New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority retired the use of “ladies and gentlemen” in its service announcements last week and began using gender-neutral terms like “passengers” and “everyone” to address riders.
Aside from the fact that (at least based on the behavior I personally witness every morning on my way to work) very few of my fellow subway riders seem to qualify as “ladies” or “gentlemen” ― I’m still haunted by the memory of a man I saw this summer who nonchalantly launched a snot rocket onto the floor of a not-uncrowded C train car ― the de-gendering makes sense statistically, too.
According to several recent surveys, 50 percent of millennials believe that gender exists on a spectrum and 12 percent of millennials identify as transgender or gender non-conforming. That means that at any given moment, it’s quite likely there are individuals riding the New York City subway who don’t identify as women or men, so shouldn’t the MTA use terminology that applies to everyone no matter how they see themselves or present themselves in the world?
Well, no, apparently not, according to some folks.
Unfortunately, logic and compassion are tricky subjects for many people to master. On Monday afternoon ― the beginning of Transgender Awareness Week, no less ― I found myself in the middle of a surprisingly public conversation between two Whole Foods employees who were discussing the new policy. They were outraged.
“Can you believe this bullshit?” the cashier asked the young man bagging my groceries. “It’s crazy!”
“Exactly. Why should we have to change everything just to please a few people?” he responded.
“Besides,” the cashier continued, “even if you’re a transgender [sic], you choose one or the other [male or female] anyway, don’t you?”
Unable to keep my big trap from flapping open, I welcomed myself into their discussion by pointing out that, no, not everyone “chooses one or the other,” and, as I grabbed my bags, added, “And just imagine if you weren’t a man or a woman and you had to listen to those announcements every single day of your life ― wouldn’t that suck?”
Admittedly, it may not have been the most eloquent or exhaustive defense, but in the heat of the moment, it felt sufficient. The employees looked shocked ― I think more from being called out by a customer than by my comments ― but I left the store hoping that maybe they’d reconsider what they’d just said.
As I made my way through lower Manhattan, I found myself continuing to replay the interaction over in my head and I realized that despite having said my piece, I was still angry.
Sure, it pisses me off anytime I overhear someone saying something offensive or just plain stupid about any marginalized group of people, but the thing that rubbed me the rawest and wrong-est way about these individuals’ exasperation with the new MTA policy was just how little it affects them. And because there is literally nothing at stake for them in this, it made me furious that they couldn’t approach this situation from a place of kindness or respect ― or simple bored indifference ― toward other human beings who are desperate to be granted the rare occasion to be recognized and respected exactly as they are.
It quickly became clear that it wasn’t just these Whole Foods employees who made me angry. Despite how much progress we’ve made in securing more visibility and better treatment for transgender and gender non-conforming people in this country, these individuals’ conversation was strikingly emblematic of just how far we still have to go.
There are so many things going wrong in our world right now, when we’re given the chance to do something right, we should do it.
Last week, responses to a blog post featured on HuffPost, “A Guide To Non-Binary Pronouns And Why They Matter,” similarly highlighted how many people appear to be unwilling to evolve ― or do the right thing ― on this issue.
In the piece, genderqueer writer Sassafras Lowrey explains using the non-binary pronouns ze/hir and why that feels right to hir. For people who use binary pronouns and may have never been confronted by language like this, it might initially strike them as unusual or ungainly or even confounding. And that’s fine. I get that. But the comments section was filled with responses like “Not going to do this. Find another way to feel special,” and “Get over yourselves. Creating a ‘sub-culture’ to claim to be the most oppressed people ever is disgusting,” and “I cannot accept this.”
Again, I’m absolutely unable to understand why someone wouldn’t simply say, “This is totally out of the realm of what I understand or am used to encountering but it’s no skin off my back to use one word in place of another, so, sure. Why not?” What drives someone to say, “I cannot accept this,” or “I will not do this” ― and especially to take the time to type out a comment saying as much in a public forum ― when they literally have nothing to lose?
There are so many things going wrong in our world right now, when we’re given the chance to do something right ― to treat another person the way they want to be treated so that they can be, even if just for a moment, happy and whole ― we should do it. End of story.
Sure, confronting the privilege we have as binary and cisgender people ― and changing how we see and understand the world to include and affirm those who are different than us ― can take time and patience and it won’t always be an effortless or instantaneous experience. And that’s fine. No one is expecting the world to transform overnight. But I am expecting people to stop being assholes and stop throwing hissy fits about subway announcements becoming more inclusive or being asked to use a different pronoun.
Pick something ― anything ― else to lose your mind over. And if you need help choosing a target worthier of your indignation, shoot me an email and I’ll be happy to send you a list.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the percentage of millennials who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming. It is 12 percent, not 20 percent.