I am a PhD student, and also trans (MtF, she/her). I've recently done some work with a research group based at the same institute as me, and this has led to me being CC'd in a few emails to various people, some of whom I don't know, and most of whom I don't know very well.

There is a senior academic who I have known for several years, since long before I came out as trans. They are definitely the most well-known and senior person involved in any of these email chains (not only because of academic rank, but because they are highly respected by just about everyone in the field). They are a very lovely person who I respect greatly.

Unfortunately, they have (I assume) accidentally misgendered me while referring to the work I contributed in an email that was directly addressed to a few people I have never met (although I do know of them). CC'd are a number of people who do know me.

My question is essentially: what is the best way (if any) to address and correct the misstep?

Since my pronouns are in my email signature, I had initially tried to find anything I could send in the (now growing) email chain in order to make it clear to everyone what my actual pronouns are. However, I don't think there is anything I can contribute meaningfully, and I'm only CC'd in the emails to keep me up to date with the status of the larger project.

I also don't think it's an egregious mistake done in bad faith. Like I said, I have immense respect for this senior academic, and I have not at all perceived any change in their attitude towards me since I came out. So I believe it truly is an honest mistake that happens from time to time, so if I don't have any way to casually correct it I think I'll just leave it.

I'll also point out that if this had happened during a meeting or conversation, I would have immediately corrected it. The problem here is that it's in an email chain I don't really have any other reason to intervene into, so it feels unnecessary to send an email and add to the length of the chain with no more than a correction to something I don't think was done intentionally.

  • 79
    For what it's worth, I've had to clarify the gender of cis women in conversations, and had people clarify to me that the academic I was speaking about was a woman. This tends to occur when the name is one that is predominantly given to the other gender in the speakers native language. For example, Sasha, in the UK is normally a woman, but the only Sasha I have worked with is a Russian man. I do understand that it is more frustrating from a trans perspective, but it's not a problem unique to trans folk. This is good, because people are already used to making this mistake and being corrected.
    – Clumsy cat
    Sep 1, 2021 at 8:57
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    Just to clarify, does the senior person know you came out and call you by your new name (if you changed names)?
    – Kimball
    Sep 1, 2021 at 14:48
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    To other readers, commenters and answer-writers, I think everyone knows that cis people are occasionally misgendered as well. IMO it can come across as somewhat patronizing, even if well-intentioned, to repeatedly remind the OP of this well-known fact. Sep 2, 2021 at 2:20
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    @aquirdturtle I do know what you mean, but as it happens I'm also trans.
    – Clumsy cat
    Sep 2, 2021 at 7:33
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    @Legisey my main concern was that I was being incorrectly introduced to people I didn't know. And even though it was a typo, it's quite a bit more meaningful than typing "buisness" instead of "business". Sep 3, 2021 at 6:10

4 Answers 4


First, I think it may be useful to note that in academic collaborations where folks haven't met in person, misgendering often happens even to people who are not trans, due to ambiguity and cultural differences (e.g., "Jean", "Kinjal", "Xue Yi"). As such, you don't even need to bring up your trans status if you don't want to: this can be about your identity right now, and not the history of how you figured that out.

I think that you don't need to dance around the subject or find an excuse for an email. If it's important to you to be correctly gendered, then you can simply say that. The question then is whether you feel that it is important for the correction to go to the folks who don't know you on the cc list, or if you are more focused on just reminding your senior colleague.

If you mostly want to just remind your senior colleague, you can send them a private note like:

Hi, [NAME]:

In your recent email to [GROUP], I saw that you accidentally used the wrong pronoun to refer to me, and I wanted to remind you that my pronouns are she/her. Apologies for needing to bring this up, and I'm sure that it was unintentional, but it's something that's important to me.

Polite, non-threatening, and to the point. It also (unfortunately likely necessarily) does some of the emotional work for the interaction.

If it's important to you to have the full group see the correction, you can do something similar for the full cc list:

Hi, folks:

Apologies for adding to the email traffic, but I saw that the wrong pronouns were accidentally used to refer to me recently: my pronouns are actually she/her. Again, apologies for needing to bring this up, and I'm sure that it was unintentional, but it's something that's important to me.

In both cases, by making it clear that you presume good intent and simply and straightforwardly asking for a correction, then if the folks you're dealing with are indeed well-intentioned, they'll likely just make the the adjustment and move on. Most people do not want to be the person who starts unnecessary drama in a group, and so if you make it a simple low-drama interaction, they're not likely to make it into a big deal either.

Just leaving it for your signature to correct the next time that you email, on the other hand, is more of a passive-aggressive maneuver that's likely to be ineffective and leave you more upset.

Don't be surprised, however, if mistakes do continue to happen, especially from your older colleague, just because the wrong thing got stuck in somebody's head. For example (though not about gender) I have had a couple of colleagues who for years and years used the name "Jack" to refer to me rather than "Jake" because due to something linguistic or cultural my actual name just cannot stick in their heads.

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    I am not sure how I feel about "apologies for needing to bring this up." I feel like correcting one's name and pronoun should be a fundamental right, not something anyone would need to apologize for.
    – ComFreek
    Sep 1, 2021 at 16:21
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    @ComFreek I absolutely agree with you. Nevertheless, as a tactic it can be valuable--that's what I mean about doing some of the emotional work. Within my own personal cultural context, social apologies are no more or less meaningful than a "please" or "thank you", but others should adjust for their own environment.
    – jakebeal
    Sep 1, 2021 at 17:25
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    I feel like instead of saying "my pronouns are XYZ" you should just say "I'm a girl/boy", unless you are non binary. Saying "My pronouns are XXXX" outs you as trans and almost gives leeway to not referring to you as a girl/boy.
    – Krupip
    Sep 1, 2021 at 19:48
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    @Krupip ... and that's why one of the good actions that supportive cis folks can take is to give their pronouns. I know a lot of cis folks who do so precisely to normalize the offering of pronouns and make it not a marker.
    – jakebeal
    Sep 1, 2021 at 21:05
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    @Krupip I dunno, if someone sent me an email in a big thread saying "Just want to clarify, I'm a boy!" that would come across very strangely. I think you need to explain that someone used the wrong pronouns earlier and that's why it came up. I would say something like "I saw someone use the wrong pronouns for me earlier, my pronouns are she/her. Thanks." I'm trying to think how I would react if my PI used a nickname for me that only my family uses. Sep 1, 2021 at 22:00

Would it be possible to send an introductory email, as you don't know some of these people yet? Something along the lines of:

Dear project participants, I was brought into the project by X because I have worked on subject Y. If you have any questions about my work, please feel free to contact me. Looking forward to working with you,

Kind regards OP (she/her)

This will not be the most content-rich email ever, but it serves a purpose (clarifying your gender).

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    Given that the OP was included in the e-mail chain only through a CC, this would be rather inappropriate.
    – TimRias
    Sep 1, 2021 at 8:53
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    @mmeent Why would it be inappropriate for someone to respond to an email they had been CC'd into? Normally CC is used when someone needs to follow the conversation, and might have something to add (like this), but the conversation is not addressed to them.
    – Clumsy cat
    Sep 1, 2021 at 9:00
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    @mmeent I disagree. I receive a ton of emails that don't add much to conversations. But I don't perceive them as inappropriate, I just either ignore them or skim through them. And if someone was suddenly included as CC in an email chain, I would not be surprised if they would introduce themselves, I have receied just such mails in the past. Was always OK.
    – Sursula
    Sep 1, 2021 at 9:19
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    @mmeent clarifying their gender does add something to the conversation, because it has come up in the conversation. This is a graceful way to do it, because it minimises the embarrassment caused, and it is good to do so promptly to prevent future embarrassment.
    – Clumsy cat
    Sep 1, 2021 at 10:56
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    Using an email signature to clarify one's pronouns doesn't seem likely to be effective. Based on my experience, you're overly optimistic about how in-depth any given person will read any given email (if they even read it at all). Many people may tune out some time after it becomes clear there isn't anything actionable in (the remainder of) the email (and most probably don't read past "regards" in any amount of detail).
    – NotThatGuy
    Sep 1, 2021 at 14:38

Since you don't think that there is anything malicious going on, let me suggest that one of the best ways to educate someone who knew you as male is to go visit them - any excuse will do. If they knew you "in person" in a previous life then that picture sticks in their head. Old habits can die hard, especially in older people or people with a lot (research) on their minds.

But if you have the opportunity to visit with them in person, then they will naturally form a different picture. I think this could be more effective than any email reminder if the option is open to you.

The other answers suggesting email reminders are fine.

Another possibility, if a meeting can't be employed, is to have another person, someone with some authority (another professor, say), send an email (or a visit) to the person bringing them up to date. Professors can "chat" about things all the time without anyone feeling embarrassed. If you take this route, use someone you trust.

Note that gender isn't binary and a change isn't instantaneous, neither for the person who undergoes a change, nor for the people who know them. It is a process, even for parents.

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    In person is often easy and informal, especially if thrres not expected to be bad intent and a nice person. Yes.
    – Stilez
    Sep 2, 2021 at 0:13
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    This is a good answer in the general case, but OP clarified in a comment that the advisor is 100% aware that she's a woman. It was a typo rather than a misunderstanding. "I have known this person for many years, and do know them from meeting in person many times. I've had dinner with them (and others) since I came out and everything was fine. The contribution I made was dome only after coming out. "
    – Clumsy cat
    Sep 2, 2021 at 11:20
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    -1. This begs the question. The OP is worried about the CCed people getting the wrong impression, rather than the person who got their gender wrong. Should they visit everyone on the CC list? Besides, there is no guarantee that seeing OP will clarify their gender better than an email would; there is a wide spectrum of gender expression even outside of the alphabet community. Finally, visiting someone for no other reason than to point out a glorified typo, no matter how important that typo is to me, may easily come across as controlling. Sep 2, 2021 at 18:00
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    @darijgrinberg, actually, I was suggesting how you might arrange that the error not happen in future. Visit the person who got it wrong so it gets right going forward. And no, you don't get guarantees in life.
    – Buffy
    Sep 2, 2021 at 18:36
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    Your suggestion is neither necessary nor sufficient. At best, it is just a disappearing email with an added personal touch (and the "disappearing" part might outweigh the personal touch; academics tend to be written-word people who trust their mail box more than their memory as it comes to properly addressing people). At worst, it can feel intrusive and push the relevant senior academic to avoid contact with the OP in the future. Sep 2, 2021 at 18:48

This sounds horrible. Sorry this has happened to you. The best solution would probably be an email from the academic who misgendered you. How well do you know this person? Would you feel comfortable contacting them, very gently pointing out their mistake, and asking them if they would send a correction to the list? As I say, this is probably very depedent on the nature of your relationship with the senior academic.

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    For what it's worth, I'm not all that bothered by it. I get on very well with this person and we are both at two different weekly meetings, so it's not like I'm basically a stranger. I appreciate the sympathy though Sep 2, 2021 at 10:36

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