refluentmiscountedmelliticsceats asked: I went and read your entire blog, and I've one question still: do you know any gender-neutral forms of address (there's sir, ma'am, and… what?)
Wow, that must have taken a long time! There’s a lot of irrelevant stuff in there. Thanks for sticking with me. :)
You ask a question that is perpetually unanswered. At least satisfactorily. Some options have been invented, though I’ve never heard them said in natural conversation, but we don’t do sir/ma’am so much in the UK so maybe that’s why.
- Ser - From the nonbinary wiki page on titles: “Pronounced sair, to rhyme with hair. A neutralisation of the word “Sir” that’s been used sporadically in works of fiction such as Greg Bear’s The Way novels, and the Dragon Age series of video games.” However, when written down it could easily be accidentally pronounced “sir” (or at least I did in my English accent), or even mistaken for a misspelling of “sir”. Additionally, since it is so close phonetically we risk causing unpleasant dysphoric feelings for people who were assigned male at birth.
- Sir - but in a gender-neutral Battlestar Galactica way. This is the worst idea in the whole world, because we don’t live in the future on spaceships, and so “sir” still has masculine connotations. That means that in order for Sir to have no masculine connotations whatsoever we have to wait for those connotations to leave the mass consciousness due to absolute gender equality, which could take decades, or even hundreds of years. There’s a lot of male-assigned trans* folks who are going to get triggered and/or wonder whether or not they’ve been misgendered, ie: “did they mean that in the assuming-I’m-a-man way, or the Battlestar Galactica way?”
- Per - reasonable. Difficult to mishear or mispronounce as “sir”, and short for “person”. Often attributed to Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy.
Having said that, it’s not totally unusual for someone to approach a stranger and say something like, “excuse me, mister”. So maybe Mx, which is usually an alternative to Mr and Ms, could work? “Excuse me, mx…”
The issue, and probably the reason nothing new has really caught on, is that vocabulary is created in response to a sort of empty hole. So far there is no significant empty hole, because in interactions with strangers most of us anglophones see or assume a binary gender. The first instinct is to say “excuse me, sir” or “hello, ma’am”, and we are so rarely stuck for words. (Of course, nonbinary folks unintentionally create this empty hole all the time; “good morning, si- er, ma- sorry! Erm, would you like to try one of these delicious free samples of latest-new-product?”) And since the nonbinary folks tend to not use gendered language quite so often (“Excuse me [no honorific]…”), and the binary folks often don’t know about or have no interest in gender-inclusive language unless they have nonbinary friends, and even when they have nonbinary friends they’d have to really consciously work to remove assumed-binary-gender language from their autopilot, it’s going to take a hell of a lot of hard work to create the empty hole for the new gender-inclusive hello-stranger word to evolve naturally from what we already use. There is no opportunity even for nonbinary folks to teach the already-invented words above to strangers on the street.
As usual, reglobs and further comments and messages about this are welcome. Links to more information are good too.
Edit: Further thoughts. TL;DR: I think we don’t have replacements for sir/ma’am because we can just omit them without any negative effects. Maybe we could advocate for their omission generally.