Hi Friend –
That’s a really great question, and it has a little bit of a difficult answer.
Gender has two parts – how we interact with our own gender, and how other people interact with our gender. It sounds like your discomfort is largely in how other people interact with your gender. The trouble with that is: we can’t control other people. There is difficulty in pre-empting how strangers will refer to us, because it’s impossible to know what language they are planning to use. That being said, there are a lot of steps / tricks we can use to try and affect the way that other people interact with our gender, and here are a few, off the top of my head:
- You can ask your friends to use specific language when they talk about you, like not saying “girl’s night!” when you’re all hanging out together.
- You can wear a badge that says “don’t call me miss/ma’am” when you go out to shop or eat.
- If a server/clerk uses language you’re uncomfortable with, you can cheerfully say, “just calling us ‘folks’ will be fine, thanks!” or “not a ‘ma’am,’ please.”
- If there’s a café you frequent, you can give staff resources on how to not use gendered language when speaking with customers.
These conversations are much easier to be had with friends. You’re so right that society pigeonholes people based on their gender, and there’s no easy way to fix all of society in one go (though we’re working on it every day!). I’ve found that when the world at large doesn’t understand who I am, or uses the wrong kind of language to refer to me, that it helps immensely to come back to my friends and know that I am wholly understood and accepted. If you have a friend group that is used to or comfortable with language about LGBTQ identities, it could be as simple as telling them the same thing you told me here! If they’re newer to those concepts, then you could share with them some resources about how gender is complex and nuanced, and ask them to kindly read what you’ve shared with them.
External to your friends, though: a lot of people wear badges with their pronouns everywhere they go, to make sure that people refer to them correctly. It’s a bit more complicated with your feelings, as pronouns aren’t what’s bothering/affecting you, but I wonder if there’s some pithy phrase that we could come up with to put on a custom badge, to communicate to strangers what your needs and preferences are.
I’m sorry that there is no easy answer to this question. Gender is complicated, and so are the conversations about it! But I’d be very happy to speak more on this topic with you, if I can help you any more with this particular problem, or if there is anything else that you need some support with.
Be well –