut Australia: A resource for people who have questions about, or feel like they need support related to, sexuality or gender.

— National LGBTI Health Alliance: The National LGBTI Health Alliance is the national peak health organisation in Australia for organisations and individuals that provide health-related programs, services and research focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people (LGBTI) and other sexuality, gender, and bodily diverse people and communities.

— QLife: QLife provides Australia-wide anonymous, LGBTI peer support and referral for people wanting to talk about a range of issues including sexuality, identity, gender, bodies, feelings or relationships.

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