DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a teacher, and part of my job is contacting the parents or guardians of students having academic difficulties. I obtain the contact information from an internal school website.
Often, the listed first names of parents are (at least to me) gender indeterminate, and I don’t know whether to start the email with “Mr.” or “Ms.” Using “Dear Mr./Ms.” seems insensitive and borderline offensive.
I imagine this dilemma affects people in non-teaching occupations, as well. Do you have a suggestion on how to deal with this sometimes-awkward issue?
GENTLE READER: Seize the opportunity to use “M.,” with or without an ambiguous squiggle. With any luck, this neutral honorific will catch on and we can begin to obliterate the often-misgendering labels.
People may be confused at first, possibly wondering if you believe that you are addressing a French gentleman, but if we can all push through the awkward phase, we may be on our way to updating society.
By way of thanks, however, please have the courtesy not to point out that Miss Manners herself is still part of the antiquated tradition.