People call me "sir" (or, gender: I haz it)

Aug 20 2016 Published by under gender, queer

Of course I get the occasional (very frequent) email addressed to "dear sir". But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about when the cashier asks me, "what can I get you today, sir?". It can be a server at a restaurant asking, "sir, can I bring you another drink?". It happens to me quite a bit - at least once a week, I would estimate. In other words, I get "misgendered" - I identify as female, but someone else assumes I am male. I misgendered someone once (that I know of). It was awkward and horrible and I apologized So Much. I didn't know them well, but I should have known better. Or to at least asked. Ugh. I'm still embarrassed thinking about it.

Being misgendered used to bother me. I don't present as super feminine, and I have short hair, but ... I don't know, it just bothered me. I have other secondary sex characteristics* that identify me as female, so being misgendered made me feel unseen. But I kinda also like it. I remember once, in 4th or 5th grade there was a substitute teacher that misgendered me (I have a gender-neutral first name). So I spend they day pretending to be a boy: I lined up with the boys for lunch and recess, etc. My classmates thought this was hilarious. I was ... ambivalent? Looking to be accepted? I don't even know. I went along with it, though. Until another teacher set things straight ad then I was just embarrassed. After that I let my hair grown out so I was more clearly a "girl". Because being a kid is hard and you do what you can to survive.

I think that maybe this is the problem - I've never been really comfortable with gender presentation. I don't feel comfortable lining up with "normal" female standards, but I don't consider myself male. I am coming to actually love that I'm a little androgynous, and I have started to actually play that up. I guess some would characterize me as "butch", but for some reason that doesn't really feel right either.

ANYWAY. Here is the point I was aiming at - this is not an easy place to inhabit as a jr faculty. It's pretty well accepted that women (especially younger women) get worse student teaching evals than men. I can't help but think that my evals were also negatively influenced by the fact that I am clearly gender-nonconforming GLBTQIA*. And also, I am relying on a (mostly old-white-dude) senior faculty to vote to give me tenure. But I KNOW I make some of these guys uncomfortable. I try to tone things down and just be generic, because I don't want to make this an issue.

I don't know what the best way to handle this is. I am just trying to stay honest to myself, but I can't pretend that the awkwardness of having to correct folks - at the coffee shop or in faculty meeting - don't wear on me. Chalk it up as another hurdle that non-cis-hetero folks have to deal with, I guess.




10 responses so far

  • drugmonkey says:

    It's weird to hear you say you make people uncomfortable. I have always found you to be the sort of person who is super easy to talk to, funny, honest, interesting and (I hope this is not insulting) really nice. The old folks in your department must be bizarre people if you make them uncomfortable.

    • gerty-z says:

      I have a weird habit of sometimes calling folks on their shit. I think some of the old BSD types don't really know what to make of me

      • EPJ says:

        I think that the gender-related problems we find in the present society are not due to old age bias, but rather about mentality (BSD), sharp cultural contrast that is independent of education level, and maybe even the fact that it has been more of a taboo until recent times. It is just something more personal so that people tend to avoid it as the center of a conversation.

        But when it overlaps with other aspects of the human common then it must be defined better and stated.

        I grew up hearing of a prank/practical joke played on the distinguished and popular local males during carnivals, to only disclosed gender identity at the end of the party with the public mockery of the distinguished ones. So that the present situation is actually a legal progress, but not so much of an economic or health or even human rights progress.

        And I make an emphasis in the humanitarian aspect in all directions. Because respect, indeed, should prevail across the board, rather than impositions as retaliations or political campaigns or business warfare.

  • wally says:

    I wish we would do away with gendered ways of addressing each other like "ma'am" and "sir" partially because it is easy to make errors, and also because for women, not only are the ways of addressing based on our sex, they are also based on the perception of age or status (ma'am vs miss), and if you choose the wrong one, it can cause offense. I just say "excuse me" if I am trying to get someone's attention - it avoids both issues.

    I'm an LGBTQ researcher - and on LGBTQ committees, there is a tendency when we introduce ourselves, we are to indicate our pronouns of choice (e.g., they them their, she her hers). I understand the reason for this, but I am really not fond of this either - for reasons I haven't really been able to pinpoint yet. Part of it is that I really dislike having my gender/sex be a part of my introduction. I'm quite strongly gendered visually - but inside, I am far more aschematic and androgynous. I wish we could just stop using sex/gender based pronouns - it's such an unhelpful thing.

    All of these issues of sex and gender are changing so rapidly, and it is so very very interesting.

  • EPJ says:

    How about just calling you by your name and if you have a title to add to it then use it?

    It seems to me that gender variety is now a wider spectrum, and would really matter most for rather more personal relationships, and for statistical purposes to be used in terms of ID, medical, or certain type of work in which it would be important.

    How many gender varieties now?.

  • potnia theron says:

    Societal expectations are a pain. And, hopefully, your department is advertent enough to appreciate what you do, as opposed to the social judgments. You are exactly perfect (as far as I can tell) the way you are.

  • Anonforthis says:

    Thanks for this post. I am someone who does not have a strong gender identity, and it is helpful to me (and people like me) as a reminder that it is important to be respectful and honor people's identities as much as possible. I agree with Wally--it would be so much better if we got away from gendered forms of respectful address, since in most cases, the gendered part is irrelevant to the interaction.

    I was born with female parts, but I don't really feel a gender. As a kid, it used to confuse me when other kids would get upset about misgendering, and I thought kids insisting "I am a boy" or "I am a girl" were just being attention seeking. Like you, I have boobs, but I also apparently use male-looking body language (or so I have been told). When I have short hair, I am frequently misgendered (less so when I have long hair, but sometimes then too). Since I don't feel my gender strongly, it actually doesn't bother me much to be misgendered. I find the unconscious sexism it betrays (where the default is "sir" because an accidental "ma'am" would be a horrible insult) much more irritating. When it is folks I will have no long term relationship with, like in a store, I just ignore it. In professional situations, I also struggle with how to handle it, especially since I am in a very male-dominated field.

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    I vote that we repurpose "bub" as a gender neutral substitute for sir and ma'am: What can I get you, bub?

Leave a Reply