How May I Address You?






Laura,


What is a non-binary, gender-neutral term of respect?


When I don’t know someone’s name, I usually call them “Sir,” or “Ma’am,” but what if I’m unsure of their gender identity? I don’t want my attempt at politeness to mis-gender someone and turn out rude. Please help!


-E.M.



Dear E.M.,


This is such a timely question, and I appreciate you asking it. It’s a sign of respect and inclusivity to refer to people by their correct pronouns and titles. In written correspondence a lot of folks opt for Mx., which is pronounced “mix.” That term can be used when speaking in addition to in writing.


Since you are specifically asking about spoken titles or addresses, consider the terms, “Friend,” “Individual,” or “Comrade.” I’m especially fond of “Friend,” as its roots are in the Quaker religion. Unfortunately, “Comrade” may have some negative connotations especially given the charged political climate of late. Never assume—you can use a gender non-conforming term to get someone’s attention, and then ask, “How may I address you?” to avoid any mix-ups.


Sincerely,

Laura