Misgendering is a term the describes assuming someone's gender incorrectly and communicating with them or about them using the wrong personal pronouns or gendered language.
Personal pronouns are sets of words used use to denote person, gender, case and number. Examples, he, she, we, them, ze, hir, per, etc.
When a person is misgendered, typically the set of pronouns used does not match their identity. I was assigned female at birth, but my pronouns are he/him/his. When someone assumes my gender as female, and uses the incorrect pronouns, or calls me ma'am, lady, or Ms., I have a really difficult time. I really want to crawl in a hole and disappear, especially if the offense is done somewhat publicly.
So what should you do if you misgender someone? One of the best things is to change your language mid word, or the next time you refer to the person you misgender. If you are corrected, say thank you and move on.
Here's why you should not apologize for misgendering someone. If the misgendering person apologizes, especially if it is profuse, the misgendered person is put in the role of someone who must absolve. Believe it or not, those of us who are commonly misgendered are often made to absolve another before the conversation can continue. I've had people say sorry repeatedly until I give them some sort of sign that it's okay that they misgendered me. This makes the conversation much less about the trans or gender expansive person who is wronged, and much more about the feelings of the person doing the misgendering. Frankly, I don't want to be in that position, to tell someone it's okay the disrespected me, or spend precious time making sure the person who offended ME feels okay about themselves.
Instead, saying thank you sends a signal that you've heard the person who corrected your language, and you appreciate being corrected because you respect them.
So what if you misgender someone and they don't correct you? Can you take that as a sign they're okay with being misgendered? Absolutely not. There may be many reasons a person does not correct another: fear, resignation, shear exhaustion, the likelihood that this person will change their behavior [or not], etc. If you're not being corrected, take the initiative to correct yourself. This act will speak volumes to your trans loved one.
When you get it right, do not seek out accolades from your trans loved one. You don't get a gold star for using correct names and pronouns, even if it feels huge to you, it's still the bare bones of human decency. You can pat yourself on the back internally, and express your progress to a spouse, therapist or friend but don't ask a transperson for that pat on the back.
Some good ways to practice pronouns:
Read a book and change the pronouns of characters, this helps your brain get used to fighting the assumptions you already have.
Realize that you are already using singular they pronouns, you just don't know it. If someone left their cell phone on a counter in a public place, you would probably say, "oh someone left their cell phone, I hope they come back for it." You're not assuming multiple people own this cell phone, one is implied. That's the singular they!
I always joke that people are going to talk about me behind my back anyway, you might as well use the right pronouns. When referring to a trans person when they are out of earshot, use their correct name and pronouns. Waiting until your trans loved one is in your presence is too late.
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE: the willingness to practice and the desire to respectfully refer to your family member will make all the difference in your ability to use the appropriate pronouns.
If you are fighting using your loved one's pronouns and names, discuss this with an affirming therapist, education consultant, family member or friend. Express your difficulties with them, not your trans loved one, and continue to practice referring to your loved one as they want to be addressed.
Addressing a trans or gender expansive loved one as they wish to be addressed has positive effects on mental health and relationships, it drops suicide attempt rates by more than 40%, and it signals to your loved one that they are safe with you.
Be the person your trans loved one can count on to get it right.