Dear Mostly Women in Airports, Bathrooms, Airport Bathrooms, Men On the Street/Subway/Supermarket Line, and My Doctor That One Time —
Thank you for assuming my gender and respective colloquial greeting. Unfortunately, you guessed wrong.
It happens. You thought it was a slam dunk and I, honestly, can’t blame you. On first, very quick, almost-blind glance, you saw short hair, androgynous clothing, and end-of-list. And that was enough for you to know in your bones “Yes, that’s a man.”
If you’d look just a little bit longer — but not any harder — you would have seen that I was, indeed, “passing for a woman”: a full face of makeup, earrings, and a softened body language I usually reserve for these public but confusing spaces in order to avoid these “mistakes.”
But, here we are. You saw what you saw and you called me “Sir.”
And now you’ve put me in the awkward (for us both) position of setting you straight. I have to look you in the eye and correct you by saying “I do not deserve that level of respect.”
I comport myself more as a “Hey, man” or “Yo, buddy.” And, up until I cut my hair, I was just your run-of-the-mill “Move, lady.”
But “Sir?” I mean, it’s an honor to be nominated, but that’s a privilege I’m not qualified for. I can show you my résumé where my experience ranges from “young girl” to “teen girl” to “adult woman.” References available upon request, but I’ll warn you: my mom is also going to say I’m her “daughter” and “What did you call her? What did he call you?”
Here’s the thing: getting called “Sir” doesn’t bother me. “But, Nikki, you’re writing a whole letter about it. Kinda seems like it bothers you.” And that’s a great point. Why address something if only to say it’s no big deal?
Because it’s not the act of being called “Sir” that bothers me. It’s the displacement of power and privilege in the whole social hierarchy. When I’m addressed as “Sir,” I’m bestowed a crown I’m not entitled to wear and the balance of the universe is shifted. For a few seconds, I’m masquerading as a patriarchal king. It’s only a few seconds because I invariably have to abdicate when you (the royal you) realize your mistake.
At that moment, we’re both unbalanced and unsure of what to do.
You’re embarrassed and I’m still a woman. So the emotional burden falls to me to say, “Don’t worry about it, happens all the time.” Because I don’t want you to feel awkward — and it does happen all the time. In places and with people I’d least expect it to happen.
Doc, remember that one time I was so sick, my voice was especially gravelly and I didn’t have the energy to put on any makeup because of the aforementioned illness? You prescribed me 20mg of Prednisone because, in your estimation, a “big dude” like me could handle it. You were right about my steroid tolerance, but not about my gender. I’m a “medium lady,” at best and I thought you, a medical professional, would’ve known better. But when I corrected you, you apologized and bolted out of the room like a cartoon bunny.
Like I wanted to do. And I respect you for that, Sir. But you dug your own social hole when you gave me more credit and cache than you absolutely had to and then left me holding the shovel to fill it in again.
And that’s the part that bothers me. I have to clean up your messes of gendered misses. When it turns out I’m not the Prince, I’m turned back into the basement-sweeping Cinderella not worthy of being invited to the ball.
So, in the future, please respect my wishes and do me this favor: ignore me completely.