How many times have you talked to someone you trust and they say something hurtful without even realizing it? Maybe they called you the wrong name, made an out-of-pocket comment about your appearance, or misgendered you. Maybe they didn’t mean to, but it still hurts, right? If you’ve been in a spot where someone makes you feel uncomfortable based on who you are, it’s time to assert boundaries around your identity.

Everyone needs boundaries, no matter their gender or sexuality. But for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, or asexual/aromantic (LGBTQIA+) people, you may need to set them for different reasons than straight, cisgender people. It might be hard at first, but your identity boundaries will end up making things easier for you and others in any kind of relationship.

Boundaries Are a Kindness to Everyone

Let’s set something straight: Boundaries are not about making rules for others to follow. They’re just guidelines for what you’ll tolerate and how you’ll respond to the people around you.

Boundaries are about your actions, not the actions of others. When you create and enforce them, you’re telling other people what you’re comfortable with and what you’ll do in the face of inappropriate or uncomfortable situations.

“But setting boundaries feels so mean!” It can, at first—especially if you’re not used to setting them or having them respected. But what you’re really doing is:

  • Making it so others don’t have to guess or read your mind when something bothers you
  • Letting others get to know you with clear communication
  • Being more careful with how you spend your energy
  • Standing up for yourself by giving and receiving respect

Boundaries make it easier for others to understand and respect you. And while not everyone will respond as well as you’d hope when you set your boundaries, remember that they’re for you.

What Does It Mean to Set Boundaries Around Your Identity?

Your identity is personal, so you’re the only one who can decide what kind of treatment you’ll accept around it. When you ask someone to call you Elizabeth and they keep calling you Liz, it feels like they’re not listening or respecting your preference when it comes to your name, right? Likewise, if you use they/them pronouns and someone keeps using the pronouns assigned to you at birth, you get the feeling that they don’t see you for who you are.

No matter your gender, being addressed by the wrong pronouns or gendered language can leave you—and the person who made the mistake—feeling awkward. If you’re a cisgender woman who’s been accidentally called “sir” when you’re just trying to order dinner at a restaurant, it can sour the evening, too.

It can feel uncomfortable to correct the person, since you don’t want to feel embarrassed for their mistake any more than they do. But advocating for yourself in these situations helps prevent it from happening again—and if it does, you have a plan for how to handle it.

Your boundaries can touch on any part of your identity or labels and factor in your intersectional identities, including:

  • Pronouns
  • Chosen names
  • Nicknames
  • Labels for your gender or sexuality
  • Racial and cultural identities
  • Disability identities

Many of the things related to our identities are things we can’t change—and likely wouldn’t change, even if we could. By setting boundaries, you show others who you allow to receive your energy and attention. And you’re showing them what makes you feel loved and accepted.

Tips for Setting New Boundaries

Whether you’re discovering parts of who you are for the first time or are getting ready to share something you’ve known for a while, boundaries are the key to healthier relationships. They also build self-esteem, help with decision-making, and make you more aware of your energy levels to help avoid burnout. If you need help getting started with communicating your boundaries, here are a few ways to do it.

Use Clear Communication

Your language should tell the other person exactly what bothers you and your desired outcome from setting the boundary. Instead of just telling them what to change, you can also create a clearer expectation for everyone when you tell them how you’ll change your behavior, too.

For example, maybe you’re transgender and have a family member who insists on using your deadname—typically a trans person’s given name that they no longer use. You might tell them, “It feels like you don’t accept my trans identity when you use my deadname, and I don’t want you to use it. It would help me feel more accepted and respected if you used my chosen name. If you continue to use my deadname, I will need to limit the time we spend together.”

Frame it Around Yourself

You’re not setting rules for others to follow, so talk about your boundaries in terms of your needs. This approach still tells the other person what you need from them and tells them how their current action impacts you and how changing it would help you. It puts the responsibility of how you choose to respond on you while giving them the option to change their behavior.

Uphold Your Boundaries

Setting the boundary is one thing, but it can be harder to act upon it. If your family member keeps using your deadname—even after you correct them and set your boundary—then it’s up to you to remove yourself from the conversation and limit your time with them, if that’s the response you laid out. Enforcing your boundaries shows confidence in your decisions, and it lets others know you’re serious about them.

Gather a Support System

It’s easier to stick to your boundaries when you have people who support you. If you have a group of people who use your chosen name and respect your pronouns and labels, it can give you confidence to stand up for yourself. It can also feel less risky to enforce a difficult boundary when others reassure you that your identity deserves respect.

Decide What You’re Willing to Tolerate

Boundaries don’t have to be dealbreakers. There’s a difference between someone you’ve known for 30 years messing up with your chosen name a few times right after you change it and someone who purposely doesn’t use your chosen name, even after several years.

When someone crosses your boundary, you get to decide how you respond and how you enforce the boundary. For some situations, a quick and simple correction is enough, like if someone uses “she” and you stop them to say “he.” Other times, you may need to say, “I’ve asked you to stop doing that. Now, I need to remove myself from this conversation.” You can handle each situation as it arises, and you’ll learn what works best for you as you go.

Good News: It Gets Easier with Practice

Your boundaries probably won’t be perfect from the get-go, and that’s okay. You’re allowed to experiment, and not all boundaries are permanent. Plus, when you’re queer or transgender, you might have extra nuance in your identity. Your labels might change over time, and you may not tolerate the same behavior from others that you once did. Boundaries are about valuing yourself, and while it’s important for others to respect them, it’s even more important that you maintain the ones you set.

Author

Eli Wood (he/they) is a queer and genderqueer content writer and content strategist. He writes about sexual health and wellness and works to help people feel more comfortable talking about uncomfortable topics, especially within the LGBTQIA+ community. They also create strategic, LGBTQIA+ inclusive content and craft content strategies to help businesses reach their ideal audiences. You can find more of his work on their website.