Dating someone that sits outside of the gender binary has opened up my eyes to the amount of casual gendering that happens on a daily basis in virtually all facets of life – something I literally never would have thought about before this.
Let me explain. I am the first to admit that whilst I did have some understanding of gender before Dylan came out I basically never thought about it. I am comfortable in my gender and sex, and it seemed to me that the majority of people around me were too and so it wasn’t something that ever really entered my daily thoughts, or occurred to me to consider as I went about my daily business interacting with the world. After Dylan transitioned however, and it became unequivocally clear that female labels were not appropriate, I began to notice it everywhere as the vast majority of people that we interacted with approached us with gendered terminology.
When I say this, I’m not talking so much about our friends and the people in our lives, although they can be culprits also (I’ll get to that later), but more so about people that don’t know us. The people that casually interact with us in public spaces, shops, cafes, who approach Dylan and I with some form of the following 2 statements; ‘what can I get you girls?’ or ‘thanks ladies’. This is casual gendering. These people don’t know either of us or how we identify, and without thinking about it use some form of feminine label to address us. This obviously fits me, and I can understand why most people would assume that it would fit for me, however that’s not the point. You just don’t know. It might not fit, and this one short word can cause extreme hurt or frustration for some people.
In many instances I think that the people using ‘ladies’ or ‘girls’ in the above scenarios would say that they use it as a type of casual endearment if they were to actually think about their use of language. That it makes the interaction less formal, somehow more personal, possibly even sweet. But, while the majority of people have the luxury of paying no attention to these small words as they fit and are comfortable, for some people it is a source of pain. And the thing is, it’s not even a necessary word! I understand accidentally using the wrong pronoun, that can be confusing at times and, let’s face it, the majority of the world identify as a ‘she’ or a ‘he’, but this is different. This is directly labeling someone. And that one small word that you add on, for no real reason, backs them into a corner that they fought hard to get out of and places them right back in the binary. This is not ok.
As a society we need to start having more awareness of the way that we casually gender people. I have seen fantastic initiatives from universities who require students to wear name tags with both their names and their preferred pronouns on them. This takes casual gendering right out of the picture and allows everyone to be seen for exactly who they are right from the outset.
Even without this though, it really isn’t hard, it just takes awareness.
(On a brief side note, when I think about it I don’t think that this casual gendering is something that would happen to men quite as much – I don’t know how often I’ve heard someone say ‘what can I get you men/boys?’ Obviously the term ‘guys’ is used, but this is generally considered a unisex word so this is different also. So, thinking about why people feel the need to casually gender women and not men is an interesting thought also.)
Not long after Dylan came out a close friend said to me that she had been reflecting on gender and had realised that she was casually gendering people via work emails. She was writing pronouns and ‘ladies’ all over the place, based purely on names and assumptions. On realising this however she stopped and changed the language to be more inclusive for everyone reading the email. I loved this. I loved that she had thought about making people around her, even those that she didn’t know, more comfortable by not making assumptions about who they are.
I mentioned earlier that sometimes we get addressed with gendered terms by people that we do know also. In this instance I absolutely know that it is a reflex use of language rather than casual gendering, because our friends and family know that Dylan is not female. The result, however, is the same whether it is a reflex or casual gendering and more awareness is needed.
Just recently Dylan and I had dinner with two of my Aunties and both of them corrected themselves at different times after addressing us as ‘the girls’. There were two amazing parts to this – one that we had never mentioned that this language bothered us, and two, it was the first time that anyone has ever corrected themselves when addressing Dylan in this way. Not only had they obviously thought about what would make Dylan comfortable, but were also aware of their mistake, despite it being an automatic reflex use of language.
So far I have only mentioned plural words in this post, because obviously when Dylan and I go out together we are often addressed in the plural, however I know that it happens in the singular also, with Dylan being addressed as ‘miss’ or ‘mam’ (to name only a few) when they are out alone. This is the same principal and casually genders someone based on their looks alone. I have one word for you… Don’t.
I wanted to write this post, and have thought about it for a while, because I can honestly say that every single time that Dylan and I go out Dylan is casually gendered at least once. Whilst Dylan rarely mentions it, either at the time or after, I internally cringe every time and consistently wonder why people do this. I don’t know if Dylan has trained themself to not hear it most of the time, or if they feel it is easier to just let it slide, but I do know that they hate it. Really hate it. And I believe that for some transgender people it is a source of very real anxiety and can result in severe anguish.
I hope that this post has provided some food for thought, as it is something that we can all change very easily, and that can make the world of difference to someone’s day, and possibly life.
Please think about it. No more girls, ladies, gals, girlies, miss, mam or whatever other interesting feminine labels you know, and obviously no masculine labels either. Move on to unisex words or just leave the word off altogether. You never know, you might make someone’s day.