Now that we are living in the new normal when it comes to gender identity, I’d like to get ahead of the etiquette curve before things get too messy. Let’s look beyond pronouns for a minute.
Traditionally, gentlemen rise when anyone enters a room, and ladies don’t. Gentlemen are introduced to ladies; ladies are not introduced to gentlemen. Younger gentlemen (or ladies) are introduced to older gentlemen (or ladies).
This all gets a little sticky when you’re trying to do the right thing, and you do not know the preferred gender identity of everyone in the equation. Here’s a personal example…who is introduced to me and to whom am I introduced? Unless I’m being introduced to Queen Elizabeth II (and I think she would be justified in having you executed if you tried to introduce her to me), you may get it wrong. But is any real harm done?
How about seating at a dinner party? Gay folks have had to play fast and loose with those gender based rules, seeing as how our dinner parties aren’t exactly boy-girl-boy-girl. But there are gender based rules about seating, and if you didn’t know that you must go watch all of Downton Abbey. Again. (I reserve the right to question you later about the placement of flatware.) But, was true offense given?
Acts of random kindness, such as opening a door for someone should never have been subject to gender based rules to begin with. Just open the door for everyone, without regard for what kind of plumbing they have or used to have. OK?
I recently heard of a group that provides tags to wear so individuals know how to refer to each other. “HI, my name is Deirdre, and I prefer she.” “Hi, Deirdre, my name is Craig, and after two drinks or two days, I will remember neither your name or your preference, but thanks for keeping me honest for now.” It would be more simple, when it is unclear, just to ask how a person prefers to be addressed.
So we may stumble a bit and fumble a bit…but let’s not take offense when folks are trying to be courteous and respectful. If someone is really trying to give offense, it won’t be in the form of using the wrong personal pronoun. Now will it?
As for me, I’ve heard it all…”Have you guys decided what you’ll have?”…”Would you ladies like dessert today?”…”Yes, sir, I’m brewing you a fresh pot right now.”
And, my personal favorite, “Would madam care for another martini?” I never felt so real in my life. That was in London, of course. And the answer was yes. Of course.