M. Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior toward (and by) Androgynes
(Or, Brothersister Raphael Explains it All to You)
by Raphael Carter
What pronoun does one use for an androgyne, intersexual,
epicene, gender outlaw, or transgendered person?
Obviously, it is polite to accede to people's preferences, if you
know what those preferences are. Guessing wrong is a trivial
faux pas that should be fully atoned for by a quick apology.
However, referring to a person by a pronoun against that person's
stated wish is churlish.
M. Manners' own preference, incidentally, is 'whatever
makes you feel comfortable.' Some friends refer to zir as
'he,' some as 'she,' and that's perfectly fine by zir. A few
go so far as to switch occasionally (which M. Manners calls,
with apologies to Janet Kagan, 'hellsparking the pronoun');
others use a nongendered pronoun like 'sie' or 'zie.'
What do I do if I can't tell what sex someone is?
Most of the time, you go through a peculiar dance in trying to
find out, as
chronicled ad nauseam on the Saturday Night Live 'Pat' skits. M.
Manners has been asked by an insurance agent, 'Of course,
you know, men pay more for life insurance than women. So, ah,
would that be a good thing or a bad thing?'
Other times, you stutter out 'sir, er, ma'am, um, whatever you are.'
This is known as "radaring",
after the way Radar O'Reilly addressed Major Hoolihan.
Sometimes, too, you respond to ambiguous sex with paralysis,
refusing to use any pronoun at all, and becoming more and more
nervous and uncomfortable as a result.
Occasionally you even see fit to tell an androgyne
what sex zie is. M. Manners zirself was once informed 'you're
just a woman with very short hair -- I didn't realize from the
That, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, is what you do.
If you meant to ask what you should do, the answer
is: ask politely what pronoun the person would prefer.
The other solutions are patronizing, inept, pathetic, and
boorish, in that order.
What is the job description of a Gender Oracle?
A Gender Oracle is a person whom others approach to ask
about an androgyne's sex. It is well if the Oracle can be
persuaded to relish zir role as an ongoing joke; more often,
zie dreads it as a sticky social situation, and may transfer
this discomfort to zir androgyne client. In such cases the
androgyne is well advised to commiserate, pointing out
that it is the poor manners of the petitioner, not the client's
androgyny, that creates the awkward situation.
What do androgynes wear on formal occasions?
Obviously, if a restaurant's dress code states that men
must wear ties and women must wear skirts or dresses,
androgynes are not covered and can wear anything they want.
M. Manners is reminded of Father Guido Sarducci's appearance
on Saturday Night Live to hawk the 'Be Pope Kit.' Persons
wishing to be Pope could purchase appropriate clothing,
including a Pope Pantsuit for women; if a female Pope were
challenged by a maitre d', she could simply say, 'I'm Pope.
I can wear what I want.' Similarly, M. Manners is unaware
of anything in Emily Post that states that jeans and a
sweater are not white tie for androgynes, and zie
intends to act accordingly until the dress codes are clarified.
If I know that a person identifies as an androgyne,
transsexual, or intersexual, may I inquire as to the details of zir
You may ask after a transgendered person's genital appearance
in exactly the same situations where you might ask the length
of a man's penis -- that is, if you will excuse M. Manners'
language, not bloody often.
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Last modified: 18 February 1996
Copyright 1994-2000 Raphael Carter
Archived at PracticalAndrogyny.com, original available at http://web.archive.org/web/19990225093505/www.chaparraltree.com/raq/manners.shtml