Why Pronouns Matter in Forensic Assessment

Apr 04, 2023

In a forensic report, should I use the stated name and pronoun, or the ones on the Order?

Best practice is to state the legal name once on the top for consistency with the Order, and then use the stated name and pronoun throughout the report. 


Why are we still talking about this?

Many (I hope most) clinicians are well on board with this practice, which is consistent with the APA Guidelines released in 2015 (but practically stems back much longer). And I have mixed feelings about citing an authority for it, because frankly, it upsets me that I would need to. You use a person's name and pronoun because it's their name and pronoun. Period. But forensic clinicians get more practice than most about making decisions about others without including them. So, we're still talking about it because I routinely hear in discussion boards and consultation rooms that people are still defaulting to the name on the order. Please, don't do that.


Why is this so important?

There is a basic human issue, most importantly. It's a human being in front of you who has likely experienced a great deal of discrimination and hardship related to gender. The least you can do is honor their pronoun. But beyond that, science tells us that psychological wellbeing of trans folks improves when the correct name and pronoun are used. Even more broadly, the Courts have a history of taking their cues from psychological experts about identity. Especially an identity that until 2013, our field called a psychological disorder. So, if we use the stated name, the Court probably will too. 


What about my pronouns?

If you want to post your pronouns, consider using our free name cards. Just print, select, cut out, and display. It's a way to cue to your examinee that you take an affirming approach to gender and, if you're nervous about asking, it can also be a nice lead-in for that. 


How should I ask? (or should I ask?)

Yes, it is good to get in the habit of asking about name and pronoun in every evaluation. In my experience, it tends to be a less critical issue than other identity variables (race and SES, most typically, - read more about that here). It's important to ask. If you don't ask, you don't know. 


What should I do if I can't use the stated pronoun in my report?

This doesn't come up that often. Sometimes it's not clear. Sometimes it's something inappropriate. But if that's the situation, my suggestion is that you write one sentence about the stated pronoun, and make it clear that electing not to use it is your decision. We give examples of this in our course, Gender Affirming Forensic Assessment.


What should I tell colleagues who refuse to do this?

“[expletive] you.”

Just kidding (mostly). This will depend on your style and conflict resolution preferences. I try to be soft but unflinching around this issue, so my style is to try and stay warm and friendly while consistently pushing back. Others get more prickly, or bigger, or louder, or more firm. I don’t think there’s a right way to speak up but I think there’s a wrong way to stay silent. The only way change happens is one conversation at a time.


What should I tell the Court if they push back?

I have the honor of practicing in Minnesota, which as of the day of this writing did this. So there may be some ways that I’m protected from Court backlash and might be in a bit of a bubble. But I’ve never had pushback. And on the cases I’ve consulted about in other jurisdictions, I also haven’t heard of pushback. It’s possible that our colleagues in Florida may experience this differently. So I guess, in the unlikely event that the Court pushes back against your name and pronoun use, you can go two ways. You can take the common sense path: “That’s her name and pronoun, so that’s what I used.” Or you can take the reference route: “that’s how the American Psychological Association instructs that we handle this issue, what the empirical literature guides, and how most psychologists would inform this Court is best practice if you polled them.”

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