Today’s blog resonates with me for a lot of reasons. My real name is “Christy,” but I go by “Chris” to my friends and family. I even go by “Chris” when I’m at work. Most people don’t call me “Christy” now, and it’s refreshing. The people I go to church with still call me “Christy,” and a few other places do, but most people call me “Chris.” The funny thing is that when people hear the name Chris many of them assume that I’m a man. A case in point would be a customer who gave me a hard time all week told me that some man named “Chris” would handle his situation. Imagine his surprise when he saw that “Chris” is a female. His tune changed very quickly.
My mom has a name that most people assume is a man. Her name is Willie, and she is white. That should have no bearing on it, but two assumptions get made off the bat when people hear her name. The first is that she is a man, and the second is she is black. I heard someone say to her, “Well, you’re white.” Her response was priceless because she said, “I didn’t realize that you had to have a specific color to be a particular name.” That’s where assuming gets so many people in trouble. When people call me and ask if they can speak to “Mr. Willie,” the first thing I always say is “not unless she’s had a sex change.” With all the fluid gender or gender-fluid conversations, I recognize that some people get quickly offended by different genders and stereotypes. So please let me apologize in advance if this topic offends anyone because that is not my intention. If anything, it’s meant to bring awareness that we all identify in different ways and when somebody assumes that we are something we’re not, it can usually rub us the wrong way.
I have a great Uncle named Hilary and a cousin named Marion. Both individuals are men. But to hear their name, the assumption is that they are women. I have learned that when I ask for someone on the phone, not assume that they are of a specific gender. I usually ask if “they are available” instead of “is here she available?”. When I worked for Sears’s call center, what feels like 100 years ago, I used to receive phone calls from people who had questionable names. And what I mean by that is I couldn’t tell if they were men or women. I will never forget having a customer yell at me because I inadvertently assumed that they were a woman and the man in question yelled so hard at me because I dared to question that he was a man. I don’t know what was going on with him, and I apologized profusely, but evidently, his manhood was a sensitive topic. He made me feel about an ant tall.
I worked for American Express as a temporary employee one time. I also received yelling from several people I inadvertently asked if “he or she were available,” only to find that they were the opposite sex of what I questioned. It took a few years of trial-and-error with folks to finally get to a point where I don’t assume somebody’s gender. And suppose you’re an individual who has trouble keeping up with today’s norms with all the pansexuality, transgender, gay and lesbian, and all of these other labels that people are putting on other people. In that case, you find yourself in a susceptible time.
My point is simple. Don’t assume anything in today’s world. We all have names, and some words are gender fluid. Some folks use pronouns to associate their identity better. Some names are extravagant and hard to pronounce. I’d instead ask someone how to pronounce their name and learn it correctly than offend them with ignorance. If you are calling someone for your job, don’t assume that the person you are calling is of a specific gender. If you mess up, apologize and try not to repeat the same mistake. If you are willing to acknowledge you mess up, people tend to be a little more forgiving than if you act like you have a corn cob stuck up your wazoo. We all will make mistakes when talking to people at some point. Learning from those mistakes helps us be better individuals and more tolerant of someone’s gender. I’ve known women with deep voices, and everyone thought they were men. I’ve known men with high voices, and people thought they were women. There are people in my life who are gender fluid. Because of those friendships, I recognize how calling someone the wrong gender because of their name can be frustrating.
I get a kick when people think I’m a man. Maybe there’s been a few times in my life that I’ve felt like I’ve had more balls than most men I’ve known, but that doesn’t mean I am a man. I like being a woman. But I’m comfortable in my skin. I’ve gotten to a point in my life where if someone does call me a man, I take it as a compliment. Because the truth is that women and men possess many different strengths. When someone assumes they know a person and call them the wrong gender, it shows that they can talk a great game, but they don’t always know everything. And that’s refreshing. It means we’re all human.
So, if you call someone the wrong gender after asking for them, remember you aren’t alone. But learn from those moments. Some folks get very upset by the actions of others who never understand. We can’t fix everyone else. All we can do is improve ourselves. Have a great weekend, everyone.