After I published yesterday’s blog about politics and opinion polls, there was a sincere question asked. A street performer made an honest mistake and misgendered someone during his act. He asked how to avoid that and what to use in his act. I didn’t know. So I asked around. There was honest and helpful discussion.
So first, let’s start with the question that was asked and how the story was told. The comment on my blog (slightly edited) went as follows:
I am a street entertainer. I do magic in a place called ‘Congress Park’ in the town/city of Saratoga NY.
On Sunday (an awesome day BTW) I had selected 3 kids to help me with a ‘trick’. To one of them I said “Would you young lady stand over here”. HE corrected me and said, “I’m not a young lady, I’m a young man”. So I realized that I had been wrong. And I said “Sorry, My bad. I will try to NEVER make that mistake again.”
It truly is a difficult promise to make. Not because I have anything against transgender or even just because the kid looked like a girl. I made an assumption based on cultural upbringing. The kid looked like like a girl. So addressed her as a young lady. Is that wrong?
I seriously want some help on this. As an entertainer I usually address my helpers by saying “What is your name young man” “What is your name little girl”. It is a good way to get the helpers and the audience involved.
I have been considering saying “What is your name young person?” but the point is that by addressing them by their gender does seem to bring more emphasis on them.
Should I just now say “And what is your name?” and leave out the gender?
Im asking for input . I want advice.
In all my years as an entertainer, I have never had this situation happen until a few days ago. I know that the person who corrected me was not offended (dropped a nice tip in my hat). But still I am trying to wrap my head around how to change my ‘patter’ to make it more friendly.
Before I go into the responses, I wanted to point a few things out. When he was in the situation and misgendered someone, the person corrected him. He immediately apologized and went on with his act. It reminds me of the time a waiter at a Mexican restaurant misgendered my son. We are all humans and sometimes we will misgender people. Those people may or may not be transgender or gender non conforming. The best way to handle it is to apologize and move on. It is really that simple. He got it perfect.
Another thing he brought up brilliantly is that he misgendered the young man based on the cultural upbringing. Sociologists understand that gender is a social construct. We carry those assumptions based on our cultural upbringings. We also carry expectations with that. The world is changing, and like the magician, we need to challenge our assumptions and see how we can change.
He is on a stage of sorts when he performs on the street. We all are in some way. He has a sphere of influence with other street performers and magicians. I used to be friends with a street magician, at least in his case, there was a lot of networking in his trade. We all have a network and sphere of influence. When we challenge our assumptions and make changes for the betterment of all, there is a ripple effect on our sphere and the “audience” of our stage of life.
My fiancee’ and I were talking about the magician’s comments last night while running errands. She had pointed out that we need more gender neutral phrases to become the norm. I agree, but it is going to take time and it is going to take a few trail blazers like Cozmo the Magician to lead the way and find innovative terms to us in his act.
But this change of perception and reality is not just for the people of the stage. It is for all of us to move beyond our understanding of male and female and to adjust our expectations of visual cues. This is rather exciting. It is leaving a world of expectation and entering into a world of discovery.
The first person I spoke with is the program director at the gender clinic my son goes to. Her response was as follows:
Fair question, we get this a lot with possible related front desk people as well. I would suggest saying things like “what’s my little helpers name today?” Or even just “and what is your name?” The more you practice keeping it neutral the better you get as I’m sure you know. This is important for Trans youth as well as others who may not fit into society expectations of gender stereotypes. Not making assumptions as beneficial for everyone. You can also use they them theirs when you aren’t sure about someone’s gender.
I think it could be done without referring to gender. I usually call kids “buddy”, both boys and girls.
I think you’re safe with “And what is your name?” but I call everyone dude so what do I know?
Kiddo, dude, buddy, pal, – I find myself using all of these more with my teen and their crew. My husband and I refer to “the offspring”, the teen, the bass player etc. I could see the patter being what’s your name “my friend” or “young apprentice” or “kind volunteer”
How about, “you in the blue shirt and striped shorts” or “you with the brown hair and glasses”?
How about “What’s your name, (my young or brave or courageous or new) friend?”
One parent has even written a guide to help not only address students, but sort them in ways more clever than “boys on this side and girls on the other”. I am not publishing that today because I would love for her to guest blog or show me a place online where people can read her insightful thoughts.
There were also comments on the blog from other readers. They came up with some interesting ideas too.
The only suggestion I would have is that you might have turned it back on yourself more, such as going up to the kid, squinting at him and saying something like “My wife’s right! I need glasses!” ( as a street magician I’m sure your patter is better than anything I could come up with). But don’t beat yourself up! A mistake self-corrected is barely any mistake at all.
I have been in such a situation twice…
First was a young mother with a flock of three young very blonde children that I walked home. The youngest, only 6 months, had been extensively discussed the whole evening… a girl. The eldest, at 5, was very inquisitive and talkative… obviously a girl. The middle child was very quiet and kept back. At one point in the conversation, I mentioned her “three daughters”… and she corrected me: it was a boy. A quite boyish boy, whom I simply hadn’t really noticed in the crowd of blonde heads. I said, “my bad”… without needing to ensure either of them that this would never happen again. Perhaps it will.
The other situation was a customer’s daughter I met at the door. I greeted her with a cheery “Good morning, young lady.” and she corrected me with: “I am not a lady… I am Harry Potter!”
In neither situation there was the idea that I meant to assign a gender to anyone that they didn’t identify with. It was just a mistake / game… and nothing world-shaking. But neither of these children was transgender.
I have no idea how they would react in such a situation… perhaps Pat’s son could weight in on this? Does it matter to them? Do they see a deeper meaning behind it?
For me personally, it would be a distinction between an – most likely unspoken – “Ah, so you are transgender. I will of course respect that, because I am a liberal person.” and “Ah, so you are a boy/girl/whatever, regardless of what my first impression was. I will treat you like anyone else.”
My son has not weighed in yet. He is with his mother right now, but this weekend is my weekend and I will be asking him about it. I am sure he will have a lot to say and I will likely have him ‘guest blog’ about it.
In closing, I want to thank Cozmo the Magician for his honesty, his compassion, and his insight. I’ve been looking for ways to change the tone of this space from just pointing out the horrible things Trump and Laci Green and waitresses do and say to something more useful for all of us to be better allies, parents, and friends. Cozmo gave us that today and I am grateful.