December 07, 2016 at 6:25 AM



Ms. and Mr. (file this under ‘Words Matter’)

December 07, 2016 at 6:25 AM

I'm in this world, okay, and the people identify each other by sex.  All the time.  It's like 'Female Person Smith' and 'Male Person Brown' or 'Person-with-Uterus Smith' and 'Person-with-Penis Brown' – I don't know the exact translation.  But sex-identity is a mandatory prefix.  They distinguish males from females.  Before they do everything else.  Before they do anything else.

            It bothers me.  It irritates me.  It pisses me off.  I mean, what's so damned special about my sex that it has to be part of my name?  Surely my values, my interests, my abilities, my character – these aspects define my self more than my sex does.

            And anyway shouldn't I be the one to decide what parts of my self are important enough to be part of my name?  Maybe I want to be identified by my ovaries, but maybe I want to be identified by my occupation.  Hell, maybe I want to identified by my blood type.

            The thing is, they consider it polite.  Polite!  To draw such relentless attention to details of my anatomy!  In fact, they think that to call someone just by their name, without the penis/uterus prefix, is rude.  So it's really hard to say anything.  And it's even harder to do anything.  I mean, I tried just saying "Dave" one time and everybody turned and stared at me.  No kidding.  I tried to hold my ground, but I heard myself say "Sorry, I mean, 'Mr. Brown'."  And everybody smiled with relief.

            I even tried variations once.  I thought if I loosened up the custom a bit, it'd be easier to get rid of it altogether.  Sort of like food that's dried onto dishes you haven't washed in a week.

            Anyway, next time I put on my best smile and said "Dickhead Brown".  Everybody turned and stared.  Worse than last time.  Again, I found myself saying "Sorry, I meant 'Penis Person, Male Person, Mr. Brown'." 

            Surely this can't be good, this obsessive marking of sex, this insistent separating of human beings into male and female.  Talk about paving the superhighway to sex discrimination.  I wanted to shout "Look, it's not like it has to be this way!"  Why not just call people by their names, 'Dave' or 'Mary'?  Too familiar for the formality-prone.  Then how about using their surname, 'Brown' or 'Smith'?  Too rude for the etiquette-addicted.  How about an all-purpose sex-neutral prefix like 'Doctor' but without the professional implications; how about just 'Person' – 'Person Brown' and 'Person Smith'?  As for the pronoun problem, they already have a sex-neutral pronoun: 'it'.  But, stupidly, it's reserved for animals.  Go figure.  In this world, animals are accorded the respect of a sex-free identity, but people aren't.

—Peg Tittle, author of What Happened to Tom


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