It happens! Here’s a quick & easy guide for how to deal when you realize you’ve used the wrong pronouns for somebody.
DO: Acknowledge the mistake, apologize briefly, and move on.
Examples: “Oops, I mean ‘they,’ sorry. Anyway, as I was saying…” “Ah! Sorry. You’re right. They said…”
(Mistakes happen! We get it! Everyone messes this up from time to time! I sure do!)
DO: Practice using their correct pronouns when they’re not around.
(Practice helps! And if you’re only conscious of using correct pronouns when that person is in front of you, it’ll make the switch WAY harder.)
DO NOT: Overapologize.
Example: “Omigosh I am so sorry I know that’s awful I’m sorry, I feel awful, I am the worst, please forgive me” etc.
(This puts the other person in the awkward role of comforting you, when you were the one who screwed up their pronouns. When you do this, you make the error about you and your discomfort instead of about you causing harm or discomfort to the other person. Don’t be that person.)
DO NOT: Tell them it’s hard.
Examples: “Ughh I know, I’m sorry, I’m trying to overwrite 40 years of programming on this.” “It’s so hard to switch, my brain just doesn’t like ‘they’ as a singular pronoun,” etc.
(What you’re telling the person is that giving them respect is too hard and an unpleasant inconvenience for you. How would you feel if somebody always mispronounced your name and they said this to you when you corrected them?)
SERIOUSLY DO NOT: Hint or say that they are asking too much by asking you to switch the pronouns you use for them, or say you just aren’t going to change.
Examples: “I’m sorry, this is too hard for me. You’re just going to have to put up with me using ‘she’ pronouns for you.” “I’m too old; I don’t think I’m going to be able to make the shift.” “You just changed pronouns a few years ago and it took me so long to get the hang of that, you can’t ask me to do it again.” etc.
(I don’t even need to elaborate on why this is bad. Please don’t ever do this.)
Related post: How to use gender-inclusive language
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