Home > Uncategorized > Don’t “sir” me.

Don’t “sir” me.

I hate it when people are polite. “Here you go sir, thank you sir, excuse me sir”. You’re just handing me the tea I ordered, that doesn’t mean you get to assume stuff about me based on my appearance. But it’s expected. We’re supposed to be polite to strangers, and there’s just no way, apparently, to be polite in a gender-neutral way.

Except that there is. I manage it. Other people’s gender makes little enough sense to me that I just don’t affix “sir” or “ma’am” to the ends of my polite sentences. It’s not that hard.

It bothers me because it reminds me of how much people project onto me that’s not mine. I can’t leave my house without assumptions being made. I am invisible, you can’t see me under all the assumptions you’re making. I’m not saying that every stranger I pass in the hallway and barista who hands me a tea is going to ask me questions about who I am, that would be it’s own kind of hell. But none of these people are in the least bit shy about the answers they think they already have. It’s built into their way of interacting socially. And it’s smothering me.

I want to be incensed over suicide rates, blatant harassment and prejudice, and the apathy of self-proclaimed “allies”. But what really gets me down, what wears at me and slowly makes life unbearable, is the little things. It can’t be stopped. The best I can hope for is generating confusion rather that certainty. I know some people delight in getting opposite responses from people, different individuals making different assumptions based on the same stimuli. There’s nothing wrong with that, I’ve done it. But it takes so much work. I shouldn’t have to try so hard. I shouldn’t have to try at all just to feel comfortable walking down the street. And then there’s the worry that if I’m too ambiguous, too confusing, people will react. I’ve attracted stares, those aren’t fun, and I have no wish to endure the intimate questions and harassment from a stranger that others have described and I have thankfully so far avoided. And I shouldn’t have to be afraid of that either. I should be able to just go to the store and not have to think about how the other store patrons might view me, and whether I’m OK to interact with a clerk who may be polite to me and how to handle that.

I’m going to be doing a lot of traveling over the next couple weeks. ‘Tis the season after all. Train stations, airports, strange cities and partially-estranged family. I’m not looking forward to it. Travel can be stressful at the best of times, and it is never the best of times for me when I travel. I fully expect to get “sir”ed by every single ticket agent, ticket taker, TSA agent, flight attended, whatever-you-name-it. And I will not enjoy it. And I will have to take it, because asking every single person I come across in this situation not to do so would be exhausting beyond my ability to take it: people whom I will likely never see again, who’s day and practices will not be affected in the slightest by my passing, and who may challenge my request no matter how polite I am.

I’m not sure how coherent this post is. I’m tired.

  1. March 17, 2011 at 15:28

    I catching myself doing this, as well. It bugs me that gender is so affixed to politeness; I was raised to say “Yes, Ma’am; No, Sir,” when appropriate. I do try to de-gender as much of language as possible, especially at work.

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