Dear Evil Skippy:
A friend says people he works with are sometimes uneasy about how to address someone who chooses to be known as genderless. They’ve stopped using “mister” and “mrs” and the like, but when referring to said person, they use “they” and wonder if there is any better form of address since they want to be polite and also never want to embarrass or insult the individual. Any suggestions?
Did you mis-address your inquiry? You seem to be looking for a way to be polite while avoiding insults. That’s not part of my mission statement. I’d tell your friend to say “Hey you!” and get on with his, her or their day.
Perhaps you meant to send your question to Nice Skippy at Work?
— Evil Skippy
P.S. Also tell your friend that being polite all the time is over-rated and leads to cramping.
Please ignore Skippy and keep writing. I need the attention.
In 2015, The Washington Post updated its style guide to include the singular they to describe people who identify as neither male nor female. It is increasingly common for people who have a non-binary gender identity to use they/them as their pronoun. For example: “Robert writes eloquently about their non-binary identity. They have also appeared frequently in the media to talk about their family’s reaction to their gender expression.”
Based on my limited experience, the they/them pronoun is a good default method of address. Keep in mind that this issue is evolving and the best advice is often the most simple. In a respectful and pleasant manner, ask the person for a pronoun preference.
If any readers have dealt with gender identity issues in the workplace – especially on a personal level – please weigh in. Meanwhile, for a summary of some of the terms being used related to gender identity issues, check out GLAAD’s media guidelines.
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