Last week on date night, my spouse and I went out for dinner. Since we had tickets to see George Takei speak at the historic State Theatre later that night, we decided on a fancy restaurant in downtown New Brunswick. It came highly recommended (and truth be told, I’d go back), the atmosphere was what I’d ignorantly call “neo-hipster,” and the menu was surprisingly palatable for a picky vegetarian. I was looking forward to a romantic, special evening with the love of my life and Uncle George (“Oh Myyy!“).
Then the 17 guys came.
They weren’t real people. In fact, they hardly existed at all. But as soon as the waiter first came to the table with a “Hey guys,” I opted to amuse myself with a count. How many times could that eighties-mustache-marred mouth speak a gender not my own into existence over the time it took me to eat a bourgeois brick-oven pizza?
“Okay,” you’re probably thinking, “terms like that don’t necessarily ascribe gender.” For a lot of people they don’t. Phrases like hi guys or what’s up, man are friendly attempts at familiarity, and phrases like how can I help you, sir? or good evening, gentlemen are amiable attempts at formality. How dare I blame someone for being friendly or amiable!?
Think about it from my seat at the dinner table. I was misgendered seventeen times over the course of that meal (and those were only the times I noticed). Seventeen times within that 50-or-so minutes, seventeen times over six slices of pizza, seventeen times between refills of seltzer – seventeen times that night, my identity was erased.
“Okay,” you’re probably thinking, “you have a beard and present as male. You must be used to people thinking you’re a guy.” I am so used to it. And I could have – or should have – corrected him after the first or second time. To be honest, I don’t yet have the vocabulary to correct people in-the-moment (I usually rely on allies to help, but those closest to me are also exhausted by this task).
This isn’t just about me. It’s an example of a larger reality: that we regularly superimpose identities upon those we hardly know. Something so benign can hurt those to whom we speak. I was hurt that night by 17 guys.
It’s difficult to change something that is so natural in everyday speech. And I’m still learning the practice of using “they/them” pronouns for everyone until I am told otherwise. My spouse is brilliant in this regard, and he has taught me so much.
Friends, this is low-hanging fruit. Replacing gendered terms makes life just a tiny bit easier for us non-binary folks. And if you think you don’t know any non-binary folks – nice to meet you.
My pizza that night was really great. It would have tasted even better without the 17 guys.
“My night with 17 guys” is the first post in Being Non-Binary, a new space I’ve created to share everyday experiences that non-binary folks like myself encounter. Please read, comment, and share!