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March, 2019:

No Gender Neutral Option for “Sir” or “Ma’am”

The other day, I was at Office Max, picking up ink for my printer. The clerk and I had a good conversation, joked a bit, while they rang me up. When the transaction was complete, I turned to leave and the clerk said, “Have a good day, ma’am.”

<cringe>

I hate that moment of being mis-gendered. Do I turn around and correct them? Or do I keep walking and let them think I’m a woman?

Yes, I’m fully aware that I have boobs when I don’t bind and a feminine face. But I also shaved my head, wear gender neutral clothes much of the time, carry a gender neutral bag, and I try to “walk like a guy.”

The worst is dealing with customer service on the phone. If I’m calling customer service, there’s a good chance I’m already not having a good day. Being mis-gendered on top of everything else makes my skin crawl.

Image by Scotty Myers Photography

I don’t blame these people for mis-gendering me. All they have to go on, at first, is my voice (that never dropped, though I do like to refer to myself as a “castrata”). (Ok, I’ve never had testicles, and I do sing soprano, so it’s close enough.) One of the first things they ask for is my name, and “Ruth” is unmistakably feminine. I suspect these customer service reps are people who work in cubicles, use a script, and are expected to say “sir” or “ma’am” as a sign of respect.

And that’s part of my frustration: We don’t have a gender neutral term to use in place of “sir” or “ma’am.”

I would love it if did. I’d love it if the default was to use a gender neutral term instead of “sir” or “ma’am.” Pick one word for everyone. We have “friend,” but that’s too casual, and terms like “sweetie” or “buddy” are even worse. We don’t have a gender neutral term that is professional equivalent of “sir” or “ma’am.”

What might that word be?

A few months ago, I contemplated this question during a morning swim (before I knew that I was supposed to focus on my form the whole time). The words “sir” and “ma’am” essentially mean, “you.” We don’t usually say “Have a good day, you” but that’s what’ we’re saying when we say, “Have a good day, sir/ma’am.”

So, what’s the gender neutral, non-weird term for “you?” “Human?” “Person?”

“Ma’am” is short for “madam,” so started to think that maybe there’s a gender neutral word we can shorten.

What about shortening “person” to “pe’n” (pronounced “pen”)?

I like “pe’n.”

I’d be ok with people referring to me as “pe’n.” I’d be ok with that being our new gender neutral replacement for “sir” and “ma’am.” I suspect many cisgender people would be upset about changing the term, perhaps find it offensive, to not acknowledge their specific gender. I’d want to challenge those people to think about why that is. What’s wrong with people referring to you as a person instead of a man or a woman?

That’s a question for another day: What if we eliminated excessive masculine and feminine terms and use gender neutral ones instead?

Now, some of you might remember that I prefer “sir” over “ma’am” when those are the only two options. As a Trekkie, I grew up thinking that all superiors in the military were referred to as “sir” because that’s what they did on Star Trek. Personally, I’d be ok with everyone being a “sir,” but I also don’t want to perpetuate the idea that the default term should be the masculine.

So back to the Office Max clerk. How did I respond when they mis-gendered me? I just kept walking. I bet the clerk felt good about that interaction. They did their job and made a customer laugh. I let them feel good about that.

Switched to a Menstrual Cup

If talk about menstruation (periods) or blood makes you squeamish, you might not want to read this post.

Seven months and eight periods ago, I traded in my tampons for a menstrual cup. I’m so glad I made the switch. Note: This post contains affiliate links, each marked with an asterisk (*).

I had two motivations for doing this:

  1. Cost: My Lunette menstrual cup (Model 2)* cost $28.99 on Amazon. It will easily pay for itself in less than a year, and may have already.
  2. Environment: There’s no trash when you use a menstrual cup, just empty, clean, and re-use. Tampons, pads, applicators, and wrappers, on the other hand, pile up in landfills.

Day 1: It Got Stuck

It didn’t get stuck-stuck, but it took a bit to figure out how to slide the cup out of my body. Getting the cup in to my body was easy – squeeze one side in so the circle at the top looks like a “C,” and slide it in. It re-expands back to its circular shape and the little holes near the top create a suction against your skin. You have to break this seal to get it back out, which is challenging when you have tiny hands and short fingers like me. The first time I tried to get it out after wearing it a few hours (you can wear it up to 12 hours) was a complete fail. I got it out that evening, but it took 20 minutes to figure it out.

Leaks Happen – But Not Often

Before switching to a menstrual cup, I dealt with leaks all the time. I have designated underwear for this week. Doesn’t everyone?

I have way fewer leaks with the menstrual cup. I’ve had two leaks because I didn’t quite get the cup into place, and I think I overflowed it once. I just wear black underwear and that seems to be enough. I don’t need to wear a pantyliner or anything for backup.


My Own Horror Movie

Tampons and pads work by absorbing your blood. You can’t tell how much fluid they’re actually holding. Cups are the opposite. It’s just a silicon cup that catches your blood. When you empty your cup when you’re in the shower or sitting on the toilet, it looks like a horror movie. You know exactly how much you’re bleeding.

Thank goodness men don’t get periods. If teenage boys used menstrual cups, they’d be throwing blood at each other in high school bathrooms.

What about Public Bathrooms?

When you empty your cup, you’re supposed to at least rinse it before putting it back in. I’m lucky where I work only has single-user bathrooms so I can easily rinse my cup in the sink.

With multi-user bathrooms, that’s not the case. Thankfully, I’ve only had to deal with this once. I emptied my cup, wiped it out with toilet paper (and dripped blood on my shoe), put it back in, and wiped the blood off my fingers before exiting the stall. It wasn’t a big deal.   

No Rogue Strings (Yay!)

Tampon users know this one: sometimes your string “goes rogue” and pulls in the opposite direction from where it should be. And it hurts. And there’s no discreet way to fix it. You have to reach into your underwear and put it back in place.

When this happened to me, it was usually when I was out running, far away from a bathroom. It happened so frequently, I switched from tampons to “period panties” when I was running. With the cup, there’s no string to worry about.

Equally convenient, I don’t have to worry about having a visible string when I go swimming – which is currently twice a week. (Yes, there’s a true story from my gymnastics days when I was competing in a black leotard with a visible white string!) When I’m at the pool, I always worry that I didn’t put my cup in properly and it will leak. I have a fear of finishing a lap and being confronted by a lifeguard who tells me I’m bleeding in the pool. So far, that has not been an issue at all.

Helps with Dysphoria

Using a menstrual cup* helps with the dysphoria I have about being non-binary and trapped in a female body. When I was using tampons, I had to change it five times a day or more on my heaviest day. That meant I had to have tampons with me, carry them through the office on my way to the bathroom, dealing with the string, and being confronted with my period each time I changed my tampon. Cups are designed to be worn for up to 12 hours, so I only have to deal with it twice a day, three times on my heaviest day. Otherwise, I can “set it and forget it.”

Well, except for the cramps part.

Preparing for Plastic-Free July

I’m preparing for Plastic-Free July, a month where I will be avoiding most single-use plastics.

It’s March.

I know.

It’s 4 months away. Why do you need that long to prepare? You already have the reusable water bottle and bring your own bags to the store. What more do you need?

There are still a lot of single-use plastics in my life. I want to find alternatives for them.

Like what?

Just walk through your day. (Note:This post contains affiliate links, each marked with an asterisk (*).)

I wash and moisturize my face in the morning.

Your soap and moisturizer come in plastic.

I put on my deodorant* that comes in a glass jar. And I brush my teeth with a bamboo toothbrush* and plastic-free toothpaste.

That’s good. By the way, that toothpaste doesn’t have fluoride in it. Ask your dentist to make sure that’s ok.

Some of my zero-waste and reusable products: water bottle, coffee mug, freshly-made almond milk, deodorant, safety razor, toothbrush, and produce bag.

Then I have breakfast – a vegan protein smoothie or a vegan patty on a toasted bagel. I get to have both on my long workout days.

The versions of all those products you’ve been buying come in plastic.

And I have my coffee with almond milk. We make our own almond milk now, and we store it in a glass jar in the refrigerator.

That’s because the carton has that plastic top on it, so we switched. By the way, we need to find a recipe for vegan butter since our brand comes in a plastic tub.

I use reusable containers to take my lunch to work. After work, my preferred snacks are crackers or a small bowl of cereal.

Cereal and crackers come in recyclable boxes, but they have plastic bags inside them. We’ll have to start making our own, find plastic-free brands, or switch to something else.

Oh geez. Frozen fruits and veggies are staples in our diet. They all come in plastic bags.

It’s going to be an adjustment. I don’t know if we can get berries that don’t come in a plastic container of some type. Perhaps at the farmers market.

Wait a minute. Can’t we use plastic bags as long as we put them in the recycling bin at the store?

The point of Plastic-Free July is to not use them to begin with.

Some of the plastic staples currently in my life: protein powder, contact solution, lip balm, moisturizer, and face soap.

We can still eat things from cans, right?

As long as they’re BPA-free. After seeing the documentary, Bag It, I never want that stuff near me again.

What about vitamins – and your prescriptions?! The pharmacy won’t let you BYO container for that.

That’s true, but we can at least switch to brands of vitamins that come in glass. I will continue to take my medications as prescribed.

Umm . . . what are you going to do about lip balm? You have like 5 of those going at a time.

I will find a plastic-free brand.

What about Rosie?

Rosie is exempt from plastic-free July, just like she’s exempt from my veganism. She’s 11 years old and blind. We’re not messing with her life. But I think it would be fun to try making our own dog treats for her.

What about her dog poop bags?

There may be some experimenting with alternatives like using newspaper or junk mail to pick up after her.

This is hard.

Now you see why we’re taking 4 months to prepare.

I’m looking forward to Plastic-Free July, but I have no delusions. I won’t have a 100% plastic-free life. I want to seek out and reward companies that don’t use plastic packaging and look for alternatives to products that I can’t get without plastic. This will be a challenge, and I’m looking forward to it.