“I hear tons of talk about pronoun sensitivity, but what about a gender neutral word Mr. or Ms.? I work in a very formal environment, and so titles are a big thing.”
Thank you for asking, Anonymous!
I think that formal work environments are a major ‘frontier’ for gender-based language changes, particularly because formal authority structures are so wrapped up in the correct use of language and related protocols e.g., you can’t just revert to using someone’s first name when you don’t know their gender preference regarding formal titles (or honorifics, as they are sometimes called).
Many people have started to request Mx. to be used when they don’t feel like identifying either way in a titular sense, but I also am unaware of whether this is a verbal or just a written form of address. The UK city of Brighton has this year announced its intention to add Mx. as an option for those accessing city council benefits and services. Wikipedia tells me that Mx. is pronounced ‘mux’ or ‘mixter’ (??) but it’s clear we are a long way off from having something widespread and workable.
If this is a situation that affected you directly, i.e., you would prefer to be called something more they-ish than Ms. or Mr., I wish you the best of luck and can only say that your personal level of comfort at work (professionally and personally) will have to be weighed with your need for gender recognition. I am currently applying for tenure-track jobs, and I have been split down the middle on whether to ask my referees to write letters with ‘they’. Some have done wonderful backflips with language and written letters without any pronouns at all, even after I told them that I’m tending toward using a gendered pronoun and beginning the work when I get there in terms of educating my (fingers crossed) future colleagues. But this is entirely up to one’s field and one’s own preferences.
Thank you for your question, and please ask another anytime!