"Go to the far line, sir"

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
I get called "Sir" a lot in airports, always by people who interact with me for only seconds at a time and who don't have the opportunity to look at my passport. For some reason, it bothers me when I do get called "Sir." Why does it bother me when the agents in airports call me "sir?" It's not that I care deeply what they think of me. It's not that I need them to see me as a woman for any particular reason. It's not that I'm bothered that, on the basis of a glance, they see me as a man. I think what actually bothers me is the embedded presumption that, on a glance, they can assess someone's gender, and pick the right honorific. In the same way that it bothers me when people call me "Mrs. Coons" (the only one of those I know is my grandmother), it bothers me that there's a presumption of fitness to judge, that they think they're qualified to see what I am and respond appropriately. It bothers me that I'm put in the position of either correcting them or ignoring it. Would I be happier if they called me nothing, or called me "hey, you?" Maybe. Maybe I'd like it better if we didn't have a cultural assumption that gender should be clearly and quickly visible. Or that gendered honorifics are polite. Because, of course, it would be considered impolite if they did call me "hey, you." People would probably be affronted by that, and write letters to newspapers about the lack of respect displayed by CBSA employees, or something.

It's a funny extension of the Ma'am/Miss issue. I spend a lot of time irritating ticket agents and people calling from my bank by pointing out that I'm a Ms., not a Mrs. or a Miss. Unless you're looking at my fingers or marital records, it's not transparently obvious whether or not I'm a Mrs. But in the same way that a Mr. doesn't need to disclose that information at every turn, I adopt Ms. in order to not announce to the world my marital status. But we're not at a place yet, as a society, where not disclosing your gender is something you can easily do. Some people may think it's not even possible to not disclose your gender. The moment someone sees my first name, they can have a pretty reasonable assumption that I'm a woman. But without that name, I'm a person with short blue hair, wearing pants, button-down shirts and maybe a blazer, carrying a courier bag and, unless you spend a little time studying my body proportions, apparently pretty androgynous at first glance. All of which makes me a "Sir" for some people. I struggle a lot with whether or not that matters to me.

I'm increasingly coming to the conclusion that my gender and sex aren't actually the business of most people. They matter to me, my doctor, to my partner and presumably to other women using the women's washroom when I am. But do my gender and sex actually matter to the CBSA agent telling me which line to get into at the airport? Not at all. Whether I'm a woman or a man, either in sex or in gender, doesn't impact her at all. There is nothing in our interaction contingent on my gender or sex. This may be why it bothers me that people in such positions presume to guess at which honorific they should use in addressing me. They have no stake in whether I'm a "Sir," a "Ma'am," a "Miss," a "Ms.," or anything else. My gender is not their problem. But they make their assessment of my gender my problem by getting it wrong. Being called "Sir" forces me into an assessment of my comfort with my own androgyny. Luckily, I've had years of practice with that at this point. If I weren't comfortable, it could be crushing. If I didn't adopt the stance that my gender and sex really only matter to very few people, the idea that some people view me at-a-glance as a man could be a problem. Instead, the problem is the presumption of judgement. The problem is that people feel privileged to guess at my gender based on my appearance. The problem is that my brand of androgynous apparently equals male for some people. The problem is that it's considered normal to go through a process of assessing the gender of strangers when we meet them and responding with our assumptions.

No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL: http://www.adaptstudio.ca/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.cgi/720

Leave a comment