Nowadays many people ask “What is your preferred pronoun?” This is a tidy way of respecting one another’s gender identity. Gender is not always so obvious and it can get even more complicated with people who are genderqueer and maybe prefer they/them or zie/zir or something else entirely.
A few months ago I taught at Debauchery in North Carolina. This was just a great event. Part of the reason is that the organizers work really hard to embrace all kinds of diversity. When filling out the registration, you were asked for your pronoun preferences. I filled out as “She/her. Sir, not Ma’am.”
When I got to the registration table at the event, my preference was printed on my badge! So cool! This seems like a trend at events now. TES Fest also had a space on its event badge for preferred pronouns.
So, at Debauchery I did not think much about the words on my badge until a couple approached me to ask questions before my class started. The man addressed me as Ma’am which is always gets my back up. Sometimes I correct people, especially if they are somebody I care to interact with in the future. But oftentimes, I just swallow it and go on. Like at work, I do not want to make waves with a customer who is only trying to be friendly and respectful.
Anyway, I had been addressed as Ma’am and it did not feel right. However, I realized that I had this bright shiny new tool to use. I showed them my badge and said, “It’s Sir, not Ma’am.” The guy paused to look at it and then said, “Whatever. What I really want to know is…”
I was seunned. I felt dismissed and disrespected. That guy’s use of Ma’am had nothing to do with any sense of respect. It was probably just a southern vernacular. The interaction left a bad taste in my mouth.
Later that day, another person addressed me as Ma’am. Again, I trotted out my badge. He was quite serious as he barked, “Yes, Sir!” I loved his enthusiasm and it made me feel really good about it.
So, while your preferences on a badge is a great idea, it will only be a valid tool if people aren’t assholes.