Addressing You

When you think about it, ‘you’ is about the most respectful identity we can address someone as. ‘You’ has as many meanings as there are people and whenever I say, “Hi, how are you?” the person thinks of themself, without the chance of unintended offense to their gender because they know what ‘you’ means to them. ‘You’ is a simple and respectful way to avoid mis-gendering or crossing pronouns. Pronouns have grown in number and while that helps depict our diverse world of identities, it can be confusing and hard to navigate. That’s ok. I do my best to study gender and sexuality, but I certainly don’t know everything. I’m always learning, and I get confused too. So, in the situation where you can’t ask someone their preferred pronouns, or when they are non-binary,fluid or otherwise gender non-conforming, what should you say? The safest answer is simply address them as ‘you’ or ‘friend’ but what about those of us who were raised with honorifics? What about those pesky forms that ask for your title? I’m happy to say that there are options.

Instead of completely dropping the sign of respect when we say ‘Ma’am’ or ‘Sir’ for a gender neutral approach, there is the title Mx. There's an argument over whether this term should be used because sometimes it’s pronounced as ‘mix’ (instead of ‘maux’ or as it’s spelled, ‘em-ex’). The pronunciation ‘mixed’ isn’t ideal, as it implies that the person is between transition or a mix of genders. While those who are fluid may not mind the implication of being between genders, it contradicts the purpose, which is to be gender neutral, not a combination. The positive side to this title is that it’s been legally accepted in the UK and has been found written in US documents as far back as the 1970’s, though it hasn’t widely caught on in the United States. Some companies have refused to use it because they consider it embarrassing, and other media outlets don’t use it because it’s not familiar enough. As of 2016, Mx was added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, proving its rise in popularity. But if this title isn’t for you, that’s alright. There are other options.

Non-binary, which we’ve discussed briefly and I promise to discuss in more detail in a later article, is an identity that leaves gender behind and steps out of the binary altogether. Some who are n.b. have adopted the term enby in place of boy/girl. Along these clever word play lines is the title Ind. Unlike Mx, I haven’t heard this one around. It’s short for Individual. The downside to Ind is that it can’t double as a pronoun, but as a neutral title it works perfectly. Personally, I like Indy. Can we make that a thing, please? These abbreviations of enby and ind have a cousin, and their name is RP. RP stands for Respected Person. As well as being gender neutral, it doesn’t imply marital status! In the words of Alexander Ladenhiem and Gary Wormser, RP has “no historical baggage or other controversy, allowing them to be widely used to describe any individual, irrespective of whether the speaker is familiar with the gender or marital status of the person being described.” RP seems to come out on top, with no confusion and the ability to be used as a title and pronoun, though it hasn’t been given much attention.

I understand the appeal of tossing honorifics out the window because they reinforce potentially damaging gender constructs, but for some people, gender is an important part of their identity and most who use honorifics only intend to be respectful. To live in a functional society, we need to consider everyone, so let’s be inclusive and consider our options when it comes to these terms of respect. Ma’am and Sir refer to one’s gender. If you want to be conscious of those who don’t fall into one gender, man or woman, and avoid mislabeling them, there are a couple alternatives. The best option is to ask the individual how they would prefer to be addressed, but situations arise where that’s not possible. When you find yourself there, remember,] Mx, Ind, and RP. If your mind blanks, because it happens to us all, don’t be afraid to simply address someone as ‘you’.