Gender: Why do you need to know?

Why do you need to know someone’s gender? What the fuck difference does it make? Most of the time, it makes no difference whatsoever. It is possible to talk to someone and interact with them on a number of levels indefinitely without knowing their gender, but our society is set up in such a way that most folk find it tricky to handle the not knowing. However, the more you think about it, the more you’ll probably realise that it really doesn’t matter at all. Some people strongly identify as a particular gender and proudly wear that identity as a badge, but we don’t actually need it.

Yesterday morning, I spotted a peculiar tweet from @TheProphetBlog in my feed: “It wasn’t transphobia at all. I honestly couldn’t/can’t tell.” This was rather puzzling. Aside from anything else, how can @TheProphetBlog know that what they said wasn’t transphobic when they’re clearly not entirely sure what the word means? Using the wrong pronouns or making assumptions about someone’s gender identity is a part of what is commonly referred to as transphobia. And that’s what @TheProphetBlog did, in numerous tweets to @ohsurvive. If you’re not sure, don’t use gendered pronouns. Hell, even if you are sure it’s handy to avoid using them where you can. There are so many words in the English language and so many ways of using them, that it’s kinda nice to break free and do something a little different.

When you’re in a shop and the sales assistant calls you “sir” or “madam”, are they being polite? Not really. They’re just sticking to a formula and treating you like every other person who’s been in there today, without actually giving a crap about you. Some people who work in retail ask “how are you today?” or “what can I help you with?” They start a conversation and treat you like a human being, without having to make assumptions about your gender. Think about it… you don’t need to say “excuse me madam” when a simple “excuse me” will do. Try using names instead of using he or she in conversation and discover how it’s actually not that weird.

Don’t even get me started on the douchebags who ignore when someone is dressed head to toe as one gender and instead stick with their own assumptions about what category that person fits into. Most folk dress a certain way because that is how they identify. If they are wearing super-feminine clothes, it’s probably a safe bet that they identify as female. If they are wearing super-masculine clothes, they probably identify as male. If you can’t tell… well, they probably wanted to challenge your preconceived ideas regarding gender! If in doubt, don’t guess. If you do get it wrong and are corrected, apologise and be respectful. Ultimately, though, you should really be asking yourself why you care so much about someone else’s gender in the first place.

6 thoughts on “Gender: Why do you need to know?

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  1. This makes me think about that time at the Dial Arch when I was dressed in a way that was likely to confuse most people….and when I asked the bartender where the toilet was, he told me where they both were, men and women’s. 🙂 I was very happy that he did not assume my gender. This should happen more often!!

    1. I remember that. Was both pleasing that the bar staff made the effort, but also a bit saddening that it doesn’t happen more often. Still, small steps, eh? And that pub will get more business because their staff are friendly and considerate 🙂

  2. I work in a customer service place where social rules dictate (and my role does) that i use a gendered prefix like ‘yes sir/madam’ etc. I am in many situations where i cant presume and i dont yet have any directives for dealing with this. Not that their birth gender is any of my business of course i am bound by a social role at work. Sometimes i say the wrong gender if im around hundreds of people and im getting hundreds of queries at once. I feel bad about that. Great topic. I hate illegal questions like this at job interviews too.

    1. It’s such a shame that your role dictates you have to say that when there are so many other ways to be polite. One day society will realise how unnecessary this is.

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