“How are you ladies doing today?”
I die a quiet death, over and over. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. I only die a quiet death when it happens while I’m on a date or otherwise out in the world with femmes and/or butches. The rest of the time it just bugs me.
It shouldn’t be hard to default to the same sort of gender neutral language that would be used for a male/female grouping instead of actively (and sometimes incorrectly) gendering those to whom you are speaking. It would be a simple change with no new terminology to learn.
I tell myself that it’s not a big deal, and I suppose it isn’t. Except that it sort of is. Every time I’m referred to as a lady, I’m reminded that I don’t really exist in the day-to-day spoken world. There is no verbal space for me to occupy. While femmes are often rendered invisible in the mainstream, butches are unspeakable.
I have more sympathy for those who get caught in the Sir/Ma’am guess-and-correct cycle; they’re doing their best with the limited vocabulary available. Both “Sir” and “Ma’am” typically feel foreign to me (outside of some specific contexts in which Sir works just fine, thank you very much) and mostly I just wish whoever is speaking to me would stick to whatever they said first, rather than flailing back and forth trying to get it right — because there isn’t a “right.” But there’s no way for them to know that, so although it’s still bugsome, it doesn’t bother me like the gratuitous “ladies.”
It isn’t, for me, about wanting to pass as male. I’m not trying to pass*, though I admit I kind of like it when it happens because it means I am being read as masculine. But ideally I would like the latter without the former. (And I am not unmindful that within a dating or relationship context, my passing or not passing impacts how the femme I am with is being read as well.) I just want there to be some allowance for my existence in the language of the public realm.
*[Unsurprisingly, I pass more readily in winter than in summer because a coat will hide the obviously female aspects of my body. And I pass more often when my hair is short than when I let it grow out. But strangely, hair color seems to be a bigger determining factor than either of the others. I was read as male a lot more frequently — regardless of season and haircut — when I was dying my hair. Now that I have succumbed to the premature grey, I almost never get called “sir”.]