The rule of three

At what point do you complain of harassment by a public official? Here’s a suggestion for all trans men and women out there who are sick and tired of being misgendered.

A friend posted, yesterday, to the effect that he didn’t see being misgendered as “harassment”. Hmmm. I said that on the whole I’m not fond of using laws on harassment, as they have been extended far too far.

Sauce for the goose

Still, they have a place, espesh when dealing with bodies like the Police, which seem to think it OK to bend the law so far that it is permissible to arrest someone for possession of a pen. Its only right that they, in their turn, should understand what it feels like to be skewered by a literal application of the law.

And in this case, I think justifiably so.

The nature of harassment

Harassment. In principle, it is a “course of action that causes distress or alarm”. Course of action has more or less been established as two or more similar instances.

So-o. Someone approaching you in the street and calling you names once might be many things (breach of the peace, incitement, etc.) but it wouldn’t be harassment. That same someone approaching you every time you left your house, or following you around town and continuing to call you names WOULD be.

The rule of Three: first contact

So back to the misgendering and the rule of three. Something I am going to push, I think in future.

If someone misgenders me once, I smile politely and, most times, correct them. Its quite likely honest mistake – although possibly ever so slightly thoughtless.

That is, even if I’m not passing, anyone dealing with me can see that I have a non-standard gender presentation. So a bit of commonsense might say: tread carefully.

And whilst I’d make greater allowances for the ordinary man in the street, my tolerance level for public officials who are meant to have had diversity training is far, far lower.

“Here’s your coffee, sir”.

“Not sir, please”.

Rule of three: closing in

If someone misgenders me a second time, I am a bit more assertive.

“Do you want sugar with that, sir?”

“No, thanks. And I did ask you not to call me sir”.

At that point, there can be no question in anyone’s mind what you feel about use of that word. You’ve said it aloud. You’ve told the individual your feelings on the matter. Unless they really, really aren’t listening, they now have no excuse for going there a third time.

Which is why Three’s a charm.

Rule of three: Three’s a charm!

Misgender me again after that, and I think the proper course of action is to ask to speak to the manager and to take matters on from there. If you are sufficiently distressed by the misgendering, its worth pointing out that the person doing it has probably just committed a crim offence. That you would like words to be had, and an apology. Then play it by ear.

Is that really how I live my life? No. Of course not. If I did: if I picked up on every smallest slight that people inflicted, I’d never get out of the house. But I suspect people know and get it. There is a world of difference between someone making honest mistake and someone misgendering for the purposes of winding up or putting you down.

I’ve never actually experienced that from a police officer (which is good): but if I did, then an official complaint feels like the only way to go. I have experienced it from other officials very occasionally (its rarer than you think), and when I have, I have almost always reported it.



About janefae

On my way from here to there
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5 Responses to The rule of three

  1. Liz Church says:

    I was actually misgendered by a clerk of the court. She’d been talking to me fine, in the correct gender, for about ten minutes before the JP was ready to see me. It was only when I stated my business to the JP that she started misgendering me. I was there for my Stat Dec to swear I’d live as female for the rest of my days, part of the GRC application process. I gave her such an evil stare that we had not a peep out of her for the rest of the proceedings. It has to be the most stupid act of a public official that I have encountered. So far 😦

  2. Sabine says:

    You might want to tell them you’d prefer to be called Ma’am (or Missus, or whatever).

    If someone says they do not wish to be called Sir, I’d assume they got some problem with that particular form of address.

    And before you get started: No need for an apologetic: “I’m trans” or something like that. Just a plain: “it’s Ma’am, not Sir’ will probably suffice in most cases. Of course that’ll rob you of two perfect occasions to bitch about misgendering.

    You’re mostly dealing with people who serve you for one moment and then forget about you again, so there’s very probably no will to offend, no more than there is in pronouncing a name wrong. As for people who have to deal with you as an individual, not a fleeting client, they should be expected to be able to sort you into the correct folder after one wrong try at the most.

    Anybody would have to be blind and deaf to misgender me but I can’t count the times someone has spelled my last name wrong or even pronounced it oddly. If I’d want to feel harassed every time, I’d have no time for anything else. Can’t say I’ve ever had problems when correcting people about my name. If anyone is stupid enough to ask where that one comes from – I can even explain it, in minute detail, including some monkeying up and down my family tree for about 800+ years.

    @Liz – That’s interesting. How exactly does one go about deliberately living as a female? Is there some sort of rulebook and can you actually get sentenced for perjury or something like that if you do not? (That was an honest question. If it sounds like I’m poking fun it’s at the concept, not at you.)

    • janefae says:

      hmmm. Not sure whether you are or aren’t with this in principle. I’d have to say that my primary motivation in such situations is to assert, make sure i’m not misgendered, but at the same time, neither have to grovel nor make excessive fuss.

      It does feel to me as though the rule of three works, since i am perfectly understanding of a first time mistake: slightly less tolerant of a second; whereas a third is either, in my book, ignorance or not listening or something far worse.


      • Sabine says:

        Just the usual everyday thoughtlessness.

        The problem with 3 strikes is that most people simply don’t remember you so for them it’s always a first.

        I’d say don’t bother making a fuss unless you enjoy it. Grovelling is definitely out (unless your tastes run that way)

      • janefae says:

        think we’re at cross purposes here: i’m not talking about three strikes over a period of weeks. I’m talking about in a single encounter.

        So, i enter a shop, get “sir”‘ d and point out that’s wrong. They do so a second time: i point out the error again. Then they go for the third. To get it wrong three times in the space of a couple of minutes is either not listening or very determined.

        So, i’d say, worth complaining about.


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