Many transgenders develop a heightened interest in etiquette when they start going out in public as women, for, in some strange way, etiquette seems to be a “female thing.” In their everyday lives, most men don’t direct much thought to what they vaguely perceive to be an abstract code of conduct no doubt written by some uptight Victorian types. And while most men get through their day without drawing excessive negative attention to themselves, what man hasn’t had the experience of doing or saying something only to have the woman in his life roll her eyes, glare at him, sigh, or look totally embarrassed. Or perhaps she remains silent until later, but I can promise you that in the meantime she is thinking some very unflattering things. At a certain level most men are aware of this gender-based pas de deux and simply accept it as part of being a man.
But what happens when the man suddenly takes on the role of a woman? Does panic set in as (s)he realizes that she must now become the great arbiter of manners for herself? How can one suddenly be knowledgeable in this mysterious code that so many genetic women seem to have absorbed by osmosis somewhere during their early years?
The good news is that etiquette, meaning society’s standard for good manners, isn’t nearly as complicated as many people think. Assuming that none of you has an upcoming date for a White House dinner or presentation to the queen, there truly are not long pages of intricate rules that must be committed to memory. Most of the etiquette issues we will cover here are half common sense and half practice.
The most basic definition of manners is simply doing what makes those around you feel comfortable. One of the reasons for rules is simply to keep everyone on the same page so that no one ends up feeling odd-man-out – or, in our case, odd-woman-out. Some of you may have heard the tale of the Manhattan socialite of a certain age who watched in surprise as one of her dinner guests picked up his finger bowl and drank it like a broth. As a shocked silence fell over the table, she hesitated only briefly before picking up her own finger bowl and drinking it in the same manner. Several other guests then gamely followed suit, and an embarrassing situation was avoided. This old-guard woman understood that genuine etiquette demanded first and foremost that her guest not be humiliated.
I personally think that this is one reason why so often the topic of manners seems to be a feminine one. Women tend to be more aware of those around them and thus more inclined to do something to put another at ease or to have noticed the usual way of doing things within a given group or situation.
Beyond this starting point for etiquette, though, there are some basic rules that most women follow in public, and it is these that we will concern ourselves with in this column. Being a genetic woman, I don’t consciously think about most of them, so I encourage you to send in your questions and I will use them as the basis for future columns.
In the meantime, relax and enjoy being a woman. Being comfortable with yourself is a surefire way to put those around you at ease, and once you can do that, people will already see you as a polite person.
QUESTIONS FROM OUR READERS
To get the ball rolling, I’ve started with a question that I’ve heard several times within the TG community. This particular question may be a bit “philosophical”, but it is also about courtesy.
Q: Sometimes when I’m in a restaurant I feel like the server has an “attitude” towards me. How should I handle this?
A: I once heard an African-American woman say that one of the hardest lessons she had to learn was that not every act of rudeness towards her was because she was black. Some people are simply rude, and it has nothing to do with who they’re dealing with. Others may usually be polite but they’re having a bad day and don’t have the emotional maturity to keep it out of the workplace. And then of course there is a third group who is intentionally and selectively being rude because of some trait or behavior in the customer that they don’t approve of.
In most cases it’s very hard to know what kind of rude you’re dealing with. I would suggest that you handle this exactly as you would in non-dressed mode. If you think that the rudeness or poor service warrants calling it to the manager’s attention, do so. You’re the customer and have every right to expect to be treated with respect. I wouldn’t mention any aspect of your own dress as that’s not really pertinent. I’d simply say that the server had been discourteous (or had repeatedly ignored you, or whatever.)
On the other hand, if the rudeness is simply a minor annoyance or a nagging suspicion on your part and you’re not comfortable elevating it, write it off as one of life’s less stellar moments, and make a mental note to avoid that restaurant in the future.
The most important thing is to not let someone else’s problem ruin your meal. Don’t let their unhappiness spill over onto you.