Why Forms of Address Matter

In our day to day lives we are called ma’am or sir quite regularly. For many people there is no concerns about this or any angst. Sometimes a clerk, cashier or other person we are interacting will use the wrong term. They will call a woman “sir” or a man “ma’am”. This happens to those who are cis* as well as those who are trans*. There are women who look more masculine and are mistaken for men on occasion and visa versa. For those of us who are transsexual or transgender this sort of a mistake has an impact that may seem disproportionate to many.

For myself and for many who go through the process of transition being addressed in a male form of address instead of a female form of address can be rather disconcerting, triggering and can cause a certain level of distress. In my own case I spent 36 years living in a body and attempting to live in a role that society said was ‘male’. A body and a role that were not who I truly am. The process of transition can be, and most often is, very difficult mentally, emotionally and physically. In my own case it was less traumatic than some, and more traumatic than others. One aspect that I am crystal clear about is that there is no way I would ever go back to trying to be a man. I am a woman. So why does this make the form of address important?

Being called “sir” or being referred to as “he” or “him” is a reminder of what I once was. It is a reminder of trying to live as someone I really wasn’t. It is a reminder of the pain and trials of the transition process. It is a reminder of twenty-seven years of depression. Early on, particularly after I shed my old identity and began living my whole life as who I truly am I would get rather irked and upset about being called “sir”. Almost two and a half years later I am at a point where I don’t want to immediately bite the person’s head off and feed it to the nearest raccoon. Unless of course it is deliberate and the person is trying to be insulting and disrespectful.

My advice to those who interact daily with people they don’t know, which most of us do to a greater or lesser degree, avoid using gender specific modes of address, especially if you are unsure how the person wants to be addressed or are unsure if the person is male or female. This will save them pain if they are in a sensitive place in their journey. It may also save you a tongue lashing at the hands of someone for whom it was the comment that pushed them over the edge into an angry response.



* I am using cis as a short form for cissexual – those who aren’t trans* and trans* to refer to those who fall at all points on the transgender, transsexual and gender queer spectrum.

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