Just yesterday, my close AMAB friend, "S", told our friend group that they were transitioning to female. S is in the early stages of their transition and has told us that we can still use he-series pronouns or they-series pronouns as well as their birth name, but will eventually be switching to she-series pronouns and a different name when they start hormonal therapy. "S" is currently only out to some friends and their girlfriend, so we're keeping this information on the DL for now.
I am 100% supportive of S's transition and want to do my best to properly gender them going forward. I don't think this will be a problem most of the time, but I am not sure how to address S in the third person. When I'm talking about S to people they may not be out to, or when I'm talking to people who don't know S personally—like when I'm on the phone with my mom—how should I gender them? Is it better to stick to their assigned gender so I do not accidentally out them or to use they-series pronouns that may raise some eyebrows but would properly gender S? Part of me just thinks "Oh use they-series, no one will notice and it's accurate to S's identity", but they other part of me thinks "People will immediately pick up on this pronoun switch and realize S is transitioning!". Am I just WAY overthinking this and is their a simple answer?
This is not the first time this has been a question of mine—am I just missing a simple solution here?
I Don't Want to Misgender You OR Out You!
Dear IDWTMYOOY (WOW that’s an acronym!),
You rock for wanting to both respect S’s identity and also their privacy! I’m going to give you a really short answer here: since S has said that either “he” or “they” series pronouns are fine for the moment, continue to use “he” series with people who you aren’t sure are in the loop. As long as S has given you permission to do so, this is 100% okay! When S is ready to use “she” series pronouns, they’ll let you know— but for now, it’s perfectly okay to take the path of least resistance. It’s not unsupportive to use pronouns that S has explicitly stated are fine for the time being. You are not closeting them by respecting their preferences.
General rule: use whatever pronouns someone asks you to use to their face when you are referring to them in the third person, unless they explicitly ask you to do otherwise. If presented with options, err on the side of not outing someone. Sending you hugs for being a solid ally, and thank you for a question with a reasonably straightforward answer!
Have a question for Han? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.