asking

Toward a gender-neutral customer service experience for everyone

blucitrus asked:

I work at Starbucks and I’m always trying to find ways to connect with the customers but it is very difficult for me because I never know which pronouns to use. What gender neutral pronouns could I use instead of ma’am and sir and things of the sort? It’s been bugging me for quite some time. Help!

Thanks for your question blucitrus!

I (and other Starbucks-frequenting GNP users) truly appreciate that this is something you are concerned about. It shows that you’re committed to making your workplace somewhere that every client will want to come back to. And believe me – this is something that is noticed and communicated among GNP users and other trans* / non-binary folk: that your place is a good place for us.

As far as pronouns are concerned, if you have to refer to a client within their hearing range (e.g., to a co-worker), I suggest using singular they or ‘this/my customer’ or ‘this/my client.’ This takes practice, but can also be a fun daily challenge to yourself and a co-worker who’d also like to get on board. There many tips on this blog to help you out.

Regarding single-person address, avoiding the use of sir or ma’am is a great place to start but, as you say, it’s hard to know what to do next. Sir/ma’am are used to convey respect and welcome, but these can be conveyed to someone without using words. Think about how people use their body language, vocal pitch and intonation to convey respect and welcome. We incline our heads, make eye contact, listen intently, nod, smile and speak clearly in order to indicate that someone has our full attention. Of course, what ‘respect’ and ‘welcome’ look/sound like differ across contexts, but they can be performed. I’d argue that sir/ma’am are frequently used as shortcuts in busy customer service environments when these other more intentional strategies could do the job even better and more authentically, all without gendering.

Regarding plural address (i.e., to refer to groups of customers), avoid ladies, gentlemen, guys, girls, etc. and instead use terms like everyone or – if you are working in a casual customer service environment or with younger clientele – friends or folks. As above, I believe you can also welcome/show respect to groups of customers without using any of these terms at all. Think of a server saying “Good evening and welcome to our restaurant” while acknowledging each member of a group with brief eye contact and a warm smile. This is likely much more effective at conveying respect/welcome than a disinterested “Hello ladies.” Consider trying these strategies for a few minutes or a few customers every hour and seeing how they affect your (and their) experience of your interactions.

Other helpful gender-neutral phrases that convey respect (when paired with attentive body language, vocal pitch and intonation) include:

Can I help the next guest?

And for you?

What will you be having today?

Will you all be having dessert (etc.)?

These are not revolutionary or terribly insightful – just a starting place. With all of this being said, however, I have a caveat to share.

In the quest for gender-neutral public space and language practices, one casualty is affirmation for people who thrive on being (correctly) gendered by others. There are many people who enjoy being ma’am-ed or sir-ed; this is of course true of some cis-gender people but also of some transgender spectrum people. At times when I am identifying as more masculine and signalling this to the world with my grooming, clothing and behaviour, it is tremendously affirming to be seen and addressed appropriately as “sir.” However, I know many people with similarly masculine gender presentations who do not like this at all. There are also many transgender spectrum people who are in the process of or have completed a medical gender transition; for some (by no means all) of these folks, casual correct gendering by strangers can be a daily affirmation. Some years ago I heard a hilarious monologue by transsexual stand-up comedian Red Durkin in which she is yelled at by an irate cashier for moving too slowly in the check-out line: “MA’AM?? EXCUSE ME, MA’AM? HURRY UP!” Instead of being offended by this rudeness, Red replies with a swoon at the sound of this (to her) beautiful word: “Ma’am…you could scoop the honey out of that word with a bucket…”

Sometimes when I meet someone making a clear effort – e.g., with grooming, clothing, behaviour, etc. – to be readable/read as belonging in a particular gender category despite some physiological dissonance, I make a conscious choice to use the gendered title and pronoun that correspond with his or her deliberate gender presentation. However, this is an imperfect strategy to be used only with considerable caution and mindfulness, as well as humility if one makes a mistake (as are all of the things that I offer on TIMP).

So, I offer what I know to be true (for me and many others) with the caveat that these strategies won’t meet the needs of all people.

I hope this helps, blucitrus!

Warmly,

Lee

 

 

 

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Part 2: ‘But they don’t know I know…’ – Outing a gender-neutral pronoun user?

*FOLLOW UP – ORIGINAL POST BELOW*

Anonymous asked:

hello. similarly to a previous asker on this blog, I too have found out that my sister wants to use they/them pronouns from their blog, but also a different name, and I just wanted to say I found your advice to the previous asker useful, but I don’t know what to do about the different name because she is so intensly private about everything and wouldn’t like it if I knew but I no longer know how to refer to them, could you possibly help because I feel awful about mis-naming/prounoun-ing her

Hello there Anonymous.

Firstly, to echo the affirmation I gave to the-little-white-mermaid below, you are a lovely and supportive sibling. No matter how this goes down, they are lucky to have you in their corner.

I think this hinges on whether you at all want to share with your sibling that you know about their pronoun and name preferences. The bottom line is that you don’t want to hurt them by misnaming/misgendering them anymore, but it is also true that your sibling may have their reasons for not wanting to share this information with family members, even ones who are as supportive as you (presuming your sibling knows that you are).

If you are sure that your sibling knows you are in their corner and okay with their identity and needs around that, I’d encourage you to respect their decision for a little longer because they must have a reason. I understand how hard it must be to know you are misgendering them, but they might have a reason for keeping this part of themselves away from family. Do you know what that might be? About your/their relationship in particular, do you both have a history of respecting each other and keeping each other’s secrets?

If you aren’t sure that you sibling knows you are in their corner, can you subtly use Facebook or other social media to post things that are affirming of trans people and/or gender-neutral pronoun use (like my blog)? At least you are indicating that you are interested. Little things like this might create a space for your sibling to open up to you, which can take time.

At bottom, the name issue doesn’t have to be so different from the pronoun issue in this regard; it can be a very similar kind of transition for people and our friends/families.

Hope this helps, and thanks for being awesome!

Lee

the-little-white-mermaid asked:

My sister doesn’t know that I can see her tumblr blog description that describes her as bisexual, agender, “them” pronouns. I want to refer to her as she wants but I also don’t want her to know I know since I don’t actually know who she’s told. How?

Hello the-little-white-mermaid!

Rock on – you are a sensitive and supportive sibling and I truly appreciate your question; I’m sure your sibling would too, if they knew that you are being so careful and conscientious.

Your dilemma seems to be: how do I support my sibling without violating their boundaries? The bare fact fact that you want to act from an affirming place by using their pronouns is, to my mind, an excellent reason for sitting down with your sibling and just coming clean about what you found and how. The very best energy – i.e., how you approach the conversation, with kindness and openness – and best intentions – which you have – can work wonders.

It seems, though, like you’re worried about your sibling’s reaction to you knowing. Without more information about your situation, I can’t be sure why. One reason I can guess at is that your sibling might be an intensely private person who keeps their gender and sexual identities away from family. If this is true, then part of the conversation would hopefully involve you acknowledging that there are reasons why your sibling did not tell you and validating these reasons, or, “I totally get why you wouldn’t want to share this with me and that’s cool.” Make it really clear that you understand why this choice was made, and that you are only bringing it up because you want to make them as comfortable as possible around you. The conversation will also have to address how to behave around other family members, including whether or not you should use your sibling’s chosen pronoun with others.

Another reason for your worry could be the quality and the history relationship you have together. In deciding how to move forward, your best guide will be this relationship. Do you generally support each other in other family issues? Do you ‘share the spotlight’ well in your family gatherings and conversations i.e., do you fight for control or attention of other family members? Do you have a history of trusting each other or breaking each other’s trust? Do you share friends or interests or other common ground? I ask these questions because gender stuff never happens outside of already-existing relationships. The reason why a sibling or a parent might refuse to use one’s pronouns, for example, can be about an old hurt or bad dynamic and not about pronouns at all, in my view (see this). Same thing: the reason why you might be worried or why your conversation might be challenging might be because of your history with your sibling that makes any big conversation challenging, and not because of its topic.

In either case / for either reason (apologies if I’m completely off-base and please feel free to write back), I think it might be helpful to plan the conversation in a way that makes it very different from how you usually interact and spend time with your sibling in order to make it clear that this is different and important. OR, take advance of a fun and familiar ritual that you do together or place you go. These are different tacks, but they both send the message that you are being intentional, thoughtful and caring (more tips here).

Good luck, and take courage from knowing that you are already being a really lovely ally in seeking out resources and asking questions.

Hope that helps,

Lee

Sometimes it’s hard to be forgiving

Anonymous asked:

Coming back to university and unfamiliar with the they/ them genderqueer movement, I want to wear some kind of button that says “I am trying, but my brain sometimes short circuits my best efforts”. I got snapped at today for saying “she” instead of “they” even though I get that right most of the time. Everyone needs to be understanding and forgiving. Prying open the binary gender box will take more time. Keep being awesome

Hello Anonymous! Thank you for your message and support! I agree – everyone needs to be understanding and forgiving, and I’m sorry you got snapped at.

When people do that to me about something identity-related when I make a mistake (oh yes), I try to take care of myself in the situation by remembering and repeating to myself that what I am getting from them is the result of repeated, systematic refusals to use their pronouns (for example). That kind of blow-back builds up inside a person until it bursts, and usually at the wrong other (i.e., a nice person who made a mistake, as opposed to a repeat bully).

So, I hear you. And, as an ally, I want to suggest that your first response be compassion and understanding. That person just might not have it in them today to recognize that you are trying your best.

Warmly,

Lee

‘But they don’t know I know…’ – Outing a gender-neutral pronoun user?

the-little-white-mermaid asked:

My sister doesn’t know that I can see her tumblr blog description that describes her as bisexual, agender, “them” pronouns. I want to refer to her as she wants but I also don’t want her to know I know since I don’t actually know who she’s told. How?

Hello the-little-white-mermaid!

Rock on – you are a sensitive and supportive sibling and I truly appreciate your question; I’m sure your sibling would too, if they knew that you are being so careful and conscientious.

Your dilemma seems to be: how do I support my sibling without violating their boundaries? The bare fact fact that you want to act from an affirming place by using their pronouns is, to my mind, an excellent reason for sitting down with your sibling and just coming clean about what you found and how. The very best energy – i.e., how you approach the conversation, with kindness and openness – and best intentions – which you have – can work wonders.

It seems, though, like you’re worried about your sibling’s reaction to you knowing. Without more information about your situation, I can’t be sure why. One reason I can guess at is that your sibling might be an intensely private person who keeps their gender and sexual identities away from family. If this is true, then part of the conversation would hopefully involve you acknowledging that there are reasons why your sibling did not tell you and validating these reasons, or, “I totally get why you wouldn’t want to share this with me and that’s cool.” Make it really clear that you understand why this choice was made, and that you are only bringing it up because you want to make them as comfortable as possible around you. The conversation will also have to address how to behave around other family members, including whether or not you should use your sibling’s chosen pronoun with others.

Another reason for your worry could be the quality and the history of relationship you have together. In deciding how to move forward, your best guide will be this relationship. Do you generally support each other in other family issues? Do you ‘share the spotlight’ well in your family gatherings and conversations i.e., do you fight for control or attention of other family members? Do you have a history of trusting each other or breaking each other’s trust? Do you share friends or interests or other common ground? I ask these questions because gender stuff never happens outside of already-existing relationships. The reason why a sibling or a parent might refuse to use one’s pronouns, for example, can be about an old hurt or bad dynamic and not about pronouns at all, in my view (see this). Same thing: the reason why you might be worried or why your conversation might be challenging might be because of your history with your sibling that makes any big conversation challenging, and not because of its topic.

In either case / for either reason (apologies if I’m completely off-base and please feel free to write back), I think it might be helpful to plan the conversation in a way that makes it very different from how you usually interact and spend time with your sibling in order to make it clear that this is different and important. OR, take advance of a fun and familiar ritual that you do together or place you go. These are different tacks, but they both send the message that you are being intentional, thoughtful and caring (more tips here).

Good luck, and take courage from knowing that you are already being a really lovely ally in seeking out resources and asking questions.

Hope that helps,

Lee

On asking someone the ‘why’ question when they change pronouns

Anonymous asked:

“Hi so one of my friends recently asked me and some other friends to use female pronouns, despite me having used male for the year I have known them. I’m tempted to ask why the change? But I feel if that’s rude and uncalled for. Should I just leave it and not ask and if not, how would I go about asking?”

Hi Anonynmous!

This is a very good question, and I’m really glad you asked. Here are some things to consider in making your choice whether to ask or not (we’ll come to ‘how’ in a moment):

Do you and this friend have the kind of relationship where you talk about deeply personal things?

Have you and this friend ever spoken about gender issues before?

Is your question motivated by a deep-seated interest in her identity and process around making this very challenging and brave decision in her life, as well as a desire to offer her support in handling its ramifications?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, chances are you should leave it alone.

If you are indeed motivated by the interest and desire I mentioned – and not at all by plain curiosity – here is a way that you can open the door for your friend without demanding that she account for herself, to you:

“Hey. I want you to know that I’m interested in your process around this shift and your feelings about how it’s going and what led you here. If you ever feel as though you’d like to talk about it with me, I am so open to that and would like to offer you whatever support I can. However, I also completely respect your choice to never talk about it at all, with me, ever.”

Finally, if you feel like the offer of support would not be genuine or would just be something you can’t follow through on (due to lack of time, energy, capacity, knowledge, desire, etc. – fair enough) then once again I would say just leave it alone and make the requested language changes.

I really appreciate the question, and come back if you have more!

Lee

Start with affirmation: Coming out as a GNP user or gender non-normative person to a friend with little or no knowledge of gender issues

xlameprincessx asked:

“Uhm hi, i just found out about this blog and i wanted advice. I’m planning on “coming out” as demi-girl to one of my best friends and tell him my pronouns but i’m afraid he won’t understand or he’ll laugh at it. I don’t really know how to explain it to him, seeing as he doesn’t know about any other type of gender besides female and male. Do you have any tips??”

Hello xlameprincessx!

First of all, I just want to send you my very best energy for what you are about to do – it is brave and also a profound gesture of care for your friend (who I will call ‘F’ for friend). This is precisely where I suggest you begin: with a heartfelt statement of how much your friendship means to you, which is why you have chosen to share this part of yourself and take a big risk. Be honest that you know it is a risk, but that it is worth taking it for you because you care about F and about your friendship.

I suggest this because people sometimes need ‘cueing’ in order to be able to respond to something important in a way that reflects how important it really is. When we are uncomfortable, our default reaction – as you wisely note in your question – is often one of humour. Joking and laughter expell nervous energy and are desperate, often mindless attempts to de-escalate the seriousness of a situation or a request. By opening with your declaration of caring and by saying that what you will share is reflects your love/esteem/care for F and for your friendship, you are ‘cueing’ F into the fact that this is no laughing matter. It is serious business.

Time and place will also be important. Do you spend unstructured time with F, like, do you go sit in a park or field for hours or something similar? Try to have the conversation in a beautiful place with lots of open space: where F feels like they have space to move around and like their reactions are at least semi-private (crowded coffee shops and confined spaces aren’t really helpful). I would suggest that phone, text or online are also out: you want to make a connection with F’s humanity and kindness, in person, given that F doesn’t have any background knowledge.

Prepare yourself for F having questions, particularly in terms of how you want F to relate to you in public and refer to you in conversations with others. Do you need F to change pronouns, etc. for you now, or is this gradual? Will you tell others? How do you understand demi-girl and what does it mean to you? Are there things you have done together with F that are now off-limits or have to change? Be ready with a few concrete examples, if you can, of what you will need from F.

Also, is there anyone in your life who you have already come out to and who has reacted well and supportively? If so, I might suggest asking that person to be a ‘point person’ for F if F has questions or needs some support around the changes you are asking for. You can also feel free to direct F to me, if no.

Finally, there is always the chance that despite your mindfulness, preparation and best efforts, things might not go well with F. As best as you can, prepare for some good self-care afterwards. Have some time planned to do something nice or with someone you feel safe around, or at least have a safe space to go to, in case. If you would like resources of any kind, I am here.

Thank you for your question, and good luck!

Lee

‘Singular they’ on TV! Fabulous Elisha Lim talks pronouns on Global TV Halifax

“Elisha Lim is an award winning artist, activist and filmmaker who is in Halifax for the OUTeast Film Festival, and shares a story about how a simple word changed their life.”

I’d add that, in my books, Elisha Lim is a singular they superhero. They led a  petition against Xtra, Toronto’s LGBT weekly newspaper when the paper refused to use Elisha’s chosen pronoun (you can read the strangely pronoun-less story here). At the time of the petition’s resolution, the paper’s editorial policy was still not to standardize they (any updates would be appreciated) but to use last names instead, over and over again. Also, Airton said Airton really enjoyed viewing the segment because Airton appreciated how Lim addressed many of Airton’s own concerns. Ha.

Elisha’s petition and other efforts have made a major contribution to the visibility of singular they as an option, particularly in Toronto queer and trans communities. For more Elisha, visit their awesome website.

 

What to do (on Facebook) when you think someone you know has changed pronouns

Anonymous asked:

“Years ago, one of my friends came out as trans and was using he/they as pronouns, but we totally lost touch. My friend recently reactivated their FB account with a different name (one sounding more traditionally “feminine”), and I want to reconnect and ask what pronouns they’re using but I’m not sure the best way to ask?”

Thanks for your question!

As someone who has switched pronouns in my life, I really like it when I get a break from doing some of the work of explaining and publicizing my needs, even to people I like or know well. So, I would first suggest that you have a look at this person’s FB wall. Are there people you know in common who are active Commenters or Likers or Taggers or who are in recently-dated photos with your friend (YF)? **Important…are these people who you knew in common at the time when YF identified as trans and used he/they? In other words, have these people persisted in YF’s life while YF’s gender expression and/or identity has changed (at least as far as you can tell from YF’s name change)? If so, I’d say a kind and mindful first step would be to ask one of these people, if you feel comfortable doing so.

The second option, of course, is to get in touch with YF with the intention of reconnecting and, well, reconnect. Asking how YF is doing and updating YF on your stuff doesn’t require that you use a gendered pronoun for YF! Chances are if YF is into rekindling your friendship YF will bring up their gender-related needs as you correspond.

I’d suggest doing either of these things before you might get in touch to ‘pop’ the pronoun question.

Hope that helps!

Lee

Risking offence? When to ask or not ask someone’s pronoun preference

Anonymous asked:

“I’m worried about offending people if I ask what their pronoun preference is. I’ve been told to ask people up front but what if I make someone uncomfortable? Who do I ask and who do I not ask?”

This is an excellent question and a common concern. Some people will be offended, or just will simply not understand. I’m going to go out on a limb and imagine this play-by-play is what worries you: you ask someone, they don’t understand what/why you are asking, you explain why, the person thinks that they look like someone who would have a gender-related i.e., pronoun issue, they get upset.

People get upset because ‘looking like xyz person’ with a pronoun preference generally means, in the popular imagination, looking like something other than normatively straight or normatively gendered. And what’s so bad about that? Basically, people would likely be offended because of a stigma based in homophobia or its cousin, transphobia.

But just because we can trace the roots of the problem doesn’t mean it isn’t real. This situation still has to be somehow navigated.

The question remains: are there certain people who you should ask or not, based on a visual survey? I feel like this is dicey. Follow your gut, but do your best to be open to whatever reaction someone may have. Even someone as queer-looking as the day is long (like me for instance) might not appreciate the question, and that’s ok.

In workshops and other spaces where mindfulness around pronouns is an established habit (i.e., at the beginning everyone says their name and pronoun preference), we sometimes imagine that this practice will permeate the social world. I have my doubts, at least for some time to come. And I promise that groups of pronoun-conscious people at, say, a BBQ do not generally stop and do pronoun go-arounds.

So what do you do?

In reality, I very rarely have to ask someone what their pronoun is because I generally just listen to how other people describe them and avoid using pronouns for them until I am sure. If I am still really unsure or if I think someone’s pronoun (or chosen name) has shifted, I find a quiet moment to ask an acquaintance, a mutual friend, etcetera.

Other people doing this work without getting the pronoun user involved is really nice, and also completely possible. So consider listening and refraining from using any pronouns until you have figured it out, and if that fails, ask someone else.

Hope that helps,

Lee

Resource: Helpful usage tips from Dean Spade

Copied and pasted from Dean Spade at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project:

People often wonder how to be polite when it comes to problems of misidentifying another person’s pronoun. Here are some general tips:

1. If you make a mistake, correct yourself. Going on as if it did not happen is actually less respectful than making the correction. This also saves the person who was misidentified from having to correct an incorrect pronoun assumption that has now been planted in the minds of any other participants in the conversation who heard the mistake.

2. If someone else makes a mistake, correct them. It is polite to provide a correction, whether or not the person whose pronoun as misused is present, in order to avoid future mistakes and in order to correct the mistaken assumption that might now have been planted in the minds of any other participants in the conversation who heard the mistake.

3. If you aren’t sure of a person’s pronoun, ask. One way to do this is by sharing your own. “I use masculine pronouns. I want to make sure to address you correctly, how do you like to be addressed?” This may seem like a strange thing to do but a person who often experiences being addressed incorrectly may see it as a sign of respect that you are interested in getting it right.

4. When facilitating a group discussion, ask people to identify their pronouns when they go around and do introductions. This will allow everyone in the room the chance to self-identify and to get each others’ pronouns right the first time. It will also reduce the burden on anyone whose pronoun is often misidentified and may help them access the discussion more easily because they do not have to fear an embarrassing mistake.