Hello Sir, Non Fiction


Awareness of the outside world. Bulwer-Lytton 2022 winners.


I get mistaken for a guy. Have done all my life, from as early as childhood to as recently as this month.

My kindergarten school picture shows a smiling child with long brown hair. The very obvious girl is wearing a red velvet dress with a lace collar. A year later, in first grade photo, the same child has a glum expression, a school uniform, and a side-parted, short haircut. This was many years before Dorothy Hamill convinced us that short hair could be cute. It was a boy’s haircut.

The story goes that my father took me to get my hair trimmed. He plopped me down in the seat and went over to the chairs to wait. When he looked up from whatever he was reading, most of the hair had been lopped off one side of my head.

Father: What are you doing to my daughter’s hair?
Barber: Your daughter? I thought it was your son.

I kept my hair long until senior year in college.

Getting misgendered bothers me. A little. Not enough to do anything about it, nor spend time figuring out why it bothers me. They call me sir. I open my mouth. They hear my voice. They look startled and/or apologetic. Before gay marriage, I was able to quip, ‘It’s okay, my husband can tell the difference.’ The implication being that if I had a husband, I must therefore be a wife. That’s a one-liner I’m happy to lose.

Part of the reason for the onlooker confusion is clothing. When I am seen as male, it is often in the winter. I have oddly wide shoulders for the rest of my frame. Add a hat and a bulky winter jacket, et voilà, a dude.

The second reason is a lack of female signifiers. I don’t wear make up. I don’t wear dresses, red velvet or otherwise. This is particularly noticeable in the southern US, where such feminine behaviors are still widely practiced. More so than in, say, New England. At one point, I was sitting in an Alabama movie theater wherein the audience was largely female. I realized I was both the youngest one there and the only one with gray hair.

The third factor is attitude. I was meeting two friends in a local park. When Friend A and I arrived, Friend B was being chatted up by a homeless gentleman. She was clearly uncomfortable but was both too Southern to walk off and encumbered with a baby in a stroller. Friend A and I have both lived in less polite parts of the country. We had no trouble whisking her away from her admirer. Friend A walked next to Friend B on the way back to her car. I hung back by several feet, my feathers fluffed up, my head swiveling from side to side, projecting a don’t mess with us attitude. It wasn’t a dangerous situation, but it was time to leave.

On the drive home, I was still agitated. I decided a batch of cookies was the answer. I stopped at a small, independent bakery. The counter person ask sir what sir would like. This was odd. I’d been there many times before. Plus, the bakery was casual and left-leaning. Not big on formality or gender roles. Afterwards, I decided that I was still emitting an aggressive, protective energy. Things society generally associates with men.

The most recent occasion was at the Native American Festival in Moundville. At one of the food tents, the gentleman taking the orders called me sir when he asked what I wanted. I saw him later walking around the park. We nodded. He stopped to tell me that he thought I was a person he knew, Chief X in the Y.


I’m good with that.

Update. “While wearing new coat got called sir again two days later. At this point, I think it upsets them more than it upsets me.” [Farm vs Outdoor Nov 2022]


8 thoughts on “Hello Sir, Non Fiction

  1. That is disconcerting. I cannot imagine. I am short (under 5’3″) and I smile a lot, something I was trained to do as child. I don’t think anyone has ever mistaken my sex since my teens—before that my hair was cut very short. I am not sure how I would react, but I did used to cry after every haircut and I did keep my hair long once anyone listened to me.

    What I most often experienced when I was young was people assuming I was too young to know anything. More recently, as an old and small person, I am completely invisible. People in shops or meetings simply do not see me. I am now too old and insignificant “to know anything” at all. After speaking up and demanding that my existence be noted, I have felt sometimes that someone (a man) was reaching to pat me on the head. “You’re so cute.” Then they realize their mistake. I might bite.

    1. I’m 4’10”, you don’t seem short to me. I used to get into movie theaters for the children’s prince until I was about 14. I reached “senior citizen” a while back; but, I can be quite aggressive. People ignore me at their own risk.

  2. The clothing maketh the the man…or boy. Your boy’s haircut occurred while you were wearing a snazzy Danskin outfit given to you by my mother, your grandmother. She was very fashion-conscious and, as I was a student and wasn’t a clothes person, she provided your wardrobe. On this occasion, you were wearing a navy and yellow striped top with matching navy stretch pants. Nice outfit but, yes, gender-neutral.

  3. It’s the attitude. When I worked in the Corporate world, I had occasion to phone personnel about a “situation” that needed clearing up. Bob and I had met many times over the years. We were on a first-name basis.
    When the conversation was over, I summed it up and he said “Yes, sir”. I said “Thank you” and hung up.

    To this day, when I answer the phone, the caller often assumes I am my husband. My serious phone voice must project a don’t mess with me attitude.

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