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Notice - helen-louise
Following Some Events at BiCon, there are various rants taking place in various places about pronouns for transgendered people and how the hell are you supposed to know if they're transgender if they're wearing normal clothes? Here is my comment:

As a cisgendered female, I have the right to wear trousers, t-shirts, no makeup and stompy boots. Why should a transgendered female have to dress any differently?

Or in other words, "It's a girl's t-shirt".


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baratron From: baratron Date: 3rd September 2008 16:57 (UTC) (Link)
There are a couple of issues here. Firstly, I know of more than a few cisgendered people who get clocked with the wrong pronoun. My partner Richard has a rather impressive beard, but accompanied by long hair and a waist, which is unusual in men. Personally, I'm not sure how anyone could see "person with a beard" and not think "male", but he gets called "Madam" all the time. Especially when I'm with him and visibly being a couple - the two of us are often referred to as "Ladies", even by people who can see the front! While I'm delighted there are so many lesbian-aware customer service people, in this case we're not actually a same-sex couple! Secondly, while the wrong pronoun is amusing or just annoying for a cisgendered person, it is actively offensive for a lot of transgendered people. It leads them to self-doubt important things - even their own identities.

My belief is that the best approach is to simply avoid gender-identifying words until you have been told the correct one by the person in question. I've forgotten where this story came from - a friend of a friend's livejournal one day when I was bored and following links. The person who wrote the entry is a transwoman who currently has an ambiguous gender presentation. She explains how she was visiting a part of North America that is much colder than where she is from, so went into a shop to buy gloves for herself. It was a large shop and she was unfamiliar with its layout, and more to the point she wasn't sure whether gloves would be counted as "Clothing" or "Accessories". So she asked a member of staff "Where could I find gloves?". The member of staff clearly clocked her unusual appearance, but then told her the locations of the men's, the women's and the children's gloves. This is, in so many ways, the right answer. Because a person might be buying gloves for themselves, or they might not.

One of the problems is a lack of third gender honorific. We have "Sir" and "Madam", both clearly attached to one of the binary genders. 36 has written before about how they think "Sir-Madam" is the perfect third gender honorific, but I can see that offending some because Your Transperson May Vary. If I was in a customer service job, I would prefer to avoid honorifics for everyone to avoid getting them wrong, and simply being extremely polite. After all, the second person "you" is ungendered. "Good evening, how many I help you?" is, in my opinion, polite enough that a person wouldn't notice the lack of sir or madam.

I have to admit that, being a fan of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series, where there are three genders: male, female and hermaphrodite, I do often find myself thinking life would be so much simpler if we had "Sir, Madam, or Honourable Herm" :)
nmg From: nmg Date: 3rd September 2008 16:04 (UTC) (Link)
Boggle. Why does it matter whether you can tell that they're transgendered? It isn't even that most people's records of successfully telling the gender of cisgendered folk is 100%...
baratron From: baratron Date: 3rd September 2008 17:02 (UTC) (Link)
True. But while the wrong pronoun is amusing or just annoying for a cisgendered person, it is actively offensive for a lot of transgendered people. It brings back many years of memories of being treated The Wrong Way.

Some people have been arguing that a person should wear clothing appropriate to their gender to clue in others as to what their gender is - but in doing so, they are suggesting long skirts and lots of make up (a nice return to 1950s style gender roles). My point is that all of the clothing I wear comes from the "women's" clothing department, therefore it is women's clothing. If you are not a person who feels comfortable in make up, why should you put some on to make people realise you're female? And, to be perfectly honest, if we're dealing with goths and bisexuals - how the hell would make up or skirts even help?
kyte From: kyte Date: 3rd September 2008 16:08 (UTC) (Link)
I have a cisgendered female friend who is regularly mistaken for a bloke, even on the telephone.

Not having been to BiCon, I don't know what happened. However, my two-penn'orth is that everyone should wear the clothing they are happiest in. However, if you don't cue people in to your gender, you shouldn't be too surprised or offended if people use the wrong pronoun.

Of course, you and I are unlikely to be taken as male, whatever we wear!
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ailbhe From: ailbhe Date: 3rd September 2008 16:08 (UTC) (Link)
I love that particular strip.

I do see that it's hard to tell, sometimes, but really, it's hard to tell anyway, sometimes, and one accepts someone's word for it, apologises, and moves on, using the correct pronouns. I know enough cisgendered women who have been mistaken for men, and vice versa, to think blaming one's confusion on someone's transness is, er, bollocks.
softfruit From: softfruit Date: 3rd September 2008 16:34 (UTC) (Link)

Given one of the Pert Tickler Cases in question, amongst the ways one might be supposed to know is if you've spent a reasonable amount of time with that person already and been surrounded by people using the appropriate labels/pronouns. Your peer group's choice of language is like a gentle cluestick.
From: artremis Date: 3rd September 2008 16:55 (UTC) (Link)
yes - that's quite an important thing that shouldn't get lost in all the flaming and yelling isn't it
redbird From: redbird Date: 3rd September 2008 17:03 (UTC) (Link)
I have no idea of what happened at BiCon, but the question I'd ask in return is "Why the hell are you supposed to care if they're transgender?" If someone seems to be signalling female or I think they are, I will use feminine pronouns until/unless they ask me otherwise or it becomes clear for other reasons that different pronouns are appropriate. Similarly for someone who I read as male. If I have no idea, I will probably duck the issue (it's possible to avoid pronouns if you know a person's name, and "you" isn't gendered in English).

Beyond that, if someone calls me "sir" I don't usually bother to correct them: but that's from my comfort zone as a cisgendered person, but one who cares less than average about her own gender. I have no problem with someone, cis or trans, saying "that's 'she'" or "actually, it's Mr. Doe." Regardless of what they're wearing.
baratron From: baratron Date: 3rd September 2008 17:32 (UTC) (Link)
I've been trying to avoid linking to the flamefest of doom, which is unfortunate because it does, at least, provide the context. The basic idea is a person sitting on a registration desk talking to another person who happens to be wearing "ungendered" clothing - let's say, jeans and a t-shirt. The person on the desk gets the gender of the other person wrong, and the other person is upset because they are transsexual and it is hurtful to be called by the wrong pronoun.

I believe that in the incident related, if it has been related correctly, both people behaved badly. The person in gender-neutral clothing apparently ranted about her pronoun for some time in a way which made the person on the desk upset too, and in return the person on the desk then posted in their livejournal, in a friends-locked entry, something along the lines of "well how the hell was I supposed to know she was transgendered?". This then developed into a flamewar which I was fortunately not privy to, and then another rant/flamewar that is public.

I personally tend to think that someone's current gender status is far more important than any former statuses they may have had. Some trans people agree with this, others don't - and we all have the right to disagree. The question is not so much "Why should you care that they are transgender?" (because I don't care very much, except in terms of understanding the person's history) but more "How are you supposed to get the pronoun right for people of ambiguous appearance?". For me, this has a simple answer - use ungendered language such as "you" until you're told. You could also look at the name on someone's name badge, or ask one of their friends. Or... horror of horrors - ask the person! "I'm sorry to be clueless, but which pronoun do you prefer?".

See also my comment above about 1950s gender roles.
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kyte From: kyte Date: 3rd September 2008 20:21 (UTC) (Link)
From the sounds of it, it's more a general politeness thing than a gender or trans one.

It behooves all of us to make an effort to treat other people nicely. That includes calling people by the appropriate pronouns, but also includes allowing for people's mistakes.

On a practical note, it seems that the event organisers could possibly train their people better on such matters. On the other hand, if you present in an androgynous way, it's not surprising if people get the wrong gender some of the time. If you rant at someone every time, it's not doing anyone any favours, least of all yourself.
quiet000001 From: quiet000001 Date: 3rd September 2008 23:26 (UTC) (Link)
This is my take on it, too, based on what's presented in this post and the comments to it, that it's an issue of general politeness on the part of potentially both parties.
From: x_mass Date: 4th September 2008 00:13 (UTC) (Link)
when i first read this I assumed the person was upset with me?

since i am so often the but of peoples issues

what i would have preferred is that these issues had been brought up at Bicon so we could talk about it. I think I could at lest be able to talk through with them their issues, because I am not worried if people refer to me as a man, their simply mistaken. I can understand why they might make the mistake and I can make suggestions as how to deal with this better in the future
the_siobhan From: the_siobhan Date: 4th September 2008 02:36 (UTC) (Link)
I think we should just get rid of gendered honourifics entirely. Call everybody "sir" (or equivalent) and be done with it.
syllopsium From: syllopsium Date: 4th September 2008 13:23 (UTC) (Link)

This may make me staggeringly unpopular..

Additionally may also be slightly surprising given some of the things I wear, and various background things.

In my opinion :

Wear what you want
If someone appears to be strongly female gendered, refer to them as female.
If someone appears to be strongly male gendered, refer to them as male.
If it is debateable, play the pronoun game.
Sometimes this will be adjusted according to environment.

If, after that, you as a cis/transgendered person are misidentified and this is upsetting, this is *your problem*. If the person misidentifying you is corrected, but maliciously continues to misidentify you, this is their problem.

This really sucks if it is difficult to present yourself in the way you would prefer to be presented. Unfortunately the reality is that the world will not revolve around you, and that it's easier for one person to become comfortable with their own gender.

Having said the above, the general populace should be more accepting of non binary gender. It would make a lot of people much more comfortable with their assigned sex and gender mix.
baratron From: baratron Date: 4th September 2008 17:51 (UTC) (Link)
Having thought about it a bit more, I actually think that clothing may be a reasonable indicator of someone's gender - in the world outside BiCon! In the wider world, recognising that the majority of "normal" people only recognise two genders, people are more likely to dress in a more feminine or masculine way in an attempt to "pass" as one of them. Is it a good thing that people feel they need to pass? No, not really, but it's better than being beaten up physically or verbally.

At BiCon, using clothing to guess gender is absolutely useless. How many men wearing make up are there in the bi community? It's safe, we're accepting - feel free to wear nail varnish and eyeliner if that's the kind of guy you are! And I saw at least three men with strong male identities wearing dresses on Saturday night. A person could argue that drag is a transgender act, but to me it depends on whether the guy concerned is wearing the dress to explore being a woman/his feminine side or whether it's to emphasise his masculinity.
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