Living in North Carolina most of my life, I have heard the repeated "yes ma'am" or "yes sir" within the customer service industry. Too, I have heard it among my friends, family, and professors. To many living in the South, "sir" and "ma'am" are a form of mannerism and etiquette and many of us are taught to use these two binary phrases. However, until I started to find my gender identity, I used "yes ma'am" and "yes sir" less frequently.
Way too often am I approached by a customer from behind stating "excuse me sir", that is until I turn around and I get the big eyes, mouth perched, and an "oh I'm so sorry ma'am." From a binary perspective, I am seen more masculine because of my short haircut, athletic attire, and muscular demeanor, but I am feminine in my facial features, ear and facial piercings, and my chest. Born biologically a female, I was blessed with the chest that I never wanted, a voice that I have never heard as it does in my head, and a face with little to no facial hair.
I am Ian. I choose to identify as a nonbinary, transgender, queer individual. However, at the end of the day, I am a human being that does not see themselves as a man or a woman, rather just as an individual. Thus, living in the South, I do not see the terms "sir" and "ma'am" as a form of respect when they are assigned to you. However, I do agree that "sir" and "ma'am" are a form of respect, but only if you know that individual and how they identify. Thus, most if not all the individuals that I encounter at my job do not know that I am taking hormones, should they need to know to correctly identify as "sir" or "ma'am" or in this case neither? No, because these terms should not be assumed by the public eye. So, how do I respond when I am called a sir from behind, but corrected to a "ma'am" face on? Here is how:
1. Chin up
The hardest lesson I have learned is to look someone in the eyes when they disrespect me, however, not all individuals know they are being disrespectful. Keeping that in mind, I can't say I look everyone in the eyes, but I have learned to keep my chin up. To me, it shows confidence in who I am as well as respect to the other person.
2. Continue to smile
Although smiling is not the first thought that comes into my head when I am misgendered, I continue to smile to let the individual know that I have no hard feelings toward them. This seems to help make the tension less awkward for them and myself. Although it is disappointing, degrading, and somewhat embarrassing to be mistaken as a "sir" and then as a "ma'am" in front of your face, I let my mind drift to what makes me happy. Whether that happiness is sparked from a song, a memory, or something small that happened in my day, I know there are thousands of reasons to be happy opposed to someone that I don't know, probably will not see again, and have no connection with because they do not know me.
3. State your pronouns
Let's face it, I do not address my pronouns to everyone I come into contact with that confuses me with one gender or another, but if I am feeling comfortable enough I'll say my pronouns are they/them/theirs and he/him/his. But, I have found it easiest misgendered/his when I am less comfortable. One day I hope to confidently state both of my pronouns, but there is a sense of fear and that fear is steamed from living in the South.
4. Change the pitch
One of my proudest accomplishments is deepening my voice to match the one I hear inside my head. Currently, I am on testosterone, but testosterone does not automatically deepen one's voice, thus I have been practicing deepening my voice for about ten months now. Although I do wish to sound the way I do when it is deepened, it does hurt as I am straining my voice and sometimes I miss my old voice which I think is normal going through a change such as hormones. So, when I am mistaken as solely as a "sir", I take ownership of that label and I go with it. I do deepen my voice and I become more confident misgendered if I was mistaken as a "sir" and then mistaken as a "ma'am".
5. Continue with your day
Everyone has bad days, but the best days are the ones when I take a minute to look at where I am at as far as my transition goes. I cut my hair. I changed my attire. I started a fitness journey. It is hard to remember things take time, but I cannot wait for the day I see the reflection in the mirror that I have always sought to attain.
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