Okay, I admit it, I’ve been stubbornly opposed to changing.

I grew up in the mountains of North Carolina and was raised to say, “ma’am” and “sir.” Living in other parts of the country, I’ve been told not use those terms because, “It makes me feel old” or “I work for a living.” I would laugh, and explain that was just the way I was raised and meant it as a form of respect. Of course, I would refrain from using them again in that interaction.

I justified retaining those terms with the idea that we need more civility and respect in our day to day interactions. But now, I’m rethinking what it means to be civil and show respect.

The other day, I went to a coffee shop to do some work. As I always do, I greeted the cashier with a smile and asked how they were doing. The person returned the smile, and we had the type of short exchange that improves everyone’s day. I closed the transaction with a heartfelt, “Thank you, sir.”

Then it hit me. The person working the counter may or may not have been transgendered. Suddenly I realized that what I had always thought of as a sign of civility and respect might have been neither.

What I’m talking about isn’t about being politically correct, it’s about civility and respect.

Let’s be clear, being transgendered is not new. There is evidence that people have felt out of place with the gender of their bodies since the beginning of recorded time. No, what’s new, at least in US society, is a mainstream awareness.

It is a positive byproduct of the realization that gender roles are imposed by society, not nature. I’m not saying there are no differences between the genders; clearly, all genders have biological differences. I am saying that there are gender roles that are imposed by society rather than nature.

If in assuming gender, I am imposing an unwelcome gender role on another, I am not being respectful or civil. In fact, I may be twisting the knife of our societal obsession with fitting people into categories to which they may or may wish to belong.

Because I want to respect others and show civility, I am finally going to try to retire sir and ma’am. Forgive me if they slip out from time to time, but if they do, please know I mean no offense and feel free to remind me that I’ve taken the I out civility.

If you agree, please let me know, and if you don’t, feel free to express why you think I’m wrong in the comments below.

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