Sunday, December 30, 2018

The GameStop Misgendering & Retail Customer Service Advice

People have been asking me for my thoughts on the GameStop misgendering. The executive summary is "I understand why she was upset, but losing her cool like that actually makes her look more masculine. She hurts her own interests and those of the community." After all, I can't think of a single situation where threatening to take someone outside and beat them like a man would beat them is somehow feminine in behavior.

Longer version with explanation:

I've been misgendered many times, and it hurts each time. It made me feel insulted and belittled, because in my opinion I had taken great pains to present as a woman, and I figured that if I was dressed like a woman and had hair and makeup and jewelry like a woman and smelled like a woman and acted like a woman and (hopefully) sounded like a woman, then all those things would be huge clues to the average person that, regardless of how I was born or what I had between my legs,  I wanted to be treated as a woman.

However, there is a vast gulf of difference between accidental and deliberate misgendering. Most people who misgender do it accidentally, and how I react to that can affect how they view and treat other transgender people in the future. It starts by making a few acknowledgements:
  • I acknowledge that people are primarily visual creatures and that the eyes go straight to the brain. That means if people look at me and see "man" and call me "sir" that it's probably an accident. The same goes for the ears; I'm about 50-50 on people calling me "ma'am" or "sir" on the telephone. 
  • I acknowledge that most people don't mean to insult me, and that any misgendering is accidental, either due to the aforementioned visual/vocal cues or perhaps they've never met a transgender person before. 
  • I acknowledge that biting someone's head off over an innocent mistake is a good way to ruin things for everyone. 
So in the instances when I've been misgendered, my response is always to smile politely and say "Miss/She/Her, if you please". 

90% percent of the time, that solves the issue. Most people will blush or fluster or be embarrassed and say something like "Oh, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to do that/I didn't know." And this is enough to make me happy, because they have apologized for hurting my feelings and have corrected their behavior, and I can't ask for more than that. 

About 5% of the time, the person will either be so mortified that they can't say anything, or is so socially clueless that they don't realize how what they've said is inappropriate. Those people are best left alone, because in the case of the former they're already punishing themselves so there's no need to make it worse, and in the latter you'll have better luck explaining the situation to a stone. In either case, I save my energy for more important things. 

Then there's the remaining 5%, the people who will go out of their way to be insulting to transgender people because it stokes their sense of righteousness. Depending on my mood, I will sometimes fight with them ; not in the hopes of convincing them they're wrong, but rather to draw them out so that others can see just how spiteful and toxic they can be. I give them a nice long rope that they obligingly put around their necks, and once they've said things they cannot walk back from, I block them on social media / walk away in real life because they aren't worth my time. The rest of the time, I just walk away. 

Unfortunately, the GameStop transwoman does everything badly. She not only acts aggressively (therefore reinforcing the perception of her as masculine) but she also makes all transgender people look unstable and prone to outbursts of profanity and vandalism. 

What she should have done was demanded to see the manager before any of this happened. She was clearly already upset with the level of customer service she was receiving -- if she weren't, people wouldn't have recorded it -- and so when someone offscreen misgenders her she reacts angrily. Getting mad at a minimum wage clerk solves nothing; instead, ask for a manager who has the ability and authority to solve your problem. If the clerk had misgendered her before the recording happened, she could have brought that to the attention of his boss instead of making a scene. 

I worked in retail for many years in my 20s. I worked retail on Black Friday. While my experience is not the same as everyone else's, I've met my share of irate customers who decided to take it out on me, and this is what I can tell you:
  • If I'm not the manager, an upset customer isn't my problem. I literally didn't get paid enough to deal with those people. My stock reply was "I'm sorry I'm unable to help you. Would you like me to get the manager?"
  • In nearly every single case, the manager later told me something like "Don't sweat it, that person was an asshole" or "There's no way you could have solved that problem." In other words, a customer blowing their stack literally had no effect on my job, and most of the time we laughed at them after they'd left. 
  • In the rare cases where I did get a reprimand, it wasn't because the customer was upset at me; it was because I'd failed to do my job properly. Yes, sometimes the customer was mad because I'd screwed up, but I never got in trouble for that. I only got in trouble for not doing my job to the best of my ability. 
In other words, if you want to put the fear of God into an employee, you don't yell at them; you ask to see their boss. 

On the other hand, good behavior from an employee should be praised, and when I receive exemplary service I ask for the manager so I can praise that employee. You might think it's a waste of time, but my experience tells me otherwise: nothing brightens a manager's day quite like being told that one of their employees did a fine job and made a customer extra happy, and a manager who is aware of an employee's fine performance is more likely to reward that employee with a raise or other benefits, and a rewarded employee is happy and continues to give great customer service. It's a virtuous cycle. 

I will close by relating to you my experience at the 2016 NRA Annual Meeting in Nashville, TN. I was checking in at the media room in order to acquire my media credentials for the convention, something that I had done before. However, unlike all the other times before and since, this time the lady checking me in asked for photo identification. 

This presented a dilemma to me, as this convention was also the very first time I attended in full female form, and I had not changed my legal name or gender marker and therefore my ID still had a picture of me looking very male with a male name. 

I had several ways to handle this situation. I could have made a scene; I could have stormed out; I could have broken down and cried. Instead, I went with polite honesty: "Well, I can give you my ID, but it won't do you much good because I'm transgender." I whispered that last word because I didn't want to announce my business to the world. 

The woman checking me in went pale and said "Oh my god, I am so sorry, I didn't mean anything by that." She acted as if she'd insulted me directly, and was either aghast at causing offense or worried I would cause a scene.

I smiled and said "It's all right. Now, please tell me how we can best handle this?" She went and got her supervisor, who as turns out knew who I was and told her to issue me my credentials without needing to see my ID.  The entire times she acted embarrassed, and I told her it was fine, that I wasn't insulted. 

And then, once the rush was over, I sought out her supervisor and praised her for how she handled it. After all, she could have refused me entry because my ID didn't match; she could have made a scene; she could have called security to have me removed from the press room. But she didn't, and instead worked to resolve the problem without making me, the customer, uncomfortable. Her supervisor was happy, and she was happy, and I was happy because I knew that the next time this woman meets another transgender person, she'll know what to do. I made her life, and the life of that transgender person, that much easier. 

That's how you handle being misgendered. 


  1. I can't love this enough. Civil behavior is a delicate dance requiring consent of all parties to try their very best to be good dogs to each other.

  2. Regardless of how people feel about transgender issues in the abstract, the overwhelming majority of people do not want to offend the real person in front of them, so long as the person in front of them is well meaning.


The Fine Print

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial- No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Creative Commons License

Erin Palette is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to