DEAR ABBY: My 13-year-old son and I recently had a discussion that maybe you can help clarify. We are seeing more about trans people these days, and I'm not sure how to address them.
I don't want to offend anyone, but when you see a large male wearing pants, shirt, etc. but has pink hair and makeup, should I say "sir" or "madam"? My son says I should ask what pronoun they would like to be referred by, but I am not sure that's a polite way to find out. I know this is also intertwined with sexual preference, but it still doesn't mean it is clear-cut. What's the most polite way to handle this? -- CONFUSED IN THE SOUTH
DEAR CONFUSED: You are confusing "preference" with "orientation." Preference implies that one's sexuality is a choice rather than something that is wired into our brains. People do not choose to be gay, straight or gender dysphoric. Gender identity is about who you are. Sexual orientation is about who you love.
As to how you should refer to or address a large male wearing a shirt and pants while sporting pink hair and full makeup, I agree with your son. It makes sense to ask the person, who, I am sure, is fully aware that their appearance is "different." Asking the person's name may also provide a clue.