Pronouns and Transsexuality

Pronouns and Transsexuality

Pronouns and Transsexuality

Advice on manners and morals.
May 20 1999 8:52 PM

Pronouns and Transsexuality

Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com.

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Dear Prudence,

Here is an odd one for you. I am a transsexual woman (postoperative, many facial surgeries, voice surgery). I am a manager and programmer. Most of the time people have no idea, but in the work environment, everyone eventually knows. Most people are fine with it, but a few (always men) choose to act out in spectacularly inappropriate ways. The worst is in meetings with clients where a male manager will refer to me repeatedly as "he." This, of course, makes no sense to the client, who has no idea why the professional woman across the table is being referred to as a man. Things I have tried include taking the offender aside to ask that he use my given name (Jess or Jessica, as he wishes) instead of pronouns. If we're not in a client meeting and I have the clout, I sometimes take the person down on the spot--in the nicest way I can. Any cool suggestions or ideas?

--Jess

Dear Madame,

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If anyone has earned the right to the feminine title, it is you. Prudie offers the following ideas to eliminate the insensitive hostility: You could send a memo, in-house, stating that if the pronoun problem persists, you will take your gussied-up self, along with your skills, to another firm. If it is a practical impossibility to leave, you might consider going to the person's superior and registering a formal complaint. If you have the figurative stones for it, you might respond to the digs made in front of clients with a remark such as, "You have to make allowances for (so-and-so). English as a second language can be so confusing." In other words, throw the discomfort on the other guy. The "outsiders" will not know what to make of the byplay, and Prudie guesses the needler will clam up. Maybe with the head-on sparring you can train these jerks one by one.

--Prudie, supportively

Dear Prudence,

My 24-year-old girlfriend has a roommate, also 24. The roommate's boyfriend has lived in their apartment (2 br/1 bath) for four months. He is 30, gainfully employed (Price Waterhouse), and pays no rent. Not a pizza, not a thank-you. The roommate's defense is: He is my BF and stays in my room. How do you collect rent due? And how much?

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--Concerned in Atlanta

Dear Con,

Who wants to know? You have no standing in this deal. If, however, you have been deputized to ask on behalf of your GF, she's in a bit of a bind, unless the lease stipulates how many people may occupy the flat. Her only hope, if she is unhappy with the perpetual houseguest, is to advise the (official) roommate that 1) the threesome is not a comfortable arrangement for her, or 2) the guest is a de facto resident and should share the expenses--to the tune of one-third. She might also consider moving.

--Prudie, practically

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Dear Prudie,

I am a Ph.D. psychologist who does consulting at a local psychiatric hospital. While most of the staff there call me Dr. Moore, there are some who call me by my first name. I wouldn't mind this so much in private, but it's not good in front of the patients. Much of my work is with severely disturbed people and requires that I testify in court to request civil commitment. For reasons of both ego and personal safety, I would prefer to be called by my title, particularly in front of my patients. I can't think of a way to request this without seeming overly impressed with myself and my degrees. Keep in mind that none of them would ever call the psychiatrists by their first names. How do I request this politely and without appearing to be a snob?

--Sincerely yours,

Stymied

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Dear Sty,

You request it in a memo and with an explanation. It is quite likely that those calling you "Joe" are unaware of your reasons for wishing to be called Dr. (Prudie does not grasp, however, how use of your last name provides greater safety than your first. It is the last name, after all, that is listed in a phone book. Perhaps your concern is that some patients are hearing both names used?) In any case, good luck. It should not be too difficult to get things your way.

--Prudie, honorifically

Dear Prudence,

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My son is being married in October. One of my dear friends is not invited, because she is my friend, not my son's. I did not feel it was appropriate to invite her, due to the limitations placed on my son and his fiancee with respect to the number of guests invited. Two other friends who have been very much a part of my son's life are livid that I did not insist on this woman being invited. I feel any pressure I can take off these two kids is in their best interest. What do you think? Also, I wondered, when having a wedding shower, if it's appropriate to invite people who are out of state and obviously aren't going to come to a shower. Some friends say it's fine; I feel it's soliciting a gift. I'd be interested in your feedback.

--Wanda

Dear Wan,

As to the good friend of yours who doesn't particularly have any relationship with your son, Prudie understands the constraints when putting on a wedding. But she also thinks there's got to be a way to squeeze in just one more. Bear in mind that all those invited surely will not come. And of course both the bride's and groom's side can keep expanding the "just one more" ploy, but if it's really just one more, Prudie thinks it is doable. If you are close to this woman, she ought to be there. As for the shower invitations to out-of-state friends, Prudie agrees with you that such invitations are really invoices.

Though the happy day is some months away, Prudie sends best wishes and congratulations to the young couple and tranquil thoughts to both sets of parents.

--Prudie, matrimonially