You Just Went Full Sir on the Ma’am: How to Apologize for Misgendering Someone -The Toast

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I am a smallish woman with short hair who is called “sir” roughly once a week. This usually happens in retail establishments, or at restaurants, or especially at airport retail restaurants – but it’s okay!

Gender is weird, and hair is even weirder – but let’s go through some Dos and Don’ts regarding what happens next.

Apologize quickly, but with a light touch.

Don’t: “OMG I’m so sorry, of COURSE you are a woman, I mean duh, I’m so stupid, look at your [body part], I’m such an idiot! You look goooood grrrrl.”

Do: “I’m so sorry, it’s been a long day. How can I help you?”

Let it go.

Don’t: “Here’s your iced tea MA’AM, I’m so glad it’s just us girls here in the bar area today.”

Do: “Here’s your iced tea, let me know if you need anything else.”

Don’t gamble and lose.

If you work in an environment where you are giving people orders or directions, try to stay clear of gendered words in general.

It will make your job easier if you say, “Excuse me! – the gift shop is closing in ten minutes!” – because if you say “Excuse me sir! – the gift shop is closing in ten minutes!”, then frankly, I’m gonna loiter like a mofo and never actually purchase the $65 Maya Lin stationery set. (Also she is a sculptor at best and an architect at worst, so stop hawking that crap.)

Please don’t assume.

I live in the midwest, where strong and sensible straight women sport short ‘dos, too.

Don’t: “Ugh, this is extra embarrassing because my aunt Linda is one of you!”

Do: “Here’s your iced tea, let me know if you need anything else.”

Flip the script if you can.

Cue my wonderful waiter from yesterday, who responded, “Crap, you’d think I’d know better! – I had long hair for five years and was always stopped outside the restroom door.”

Important note: keep this short. I don’t actually want to hear about your punk band from back then and how you only played in places with gender-neutral bathrooms. Just the iced tea please, Luca.

Don’t be so hard on yourself.

Modern gender presentation is very personal, and frankly, pretty confusing. I could grow my hair longer to have fewer of these misunderstandings, but then I’d have plenty of different interactions that I like even less. How’s this for a conundrum: if a construction worker on the street over-emphasizes my gender, I feel threatened and annoyed. If a random TSA worker under-emphasizes my gender, I feel slightly annoyed, but I mainly feel sorry for him. Or her. Shit.

So, learn from your mistakes.

Shut up and don’t make it worse.

The gift shop, dear reader, is closing in ten minutes.

Janie lives in Chicago and works on the internet. She has an old motorbike and makes enchiladas, but honestly she'll talk with you about whatever.

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