DEAR MISS MANNERS: I belong to a group of people who share similar interests, and who educate others about these interests through public performances.
I am a-gender and use they/them pronouns. My first time at these meetings, I included my pronouns on my nametag, but didn’t say anything aloud. To my surprise, they were not only consistently honored by the group leader, but on a break, a few other members added their pronouns to their own nametags -- certainly not something I expected, let alone mentioned or encouraged.
There is one member of the group, however, that consistently uses the wrong pronouns for me, as well as referring to me as a girl or woman (albeit in contexts meant to be flattering). I have always put my pronouns on my badge, never referred to myself as a woman (or any other gendered terms), and the rest of the group has always done the same.
If it was just a matter of the pronouns, I would let it slide, because I know that many people see such an identity as “fake” or a ploy for attention. But this person seems to aggressively associate me with being a woman. I’ve even stopped wearing any feminine clothing to these meetings to avoid the uncomfortable experience, to no avail.
I am very much a feminist, and am in awe and appreciation of strong women. I’ve had to experience many of the normal distressing things women still face. But to this group, I have never been a woman.
The group is not about gender or queer politics, and I don’t want to disrupt the conversations on topics I enjoy with something that seems so unrelated -- especially with any risk that it might cause anyone in the group to roll their eyes or start talking politics. And I wouldn’t want to disrespect this person by using the wrong pronouns or name for her, just to make a point; she seems like a nice enough person who’s gone through a lot, and like me, just enjoys being able to share in things that bring her joy.
How do I politely let her know I’m not a woman while neither rebuffing compliments or attempts at camaraderie (“We strong women need to stick together,” for example), nor “starting with that gay stuff,” which is a response I’ve received at least once when sheepishly and gently letting someone know I’m not female? Other responses have ranged from brief apologies and corrections to rants about political correctness to questions about my private anatomy, so you can imagine why I am hesitant.
GENTLE READER: Deflect. “Yes, women do need to stick together. I am so glad that there are such strong ones in this group.” And then Miss Manners suggests that you enlist one such member to take the other aside and explain.