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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Person remains same when gender changes

Judith Martin The Spokesman-Review

Dear Miss Manners: In the past two years, two people I know have had gender reassignment surgery, in both cases going from female to male. Though it takes a bit of getting used to (having known each of them for 20-odd years), I accept their decisions. However, I find myself with problems of etiquette.

Let’s say I knew Jane for 19 years and have now known James (post GRS) for one year:

If someone asks, “How long have you known James?” should I answer “One year” or “20 years”?

If talking about the past, do I say “I first met him …” (since he is now male), or do I say “I first met her …” (since that was her gender when we met)?

One can sometimes dodge the issue by saying something like “We’ve known each other a long time …” but this seems a temporary solution at best.

In my particular case, I would not expect the fact that they had had GRS to be unknown to any others in a conversation. In addition, they know that I am generally supportive and any slips would be from old habits or because our language is not designed to handle people who have changed gender. A slip would be something we could laugh about and dismiss.

But others who have had GRS might wish to leave their past behind them, at least in front of strangers. If one does not know that all others in a conversation know about the GRS, would that change any of the answers given to the questions above?

Gentle Reader: Suppose you have known sweet Peony Little, the girl next door, ever since she was born, 20 years ago. One day she marries that nice boy down the street, Ethan Turtle. She now calls herself Peony Turtle.

How long have you known her?

And if someone asks “How long have you known Mrs. Turtle?” do you claim that you just met her, because the person you knew before was Miss Little?

See? It isn’t that hard.

Miss Manners should not have to remind you that whatever adjustments have been made, and whatever pronoun confusion results (use the pronoun that is currently correct), a person is still that person.

Dear Miss Manners: I have always thought that you said good evening after 1200 and before 1800. The other night, I greeted a close friend with “good night,” and in front of all, she attempted to correct me about my manners. Out of curiosity, could you attempt to shine some light on this matter?

Gentle Reader: Certainly, on condition that you not then ask Miss Manners why.

It is purely a matter of convention that one says “Good evening” upon greeting people after dusk and “Good night” on parting with them. From noon until 6 p.m., the proper greeting is “Good afternoon,” which can also substitute for “Goodbye” as upon parting. At no time of day should people embarrass their friends by correcting their manners.

Dear Miss Manners; When I attend my high school reunion this summer, I will need an appropriate response for a seemingly harmless question that others are likely to ask me – where is my best friend and their former classmate? I’m saddened to report that my friend died several years ago, shortly after childbirth.

What would be the appropriate way to respond to such a question in a situation like this?

Gentle Reader: “I am saddened to report …”

Reunions are, by definition, occasions on which to hear news of one’s classmates, so such questions are harmless, even if the reply must be a sad one.

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