DEAR MISS MANNERS: Should misgendering be treated the same as using an incorrect name?
If I slipped and used the wrong name while speaking to or about someone, I would apologize and correct myself. If I were to accidentally misgender someone in conversation, is simply acknowledging and correcting the mistake sufficient?
I try very hard to use requested pronouns, but I have occasionally slipped regarding a person I’ve just met (as I have occasionally done with names) and feel terrible. Surely misgendering, which is commonly done as an insult, is a more egregious offense than saying “Anne” when I mean to say “Amy.”
What is the best way to address this unintentional rudeness?
GENTLE READER: The emphasis on suiting pronouns to identity has to do with tolerance and acceptance. Therefore, Miss Manners trusts that those who expect these virtues will also practice them.
That means there should be a reasonable acceptance of the nearly universal (with the exception of successful politicians) problem of remembering names correctly, and tolerance for the difficulty, now, of the correct pronouns. It should not be assumed automatically that mistakes are — well, not mistakes, but deliberate derogatory judgments.
An apology ought to be enough to establish one’s goodwill when mistaking a name or a pronoun. However, there is a limit. You can’t keep doing it to the same person and expect it not to be considered intentional. This makes it hard on people with bad memories, who will have to develop more extensive and self-abasing apologies.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I live in an area where the residents have been ordered to stay at home because of COVID-19, and I’ve spent more time recently communicating with my friends and family through phone calls, emails or text messages, as most are in the same situation.
It has been a good opportunity to reconnect and catch up, swapping stories and comparing our similar tales of inconvenience and adjustment. However, a friend who is also in confinement, and who usually phones once a month, now calls four times a day. Her conversations range from her impassioned views on news and politics to her running low on toilet paper.
At first, it was nice to hear from her more frequently, but now it’s becoming a nuisance. What can I possibly say to make her limit her calls?
There’s no sense telling her that I’m too busy to talk or that I have somewhere else to be, because obviously she knows that neither excuse is true.
GENTLE READER: It is a sad situation, and if you and your friend have any mutual acquaintances, you might suggest that they check in with her. But Miss Manners does not expect you to devote your days to endless socializing with one person.
You do have things to do: keeping in touch with other people, and perhaps that dreaded fallback of the quarantined — household organization and chores that you had always claimed never to have the time to perform. And only under these special circumstances — namely, that your devices are currently your only way of making sure everyone is all right — Miss Manners will allow you to sign off on one rambling call to take another.
However, the best excuses are always no excuses. That way, there is no danger of being misbelieved or found out. So you need to learn to say, “Sorry, can’t talk now.”
Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, email@example.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.