The Dissonance of Referring To Myself As Ms.

pink-pronounsLast week my boss asked if I was willing to extend my part-time consulting contract for one more year. He very nicely told me how grateful he was that I had come back to work in the subway schedules department, and how I had provided invaluable assistance to the staff by trouble shooting their software problems  (the important, but unofficial, part of my old job). After I agreed to one more year, he told me that he was very busy and asked me to write the memorandum to request that the state Board of Ethics grant me another waiver so that I could continue working.

In theory, writing the memo was no big deal. One paragraph stating why they hired me back in the first place, the second paragraph with a flowery description of what I’ve done for the department, the third paragraph outlining what they expect me to do in the next year (oversee the installation of a new proprietary software program), and the fourth paragraph closing with why it is important that the contract be extended. Standard bureaucratic drivel.

When I was in charge of the department, I wrote a hundred similar memo’s to HR to hire and promote managers. The memos were slightly formal and stilted.

I got hung up on the first sentence. The one that started with “The purpose of this memorandum is to request that Ms. Jamie Ray’s Contingent Temporary Employee contract be extended for an additional year.” Four paragraphs of writing about myself in the third person with Ms. and she used collectively eleven times. It was a strong and convincing memo, but it sounded off-key to me. I’m not that person any longer. I don’t think of myself as she or her or Ms.

I copied the text into a new document and tried to tone down the gender references. I realized that this was not the right time to change pronouns and honorifics at work. If I am going to do it I need to do it the same way I changed my name. I need to talk to my closest co-workers and my boss, ask for their support, and then let everyone else know and hold them to it. It isn’t good form to ask my boss to sign out a memo, under his name, using Mx. and they, if I’m not already using gender neutral pronouns and honorifics in the office. I substituted they or Jamie seven times, and I left in two Ms. and two shes. One in each paragraph. It flew under his radar and he signed it out.

The last time this specific problem came up was over two years ago, when I drafted the “therapist’s letter” for Dr. Weiss for my top surgery and ended up using she and her (but not Ms.). I am merely annoyed by other people referring to me as she/her, but it is torture for me to do it to myself. I’m not doing it again.

I never think or talk about myself in the third person.  I don’t use or select Ms. on address forms. Thankfully, first person pronouns are not gendered, except in a very small handful of languages (including Thai and Welsh). I’m happy referring to myself with Jamie, me, I, my, and mine.

Outside of trans spaces, I’m still reluctant to ask anyone to use they/them pronouns for me. I don’t have a good answer when I’m asked what my pronouns are. I’m likely to say that I prefer they/them, then hedge it by saying that most of the people in my life use she/her. I don’t feel entitled to make a fuss about it. It is as if I’ve tethered new pronouns to taking testosterone (what is the point of using they/them if I’m not on T). Increasingly, however, it feels contradictory for me to come out as trans while tolerating she/her pronouns. I don’t think I’m headed for he/him, but I don’t think I can tolerate she/her forever.

Notes: While using gender neutral pronouns has been in the news a lot, I could not find anything regarding using they/them/their pronouns in business writing, e.g. resumes, CV’s, and professional bios. I did, however, find a great article by Dennis Baron called “The Words that Failed: A chronology of early nonbinary pronouns“.

I last wrote about this issue in an alarmingly similar way about two years ago in a post titled “Grammar, Preferred Gender Pronouns, and I“. It also references an article by Dennis Baron.

16 thoughts on “The Dissonance of Referring To Myself As Ms.

    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Combination of fear of not being taken seriously and fear that it will be taken seriously. I have a bias that only “kids” use non-binary pronouns – or that they pronouns are used during a “phase” – or that adults figure it out and use he/him or she/her pronouns. But in reality, I’d rather use they/them than anything else.

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      1. writerspilecki

        As an English teacher, I have really struggled with this, as my students have a hard enough time writing clear sentences as it is. They often tell me that the last grammar class they had was in fifth grade and can’t tell a pronoun from a noun. College students. But I am shifting toward people being more important than grammar clarity.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. A Country boy

    want a good laugh …. first time in 15 years…. I got Ma’amed at the frickin walmart sunday ! so that should be a heads up, no matter what you do in life someone will always call you by the wrong pronoun or gender , umm ya

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      You may need to grow your beard out again to get that sir back (or surround yourself with straighter looking women…). Putting Ms. in a memo really pissed me off – have to figure out a way to not do that again.

      Liked by 1 person

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      The good outcome will be getting the one year extension for consulting! I couldn’t get all of the gendering out without it sounding more informal than my boss would want. And since he had to sign it, I sucked it up and left Ms. in. But I super cringe whenever I hear it or read it.

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  2. Lesboi

    I would be really happy to get rid of all honorifics in language. Back when I went to my college to get my name changed in their records the lady that helped me asked if I wanted her to change the Ms. to Mr. After a little discussion she realized that she could just not check either option for me and I was happy with that. I would push for Mx. personally if you had to use something. I don’t think I could bring myself to use Ms. again and Mr. doesn’t feel right either. I experienced ‘sir bombing’ today at GNC when I went in to buy my protein powder and that felt equally weird, yet less annoying than the constant ma’am-ing that I used to get. Sir after every sentence. About half way through I started getting paranoid that he was over using the word to see if I would ‘correct’ him. I did not. I just wish they’d cut it the frick out!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      It is hard to know when someone is being passive aggressive or is just on auto pilot – partly because it is impossible for me to believe that someone is sincerely and without judgement actually trying to refer to me as Ma’am. It just feels wrong.
      I don’t mind when someone calls me Sir and sticks to it even if halfway through they question their own judgement – but your salesman at the GNC sounds like he got the needle stuck in the Sir groove. One Sir per encounter is enough.

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  3. Bunnies!!!!

    If you bring in enough pastries, they’ll be fine with you calling yourself whatever you want to be called. They’ll talk about it and get over it, and go on to talking about how the Yankees suck.

    Other than the short dude from Staten Island. But honestly who cares what he thinks!! 🙂

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Frank will either be the last man standing in the department or he will die on the job. He actually calls me Jamie 85% of the time which isn’t bad for someone with so few brain cells left in his head. Josie is still batting with the lowest percentage…but she self corrects each time.
      It cost me about $150 in pastries for the office when I changed my name, almost as much as the legal papers and new IDs (but well worth the money spent). I don’t know if they’d have as easy a time with pronouns – and Ira would probably ask me again if I was planning on using the men’s room.

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  4. mostcurious

    Yeah, I feel you. I almost never choose “Ms.”, even when I was pretending to be a cishet woman (and failing) Ms./Mrs. I choked on. I went so far as picking “Rev.” on something because it was a choice and I hate all the other choices. ALL OF THEM. They’re so 20th century.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I have two “memberships” to cultural institutions as Prof. because I got the membership online and I was required to pick something from the list.
      I don’t mind Mx. but I haven’t seen it offered, and I genuinely prefer just my name without the honorific.

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  5. evergreen

    That’s never fun, but I’m glad you were able to find a work-around in the moment. I’m hoping Mr./Ms. eventually go the way of sir/ma’am, which I rarely hear anymore in my part of the US, but pronouns are a lot trickier.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I wish all gendered honorifics and titles (and pronouns) would disappear – and all restrooms/dressing rooms would be single use and gender neutral. My life would definitely be easier!

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