Cross Cultural Communication: Transgender

by | Nov 14, 2016 | Culture & Engagement

November 14-20 is recognized as Transgender Awareness Week, which to help raise the visibility of transgender and gender non-confirming individual and the challenges they face. Here are some tips and resources to become a better ally or comfortable working with your patients/coworkers that identify as transgender or gender non-conforming individual.

What transgender is:  Transgender applies to a person whose gender is different from their “assigned” sex at birth. It is an umbrella term that refers to people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from the sex assigned to them at birth (i.e., the sex listed on an original birth certificate). A person does not need to undergo any medical procedure to be considered transgender. Transgender Man is the term typically used to refer to someone assigned female at birth, but identifies as male. Transgender Woman is the term typically used to refer to someone assigned male at birth, but identifies as female. In addition, it might also be possible that many of our patients identify themselves as “gender nonconforming.”

Name, preferred gender pronoun, and identity: Preferred name and gender pronouns are tremendously important for transgender individual. Please respect the name a transgender person is currently using or requests to use. A gender pronoun is a pronoun an individual chooses to identify them. It is their preference to be used when talking to or about that individual. Their preferred name and pronoun represent their identity. Pronouns may include he/she, him/her, them/they. Them/they is becoming a popular pronoun and may be used to refer to one individual.

What is their preferred name & pronoun?

  • Start a conversation with a self-intro and preference pronoun: “My name is Mary, and my preferred pronoun is she. What about you?”
  • Another approach is, if you are in a group setting and don’t know what pronouns to use, listen first-what other people use when referring to that person. Someone who knows the person well will probably use the correct pronoun. If you must ask which pronoun the person prefers, start with your own. For example, “Hi, I’m John and I prefer the pronouns he and him. What about you?”
  • In a private setting, you may also simply ask “What are your preferred pronouns?”
  • In a patient care setting, you could ask, preferred pronouns can be added to their preferred name area in the chart. For example, name for insurance may need to be John Smith, but could put in the preferred name- Jane ( she/her).

Inclusive and neutral language:

  • AVOID: “Do you have a wife/husband or boy/girlfriend?”
  • USE: “Do you have a partner/spouse?” or “Are you in a relationship?” “What do you call your partner?”
  • AVOID: using gender terms like “sir” or “ma’am”
  • USE: “How may I help you today?”
  • AVOID: pronouns and other gender terms. Or, use gender-neutral words such as “they”. Never refer to someone as “it”.
  • USE: “Your patient is here in the waiting room.” “They are here for their 3 o’clock appointment”
  • AVOID: Ever using the term Transexual.

If I make a mistake:  If you accidently use the wrong pronoun or name, apologize and sincerely correct it, then move on.

Important reminders

  • You can’t visually tell if someone is transgender or not.
  • Not all transgender individual will have a surgery and/or any other medical treatment.
  • Be careful about confidentiality, disclosure, and “outing”.
    • Some transgender individuals feel comfortable disclosing their transgender status to others, and some do not. Knowing a transgender person’s status is personal information and it is up to them to share it.
  • Be patient with a person who is questioning or exploring their gender identity.
    • A person who is questioning or exploring their gender identity may take some time to find out what identity and/or gender expression is best for them. They might, for example, choose a new name or pronoun, and then decide at a later time to change the name or pronoun again. Do your best to be respectful and use the name and/or pronoun requested.
  • Get to know an individual as a person: (family, partner, children, job)
    • At meetings and events, set an inclusive tone.
      At a meeting where not everyone is known, consider asking people to introduce themselves with their name and preferred pronouns. For example, “Hi, I’m Nick and I prefer the pronouns he and him.” This sends the message that you are not making assumptions about anyone’s gender, and that people are free to self-identify. Start with yourself and use a serious tone that will discourage others from dismissing the activity with a joke. However, if you feel this practice will have the effect of singling out the transgender people in the room, avoid it. Also, in a group setting, identify people by articles of clothing instead of being using gendered language – for example, the “person in the blue shirt,” instead of the “woman in the front.” Similarly, “Sir” and “Madam” are best avoided.
  • Know your own limits as an ally.
    • Don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something. It is better to admit you don’t know something than to make assumptions or say something that may be incorrect or hurtful. Then seek out the appropriate resources that will help you learn more.


Don’t forget, additional resources are available for you and your team:

Recorded videos via LMS for all Fairview employees are available 24/7. Topics include:

  • Transgender Health 101 by Ellie ( Ellen) Krug
  • Transgender Health: Transition Journey and Care by Dianne R.Berg, PhD, Program in Human Sexuality, University of Minnesota Physicians


Source: Health Professionals Advancing LGBT Equality (previously known as the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association-GLMA); Human Rights Campaign (HRC); Rainbow Health Initiatives; GLAAD & other additional resources;


Contributors & Reviewed by:

Myat.T.Tun, equity & inclusion dept.|OD&L| Fairview

Erich Spencer, director| Human Resources| North Region

Adam Foss, MD, Internal Medicine-Pediatrics | Fairview Eagan Clinic

Allison McVay-Steer, Nurse Practitioner|Fairview Eagan Clinic

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