I’m genderqueer. A lot of people don’t know what that means. Our language has no comfortable-to-use gender neutral pronouns, and lacks useful gender neutral terms of address, and most people in our culture are not accustomed to using “person” or “human” in place of gendered nouns.
So I’m misgendered, a lot. I shrug it off most of the time, and I appreciate that my friends usually catch themselves, even if they haven’t quite reached the point of not misgendering me in the first place. What I’m saying is: I’m pretty tolerant.
But there are just some people in the world who surpass my capacity for setting things aside. One of these people was staying in my house this week. Every third sentence contained a reference to hir perception of my gender. “Good morning lady!” when I came downstairs bleary-eyed and braless. “After you, ma’am!” when trying to get through the same narrow space. “There’s a lot of girly energy in the house,” when two friends and I were laughing and watching a Pride and Prejudice adaptation. And so on. (The one that really got to me? “Good morning sunshine!” Look, it’s my vacation, I slept late. And I am a giant grumpus in the morning. DO NOT FUCKING SUNSHINE ME. I’m not your kid, I’m not a “girl” and I know you would not call my male housemate sunshine, though he usually rises later than me when he has a choice and is equally grumpy-faced.)
It doesn’t need to be this way. “Good morning” is a complete sentence. I have a name that you could use in place of some of those gender-coded nouns. Watching Jane Austen adaptations is not inherently girly – it’s just something our culture tells us because it is terrified that if gender differences aren’t clear and viewed as inherent, the universe might explode (protip: it won’t).
I also went to a fancy bra shop with a friend, and the proprietor repeatedly called us ladies and girls and women. Look, there is a high correlation between people with breasts and people who identify as women, but it’s not 1:1. People with breasts who don’t identify as women sometimes need supportive undergarments as well!
Have you ever met a person like this? A person who has to make constant reference to the gender they perceive you to be? It drives me to distraction. Actually gnashing of teeth occurs.
So, without further ado: How to have conversations with people without referring to their gender identities (actual or perceived)!
A: Good morning! Did you sleep well?
B: (grunt) I’m not a morning person.
A: Oh sorry, after you!
A: Pardon me, did you need any assistance?
B: No, I’m just browsing, thank you.
If you are talking to the person, you don’t need pronouns, so that’s easy. If you’re talking about them, you can use their name (as an aside, I do this all the time and it is fun to see how long it takes the person you’re talking to to feel uncomfortable because they think your lack of gendering language is deliberate because the person you are talking about is not the gender they assumed and they just want to know what gender the person is because otherwise the universe will explode!). If you’re in a position where you would normally use words of address like “sir” or “ma’am,” other polite language can make up for that. “Have a great day!” is a full, complete, and polite sentence. No need for possible misgendering additions. If we’re in a situation that involves traditionally gendered body parts, just talk about the body parts. If the bra shop proprietor had focused on talking about bras and support and breasts, and perhaps asked me my name so zie had something to call me, it would have been fine. My breasts are, in fact, breasts, and I do, in fact, wear bras for support sometimes. Nothing wrong with that. But the constant “women really like this bra because…” and “don’t worry about it! Most women who come in here are just like you – never had a well fitting bra!” that, unbeknownst to her, made me feel separate, apart, different, not belonging to the bra-wearing community, and that repeatedly asserted her perception of my gender…it was just unnecessary. I still have a vagina and a uterus and breasts, and I am equally concerned about the health of these body parts, as much as any woman. I’d like to get care for them without people making assumptions about me, if that’s okay. Which apparently it isn’t.
Any questions? Any tricky situations that anyone needs me to degender for them? I’m up for it!