On “ladies”, and not being one

I realized recently that my relationship to the word “ladies” (specifically, my feelings around being included in a group of people being called “ladies”) is a little complicated.

Ideally, generally, I prefer not be called a lady. Because I’m not one. And when someone thinks I am, they are not really seeing me, and that is a uniquely uncomfortable experience.

And mostly, I don’t get called a lady. It happens sometimes if I am out with a lady friend (or someone else who is perceived as such) that wait staff will call us “ladies”. I always cringe inwardly but don’t say anything, because hey, passing short-term relationships like that often aren’t worth it.

Though there is always that little voice in my head that is miffed – how hard is it to just not gender people? “Folks” is an easy enough go to, and more recently I was pleased with a waiter who just called me and a friend “you two” (as in “how are you two doing? Can I get you two anything?”) – it worked very naturally and made me happy.

It also still happens at work. Because I am not out at work (Yet! I swear this will happen though!) I am often lumped in with the “ladies”. And this is where complicated feelings happen.

The thing is, ladies are often awesome people, and it can feel like a compliment be counted as one of them. It all depends on who is saying it really – a waitperson on auto-pilot is just off-handedly misgendering me, but people at work are including me in something pretty great.

To be honest, one of the things I love about working in public libraries is the sheer lack of men. Going to a departmental meeting and being the only person there who isn’t a woman as amazeballs, y’all. My bosses are all women, and the only men working at my branch (though this isn’t true system-wide) are entry-level workers. It is a strange and lovely experience.

And when these amazing people include me among their number, part of me kind of wishes I was one of them.

Of course, I *am* one of them in all the ways that count to me – we are working together to make our library awesome and engage kids and help people with all of their various needs. And I don’t think this will change significantly ifwhen I come out as genderqueer.

So yeah, I don’t know what the point of this is. Just, having mixed feelings about being misgendered is weird, is all, and I felt like writing about it!

I’m curious of other people have had similar feelings?


  1. Do you have other inclusive words you like besides ‘folks’? I try to use non-gendered terms like that when I’m addressing a group of coworkers or sending an email to more than just a couple people, but folks is the only one that feels right to me. “Guys” is too informal, and too gendered, and there are only certain times where you can use something like “hey team!”.

    1. “Folks” is definitely the most generally useful. Sometimes “everyone”or “everybody” works (“how is everyone doing here?”/”Ok everybody, let’s get to work”). “Y’all” can work sometimes. “Friends” is great in a lot of contexts, though maybe not so much for work teams.

    2. I use “peeps” sometimes. It’s a little juvenile but. Alternatively, “people”. Or “buddies” if they’re friends. Or “guys” as it is an uncomfortable fact of our society that a masculine term is usable in mainstream culture to indicate both men and women.

      I have more trouble with single people, and deciding whether to call them “sir” or “ma’am” when I’m trying to get someone’s attention politely.

      1. Haha, I like peeps. Might have to use that one! :)

        And yeah, guys is a tough one. It’s so ingrained in my lexicon, but at the same time I’m like “NO. WHAT IF I OFFEND SOMEONE??”.

        Singular words are troublesome for me, too. If I have to send an email to someone I don’t know, I try to just leave them out of the greeting entirely.

  2. I always try to say “How is everyone?” and I do use “Y’all” even though I’m not from the south. At work functions I hear university leaders saying things like “Good afternoon members of the university community” and “it’s nice to see so many community members present.” They’ve been trained on how to use inclusive language when addressing groups.

    Also, kind of off topic, but as someone who works on an all male team with a male boss…I envy you. My coworkers are great the vast majority of the time, but sometimes there are things that happen to me that don’t happen to them, or that they really don’t understand. For example, I recently used my phone to film an instance of sexist behavior happening right in front of me at a users group, and made my boss watch it, and he was like…whoa, that’s not okay, you don’t have go back to that group if you don’t want to. And I was like, thanks, I appreciate that you did recognize what happened was sexist…but it’s less about me wanting to avoid the group and more about I need other men to wake up and help challenge this stuff.

  3. not only do I have similar feelings, but I have almost exactly the same feelings! One of the things I love about working in an elementary school is that, like libraries, there are very few men. I totally get that!

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