Don’t Call Me Ma’am

By on June 26, 2013
ForumOpinion

My girlfriend and I were talking the other week about the LGBT community being broken down into Hogwarts’ four houses.

The lesbian and gay community easily took the spots of Gryffindor and Slytherin. Not because of traits associated with these houses (like bravery or resourcefulness), but because they are the two groups most recognized in media (like the fight for same-sex marriage).

Then, we determined that the bisexual community would be representative of Ravenclaw because while not the most talked about, the community still plays an important and upfront roll in any achievements of the LGBT (or Hogwarts) community.

That leaves the transgender community and Hufflepuff. It’s natural that these two groups are put together because they’re the least represented in media– not because issues aren’t there, but because education lacks.

Since I’m trans, I’m speaking fully on my personal experience. Coming out to my own family has proved a unique challenge; no one knows what being trans means, and no one knows how to address the issue.

First thing’s first when communicating with transgender people: always use the correct pronouns. If someone introduces themselves as Adam, call them Adam and refer to Adam using male pronouns unless Adam prefers neutral pronouns like “hir”, “ey.” It’s not about what the speaker feels comfortable using, it’s always how the person being spoken to wants to be called.

It’s been a year since I’ve come out and I’ve been presenting, or passing, as a male pretty well when I go out. I get a lot of “sirs” from the Waffle House or Walmart employees. And it makes me feel great; it’s a confidence boost. But when an employee somewhere calls me “ma’am,” whether intentional or not, it’s possible that I may be disoriented for the rest of the day.

It may seem a little odd that just one word could cause a full afternoon of discomfort, but it’s not just one meaningless word. The issue is that every morning, I put on my binder (which flattens my chest), dress in the nicest jeans I can find, put on a button up shirt, and sometimes a tie.

My average day consist of at least three layers around my chest. So, when I get called “ma’am” at the Hobby Lobby, not only does it cause a lower self-esteem for the day, but it makes me feel like all the effort I put into passing goes unnoticed.

Maybe that cashier wasn’t paying attention, or saw my birth name on my debit card, or was too distracted by her co-worker talking about vacations, but I walked away thinking: I’m in a shirt and tie, dadgummit, don’t call me ma’am.

If a person is talking to, or about, an androgynous person, don’t assume you know the correct pronouns. If you have the person’s name and no pronouns, either gently ask which pronouns to use or just use their name in place of pronouns.

For shorter interactions, like between cashiers and customers, just don’t use gender specific things like “sir” or “ma’am” to address anyone. No matter what, always treat people, no matter their gender identity, with the utmost respect and kindness.

Emmett Christolear
Staff Writer
christolear@uab.edu

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