Human gender and sexuality are immensely complex concepts due to our complexity as a species. Despite this, it’s quite simple to handle gender identity in an everyday setting. You can initially guess someone’s gender, because you’ll probably be correct most of the time. Otherwise, accept any corrections or simply ask them how they wish to be referred, and respect their identity. If you deliberately misgender a person because they don’t pass your personal threshold of physical characteristics to be worthy of their gender, you’re not just being rude, but you’re also espousing an excessively simplified and internally inconsistent conceptual understanding of gender.
Perhaps the most pernicious idea which comes from this is that where a transgender person is not genuinely a member of the gender with which they identify until they undergo sex reassignment surgery. It’s petty because there are virtually no valid reasons to care about someone’s genitalia outside of a sexual, reproductive, or medical context. The procedure or lack thereof should make no difference to how a person will interact with most other people. Some transgender people may not be able to undergo this surgery due to medical, financial, or other constraints, while others may not even want to do so at all. This may be for any reason, but the decision is ultimately a personal one.
This reasoning extends to other elements of gender transitioning, such as hormone replacement therapy, changes to physical or social expressions, adherence to any number of gender roles, sexual orientation or behaviour, and the use of pronouns. Each of these is an optional personal choice for the individual involved, and any or all of them may be subject to financial, social, legal, or other limitations. Using a checklist of these elements to determine whether or not a person deserves to openly identify as their gender is as absurd as using their physical characteristics to determine their gender, a social construct which is purely psychological in nature.
Let’s take a look, by example, at why refusing to refer to someone using the gender with which they identify is indicative of a flawed understanding of gender. What of a biological female who identifies as a woman, but expresses many masculine characteristics due to choice, heredity, or otherwise? What of her inverse, where a man who is born male is simply very androgynous or even feminine? What of her converse or her contrapositive, where a transgender person undergoes few or no elements of transitioning, resulting in a gender identity which remains different to their outward expressions of gender? What of an intersex, agender, or genderqueer person? How about a person who identifies with a gender which may be prevalent in their culture, but does not fall within the typical gender binary or other framework of yours?
The intersection of biological sex with our set of diverse and intricate cultures makes any perceived ability to compartmentalise people into neat little boxes impossible. Given our position as a sapient, introspective, and in some ways advanced species, a personal ideal of mine would be to see more humans and their cultures transcend the existence of the concept of gender altogether, while simultaneously relegating biological sex to cease its influence beyond its own inherent purview, that is to say, the sexual and reproductive.
Until then we’re mostly stuck with the gender categories that are prevalent in our local cultures, but nobody should have to do anything or look a certain way to be qualified to identify with their gender of choice. You may not have an interest in gender identity, and that’s fine, but if you respect someone, let alone care about them, be sure to refer to them in alignment with their wishes — it’s truly that simple.