“Ma’am” and “Sir” in a Transgender World: Part Two

Transgender pronouns

Say you’re in your PJs and you’re getting ready to leave your home to run some errands.

You know, things like getting gas, going to the bank, getting stuff from the grocery store, grabbing a latte from your favorite coffeehouse.You have some choices to make about how you want to look when you go out, right? It might depend on how motivated or lazy you’re feeling about it, or if you care or don’t care about what others think of the way you’re dressed, or if you’re running short on time or not. So you make your decision according to some of these factors and off you go!

But what if you’re transgender?

Before I go on let me clarify.

I’m thinking of my clients who have either not yet begun Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) for the treatment of their Gender Dysphoria and those who are in the early stages of transitioning.

I’m also thinking of those clients who, no matter how long they have been on HRT, have something unchangeable about their physical appearance (such as their height or facial structure) that continues to create some of level self-consciousness.

Lastly, let’s not forget those who are, very understandably, unable to afford to certain procedures that assist in a person feeling more congruent with their true gender (such as electrolysis to take care of unwanted facial hair, voice coaching or vocal chord surgery, chest reconstruction surgery, facial feminization surgery, gender confirming surgery, etc.).

Breaking It Down

So now let’s look at the process that many of my clients go through before they embark on what would seem to a cisgender person like a simple task of going to run errands. I divided it up between MtF (transitioning from male to female) and FtM (transitioning from female to male) because I’ve noticed there are a few significant differences between the two.

MtF (transitioning from male to female)

  1. Should I wear makeup?
  2. Should I wear earrings?
  3. Should I wear jewelry?
  4. Should I paint my nails?
  5. Should I wear a wig, or a hat?
  6. Should I wear something really ‘girly’?
  7. Should I walk more ‘girly’?
  8. Should I look people in the eye or look down?
  9. Should I talk above a whisper?
  10. Should I use speak in a more ‘girly’ way?
  11. Should I stuff my bra?

FtM (transitioning from female to male)

  1. Has my facial hair grown in enough? Should I wear a false goatee?
  2. Should I walk more like a ‘guy’ does?
  3. Should I act more like a ‘guy’ does?
  4. Should I deepen my voice when I talk?
  5. Should I even talk at all? (pre-HRT)
  6. Should I dress more like a ‘guy’?

You’ll notice there are a few similarities between the MtF and FtM experiences. Those tend to stem from a trans person being highly aware of what our society believes to be the “male” and “female” characteristics that offer clues (even if they are unconscious) to the burning question that very few of us can stop when we see someone of questionable gender:

“Is that a guy or a girl?”

As for the differences, many of my female-to-male clients will remark that they feel for male-to-female clients, recognizing that MtF’s have additional challenges that they usually do not have to deal with, or at least not for very long.

The example I have heard mentioned the most has to do with the effects that testosterone has on someone who is FtM.

Once a trans male begins HRT (which in their case would be increasing their testosterone levels), their voices deepen and hair grows on their face, both of which rank high on the “male” side of the subconscious clues list. Subtle changes can be noticed within only a few weeks and, after a couple of years, many trans males are rarely mistaken for female, (if this is their goal).

HRT does not affect the voice of someone who is MtF, so she will still have the same “masculine” voice she acquired during puberty. Hair growth on her face does not stop, and hair growth does not increase on the top of her head (for those who have male-pattern baldness). Again, these are all characteristics which rank high on the subconscious clues list for proving or disproving femaleness. They require more money to remedy than many folks can afford, and therefore the result is oftentimes a trans woman being misgendered as “sir” or “he,” even if she is wearing earrings, makeup, and a “feminine” outfit. This drives my clients crazy when this happens!

If you’re still wondering what the big deal is about these female and male “clues”? Check out what Kate Bornstein says in her groundbreaking book Gender Outlaw:

“According to a study done by Kessler and McKenna, one can extrapolate that it would take the presence of roughly four female cues to outweigh the presnece of one male cue: one is assumed male until proven otherwise. That’s one reason why many women today get ‘sirred’ whereas very few men get called ‘ma’am’.”

So, take a moment to remember where this entire scenario began…

Say you’re in your PJs and you’re getting ready to leave your home to run some errands.

Sounded so simple when we started, didn’t it?

Additional Reading:

“Ma’am” and “Sir” in a Transgender World: Part One

“Ma’am” and “Sir” in a Transgender World: Part Three

Homework Assignment:

The next time you’re about to go out to run errands, notice how it is that you decide what to wear and how to present yourself. Imagine what it must be like for someone who is transgender. How would you feel if you were misgendered by someone?

If you think this wouldn’t bother you, remember back to when you were going through puberty. How self-conscious did you feel about your appearance? How many different styles did you try in an attempt to express who you really were? What did it feel like when someone made fun of you, or assumed you were trying to be someone you weren’t? Imagine going through this as an adult, day in and day out.

In Part Three I will further explore this whole notion of “maleness” and “femaleness” in our society. If you are cisgender then this is probably something you don’t have to think about very much, if ever. But for someone who is trans it’s an almost constant companion in their life.And oftentimes one they would be happy to never have to think about again (I’ve heard it described as “I’m so tired of having to be ‘trans’ – can’t I just be me?”).

Spread the word- share this post
  • Ashley

    June 15, 2013 at 6:40 AM Reply

    Smothered; thats how one will feel if going through a transition. When broke or under major depression; one can not simply walk outside to get the paper or tell the dogs to
    stop barking; let alone go to the supermarket.

    Trapped; thats how we feel if going through a transition. It does not matter are we
    completely on HRT or if we ran out of money. We need time. It can easily take
    two hours to get ready to step outside into the evil world just to get one item at
    the supermarket. For those who don’t have money, this translates to using up
    your expensive shaving blades and expensive makeup and lots of time; just to get
    one item you wanted. This usually is the ‘fox and the grapes’ where the fox decides
    not to bother and ignore the grapes, they were probably sour anyways. We just
    stay inside and save our money and wait for opportunities where we need a lot of items
    at once to make it worth while.

    Cursed; thats how one will feel. You are smothered, you are trapped. This will be
    the on going theme in your life.

    Everything on that list above applies to me. I don’t like to talk. Not because I’m anti-
    social. It is because I do not want to lose what I already gained. I am wearing
    all my jewelery, perfume, girl clothes only. No jeans or clothes that make me get
    mistaken for a guy, so no loafers, only platforms or heels. No sandals and only
    cute boots, no t-shirts, must be a top that is clearly worn by a woman. I know
    that the minute I speak, I will break . The house of cards will come crashing down.

    • Dara Hoffman-Fox

      June 15, 2013 at 4:48 PM Reply

      You’re perspective is vital for us to hear Ashley, thank you for posting your thoughts…

  • Jessica Hall

    June 23, 2013 at 2:00 AM Reply

    9 times out of 10 if I am going out for a quick errand… I don’t even bother and go in drab. I hate the stares and the occasional outbursts nearly send me into a fit of tears.

    • Dara Hoffman-Fox

      June 25, 2013 at 10:26 AM Reply

      This is such a true reality for so many of my clients as well, and I’m hoping we can continue to educate the masses to understand just how difficult this can be for those who have transitioned.

  • transiteration

    June 24, 2013 at 3:46 PM Reply

    Quick errands are a hassle because we have to decide how much effort we want to put into our appearances, but if someone unexpectedly rings the doorbell it’s almost worse because it leaves no choice!

    • Dara Hoffman-Fox

      June 25, 2013 at 10:27 AM Reply

      Another good point! I’ve also had clients discuss with me how difficult it is to talk on the phone, when the visual cues aren’t there to assist the listener.

      • transiteration

        June 27, 2013 at 12:03 AM Reply

        That’s interesting you say that! Just today I was talking to 2 different customer service people on the phone. The first one was for 45 minutes (usually the longer the time, the harder to pass) and by the end we had been talking less formally, he said, “thanks, man, for being so patient.” This completely boosted my self esteem. When I first was talking to the other one, it seemed like she was talking to a kid, but I brushed it off because some people’s tone is naturally like that. But then later she asked me what grade I was in, and I replied, “uhm.. sophomore in college..?” Needless to say, she was really surprised and said I sounded a lot younger. It’s funny how sometimes you pass when you don’t expect it. Hurrah for being perceived as a pre-teen guy, haha. She noted that people think her voice sounds younger too (she sounded about 25, but she said she was 50.) Life is funny sometimes!

        • Dara Hoffman-Fox

          June 29, 2013 at 11:23 AM Reply

          I love that you have had these experiences and appreciate you sharing them with us!

  • […] get me wrong, I’m not going back on what I said in Part One and Part Two of this series, when it comes to how the constant use of “Ma’am” and “Sir” in our society […]

  • […] “Ma’am” and “Sir” in a Transgender World: Part Two […]

  • Rhiannon

    October 20, 2014 at 12:38 PM Reply

    I am currently an MSW student and the other day during a break a few of the girls were sitting around chatting and one said, “Rhi, you are always dressed so good.” And I talked about how early I get up in the morning. Another girl was talking about how she just gets up and throws on what ever and comes in. I nodded and smiled as I didn’t want to come off as being prissy and judgmental, because I knew she would never get that I do what I do because I have no choice. I like to dress nice, for sure, but it is privilege to not have to worry about it. It could have been a teachable moment, but sometimes I get tired and don’t feel like going through the back and forth and the devaluation that is inevitable when trying to explain this to someone who has no frame of reference.

    • Dara Hoffman-Fox

      October 21, 2014 at 6:27 PM Reply

      Thanks for sharing your experience with this with us!

  • Shelli Anne Mulka

    June 20, 2015 at 11:16 AM Reply

    I always try to dress nice when I go out in public because it gives me more self-confidence somehow. Last week,however, I found myself in the middle of yard work when I ran out of line in my weedeater. I was rather grubby in a grass stained t-shirt and denim shorts, wearing an old pair of sneakers and a baseball cap with a fake flower on it. I decided it was silly to take all the time to “clean-up” so I drove down to the local hardware store (where I usually get “Sired” a lot even when I’m dressed very feminine) and the young male clerk asked “How can I help you today, M’am ?” in a very pleasant tone of voice. I told him what I needed and he replied “No problem, M’am, follow me ” and led me to the weedeater supplies.I was pleased and rather puzzled at the lad’s reaction to me until I looked around and saw 6 or 7 other little old ladies (I’m 64) shopping near me all wearing grubby clothes and baseball caps. Suddenly I realized I’d been dressing TOO WELL my first two years of M to F transition, I needed to wear the “official little old lady” uniform to pass easily in public !

Post a Comment