DEAR MISS MANNERS: I’m an instructor at a college with a great diversity of students. They range in age from 15 to 70, and may have arrived via the prison day bus or the home-school parent’s minivan. I’ve taught for many years.
This semester, a member of the class is -- or so I perceived -- a man in his 30s, a bit stout, with long hair, clad in the frequent costume of T-shirt, jeans and work shoes. I ask each student how to pronounce their name and if they prefer a variation of it (does “James Brown” prefer Mr. Brown, James or Jim?) and he gave a variation of his first name.
I’ve referred to him as “he” lo these last two months, without correction. Then, after an exam this week, the last student to finish informed me that she’d looked on her classmate’s social media account and He’s posted as She.
I was flabbergasted. I looked up the student’s record, and she’s recorded as female.
Shall I apologize? I’m feeling it would be rude to make it her fault by asking why she didn’t correct me. I’ve had transitioning, gay and transgender students, and I respect each person. It’s none of my business where she is on any “label.” I’m just wondering how to respond to my public blunder. I have allowed the entire class to believe this, as well.
GENTLE READER: You are correct not to draw attention to it, particularly if the student in question previously has not. Miss Manners suggests that you simply switch to the female pronoun from now on and hope that the other students catch on. If they remain confused or curious, presumably they can look her up on social media themselves.