A girl named Robert & other fun with pronouns

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January 6, 2011
By: Lorelei Erisis*/TRT Columnist
Dear TransWoman,

I have a question. One of my clients is facing a claim of transgender discrimination, among other claims. My question is this: Their ex-employee lives as a man and claims transgender discrimination because of that; however, he has filed the claim as a female, using his female name and using female pronouns.

In responding to the claim, I want to use the appropriate pronoun. Honestly, I would think it would be the male one seeing as that is how he lives (and when he was hired, he told them he was transitioning to a man; his co-workers referred to him as such, etc.). I looked through his personnel file and on the employment documents he checked the female box. What do you think would be appropriate under these circumstances? I will undoubtedly need to use a pronoun in responding to the claims or, alternatively, I could just constantly use Plaintiff, such as “the Plaintiff went to the Plaintiff’s office” but I never would write that way as it would sound weird.

Curious In Cali; Esq.

Great question CiCe!!! Just the sort of thing I thrive on.

A couple of things to clear up: I’m assuming this is a female-to-male transgender person? If that is the case, the discrepancy you are seeing may arise from the lack of legal document changes. In my own case for instance, I live and work as a woman, but my documents being not yet entirely changed often indicate that I am a “male.” So, on most documents I fill out, including work records, my resume and so on, I use “female” and feminine pronouns. This is generally okay, even in combination with my un-changed legal name, as it’s understood to be reflective of my “full-time,” day-to-day status.

However, certain very official, especially government/bureaucratic (Health Insurance for instance) or official ID reliant documents require that I use male pronouns. Which I hate, but I have to do sometimes.

When I had a run-in with the Holyoke Police recently after my car was improperly towed, they refused to even use female pronouns in speaking to me directly, despite my very, dressed-for-the-office, feminine presentation and polite request that they do so. They would only go by what the information on my Driver’s License gave them, including that dreadful other name.

It is worth noting here that just days ago, I finally received my brand new Massachusetts Driver’s License, which while it still carries my old legal name, now properly lists my gender as female! (Whooo-Hooooo!!!) Making me now officially a Girl Named Robert! So you see how these things can get confusing.

My advice, assuming that the Plaintiff’s situation is similar is to use male pronouns. The best choice is always simply and politely to ask. When that’s not possible, as I assume it might not be here, observation as to the dominant gender of presentation is appropriate. Your observation would seem to indicate a “male” identification, so male pronouns are most likely to be appropriate.

Alternately, if the gender is simply unknown or a matter of question/debate, the gender non-specific pronouns, “ze” and “hir” are really quite useful (pron. “zee” & “here”). I use them all the time when I don’t want to needlessly “gender” an individual whose gender is unknown to me, either because it’s unclear or I have not enough information to go on. Some folks, especially genderqueer identified folks, will use these to self-identify even. The usage has some flexibility but generally speaking I use “ze” where I would use “she” or “he” and “hir” where I would use “him” or “her.” The most flexibility seems to incur where I am indicating possession. I will often use “ze’s” instead of “hir’s,” but that’s really just a matter of personal taste.

If you’re ever looking for more legally specific advice about transgender people or you ARE a transgender person in need of legal help or advice, I would strongly recommend contacting the fine folks at the Transgender Law Center right there in California or GLAD (Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders) here in New England.  They are both excellent organizations doing fine work for the transgender community. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting folks from both organizations and I’m glad (!) to have them on our side!! Good luck CiCe!

Dear Lorelei,

Where is the best shoe store near Northampton (size 12)??


As a woman who loves to have good shoes, this is a question I spend an absurd amount of time trying to figure out. I’m a 12/13 myself and I can tell you, it’s not easy.

When I lived in Hollywood I could find all the hooker shoes I wanted all the way up to size 19 (seriously, they were like small boats with spiked heels!!). And, don’t get me wrong, I love a pair of outrageous heels as much as the next girl, but God’s forbid, I should want a pair of cute flats, or need something for the office.

There are several great places online like Zappos that have shoes in my size. And those are an excellent resource for a style minded transwoman. But for me, there’s nothing quite like the Cinderella-thrill of walking into a store and finding just the right shoe.

About the only place I’ve found nationally and definitely the only place I’ve found locally where I can consistently find anything is Payless ShoeSource. The selection is slim, but if I’m diligent about looking in every store I pass, I can usually find something.

Well that’s it folks! Keep those questions coming, don’t be shy and don’t be afraid, I’m here to answer them!! Happy New Year friends! Slainte!

*Lorelei Erisis, former Miss Trans New England, can be contacted at: loreleierisis@therainbowtimesmass.com