Please Use My Preferred Honorific

Ma’am is a contraction of madam, a French word which refers to a woman who is older, as opposed to mademoiselle, the word denoting a woman who is young. In English “ma’am” is used for the older woman and “miss” for the younger one.

About ten to fifteen years ago, people stopped referring to me as “miss” and began referring to me as “ma’am.” However, this is a misunderstanding of who I am as a person, and these people are mis-aging me. I am not an older woman. Though I am AMA3B (assigned middle-age at 30th birthday), the age I was assigned does not match my internal age. I have never felt old, my entire life, and I am not old. I am literally young. No one can imagine the inner struggle I’ve felt as I’ve looked in the mirror and watched my body take on a foreign aged look that I have never identified with. I’ve often considered surgery to correct this defect. But I can’t afford surgery, so I do my best by shopping in the junior’s department, so that people will understand I’m presenting young.

Some may take the appearance of my body and face as evidence that I am older, but these people need educated on the many different ways that a young person can look.

You see, age is a spectrum. Some people are clearly 10, and that’s young, and some people are clearly 90, and that’s old, but in between are many, many other types of ages. And who is to say that a person whose bodily appearance suggests they’ve been on the Earth 48 years (or even 78 years) is old? The fact is, you can’t tell. Some 20 year-olds have wrinkles, and some 60-year-olds don’t. Remember, there is that disorder where people age prematurely, and there is also that one woman who got osteoporosis at 27. Since you haven’t given me a chromosome test, you have no business making a judgment about how old I am. I know what I am, and others need to believe me.

So I’m going to need everyone on my college campus and in my life in general to ban the word “ma’am” from their vocabulary when referring to me, and to begin using the word “miss.” I consider the word “ma’am,” when used for me, to be hate speech. However, it is perfectly acceptable to continue using the word for cis-aged people.

By the way, avoiding using either word is not an option as that is un-aging me and denying my humanity as a young person. I have the right to exist.

Some people, like University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson, think that one person’s rights end where another’s begin, and that what I am proposing is “compelled speech” backed by the force of law, which is unconstitutional. But that’s bigotry and trans-agesim. I deserve to have my youthfulness recognized under the law. And that can happen only when you say exactly what I need for you to say.

Next post: why the twenty-year-olds on OK Cupid need to examine their trans-ageist dating preferences.

My Scarlet Letter

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“Giving up her individuality, she would become the general symbol at which the preacher and moralist might point, and in which they might vivify and embody their images of woman’s frailty and sinful passion.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

A list of reasons for admission into a women’s asylum in 1864 include “ill treatment by husband,” “excessive sexual abuse,” (a little is ok I guess) “desertion by husband,” and “desertion of husband.” When men misbehave, women pay the price. A woman with the misfortune of marrying (or being married off to) an abusive man might be committed regardless of her response to her situation: neither enduring the abuse, nor leaving, nor waiting for him to leave would spare her. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

The list of reasons women are killed in “honor killings” include refusing an arranged marriage, refusing marriage in general, and getting raped. When men misbehave, women pay the price. A woman in a country that practices “honor killings” must sometimes choose between marrying an abusive man or being killed by one, if a rapist doesn’t seal her fate first.

Deuteronomy 22:28-29 orders a man who rapes a virgin to marry her. Deuteronomy 22:23-24 calls for the stoning of a woman who has been raped. A woman who had been raped could endure more of the same for the rest of her life, or die. When men misbehave, women pay the price.

A list of reasons that women were suspected of witchcraft in 17th century Salem and elsewhere included getting raped, having too many or too few children (as if women, rather than men, negotiated the boundaries of sex and reproduction), being poor (as if women, rather than men, held financial power), not being poor enough, and being married to someone too wealthy. When men misbehave, women pay the price.

The number of men who have murdered women who have rejected their advances, or who have murdered other people when women have rejected their advances, or who have planned assasinations because women rejected their advances, are too numerous to mention.

There have always been lots and lots of cases where the choices of women have been constrained by mens’ commitment to sabotaging us, especially to cover their own crimes.

The Scarlet Letter, the subtitle of which is “a romance,” is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s objection to the Puritans’ unbalanced treatment of women. It’s thought to have been based on an actual accused witch named Mary Bailey Beadle. In this novel, a big, fat, red “A” on the front of Hester Prynne’s frock is meant to immediately and clearly label her a sinner, and one of a uniquely female nature, no discussion, end of story.

Rather like the word “TERF.”

It’s meant to make a “general symbol” of its wearer, a safe outlet for the misogyny of today’s new brand of preachers and moralists. The rednecks I grew up with would have called it making an “object lesson” out of you (and said it in a threatening tone of voice).

Here are some more reasons people were accused of witchcraft: being female (yes, hi!), being middle-aged (yep), and not being heterosexual (that’s me, too).

Here are some reasons for being accused of being a TERF: being female (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9), being middle-aged (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9), and not being heterosexual (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9).

Here are the words for this: Sexism. Ageism. Homophobia.

This is an age-old game, folks, no matter what newfangled language it’s dressed up in.

In retrospect, I was never going to come out of my marriage unstigmatized, no matter what I chose to do. My husband had an epic personal crisis that left his life in chaos, and as a female, much less a middle-aged, non-heterosexual one, I was going to pay. And no one pays more dearly, it seems, than the female intimate partner.

I could have stayed, and lived forever in a sexless, non-communicative, unaffectionate marriage in which I was expected to trade all my prior interests, individually and as a couple, for the duty to stand and applaud for him cheerfully and frequently as he aggressively undermined our marriage.

Or could have left and been called a TERF.

I just mistakenly thought I had myself a Nigel, I guess.

Christine Benvenuto is a religious, Jewish woman with no known ties to feminism, radical or otherwise. When her husband abandoned her and her children in pursuit of a new life as a woman, and she wrote about it, she was censored, smeared on Facebook by her ex (sounds familiar; where do they get their script?) and called a transphobe. Her writing about her ex-husband wasn’t particularly critical, focusing instead on her difficulty moving on and raising her children after her divorce.

But TERF doesn’t mean trans-exclusionary radical feminist. TERF means “made a male-to-female transgender person unhappy” in any way, shape or form, including and perhaps especially by discontinuing a relationship with them.

It doesn’t matter that I was supportive, that I led the charge on pronoun use, that I stayed up countless hours soothing my ex through nightly sobbing fits, that I bought him clothes and manicures, that I showed up to transgender events with him, that I continued to try to be his friend after the divorce. The only thing that matters is that in his mind, I crossed him.

Here’s another woman who was called a TERF for expressing concerns when her husband of 33 years came out as transgender. Reddit and Tumblr and Facebook are full of more examples, both from the accusing and the accused.

But “the scarlet letter had not done its office,” writes Hawthorne, for Prynne simply rejected her duty to be ashamed and held her head high, and the town came to forget her crime and to respect her.

Maybe because it wasn’t really all that much of a crime.

And to my surprise, that’s kind of what has happened to me. It turns out that despite all the hype, educated, thoughtful people who aren’t distracted by a personal stake in gender dysphoria do not give a rat’s ass about this sexist smear campaign against women and feminists.

It turns out that much like other witch hunts, this one holds cachet mainly with white heterosexual males and a few of their “not-like-the-other-girls” male-worshiping female friends.

Interestingly, it seems Hester Prynne’s ordeal made her into a separatist. Hawthorne must not have had much hope for society:

“Indeed, the same dark question often rose into her mind, with reference to the whole race of womanhood…

As a first step, the whole system of society is to be torn down, and built up anew. Then, the very nature of the opposite sex, or its long hereditary habit, which has become like nature, is to be essentially modified, before woman can be allowed to assume what seems a fair and suitable position.”

I am not afraid. And it’s kind of great. And it’s caused some very positive changes in my life.

And I am not turning my back on women.