On October 7, the Author’s Guild, to which I belong, had a Zoom conference; “Finding Your Agent: 7 Steps to a Successful Query Letter.”

I find that such presentations vary in usefulness, but there are usually one or two helpful tips. The conference was well attended. The presenters were two young professional women in the areas of publishing and writing who were articulate and knowledgeable.

Discussing how to write a letter in which one pitches a book, they began by advising: If you have met the editor before — say at a conference or lecture — it is a good idea to mention that you have met before, so as to remind them of you.

Then they said, it’s probably best to begin the letter “Dear Mary,” or “Dear Phil.”

I thought to myself, what? This is good practical advice? When I was about the age of the presenters, and was trying to get a foothold in the publishing industry, or to get hired for freelance work — and when writing letters in general then and even now, as well as emails — my default, if I am not on personal terms with the person I am writing to, is “Dear Mr.” or “Ms.,” “Dear Professor,” and so on. And, of course, beginning with being taught how to write a letter in grade school (is this taught any more?), we were taught the importance and rules of the elements of a letter such as the salutation.

The presenters from last week explained: it’s best to write “Dear Mary” or “Phil” if you don’t know the person. You wouldn’t want to be “caught” misgendering them, they said. They said this with complete assurance, as if we all would know what they were talking about and would agree with this. Heaven forbid we should be so clueless as to not know this.

What is this politically correct world coming to? I thought.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2021

3 thoughts on “misgendering?

    1. Karen Hagberg

      I could write a book about what is happening socially to the concept of gender, but here I will simply say that an increasing percentage of people have been discovering that they do not identify with the absolute, binary female/male construct. Much thought has gone into questions of how to address (literally here in your example) the existence of this population that has always been there, trapped in expectations of rigid gender roles.

      Yes, “ladies,” “gentlemen,” “Mr” or “Ms” are exclusionary terms for many folk. The advice to the new writer seeks not to offend a person who may be navigating their place in a non-binary world. Silly or frivolous as this may seem to a traditionalist, the felt exclusion and the erasure of one’s reality is as real as it is hurtful.

      Historians have unearthed the existence of what the Native Americans called “two spirit” people in cultures of every time and place. This a not a new phenomenon. It has been suppressed lately with rigid, and only two, definitions of gender.

      All aspects of society


      1. Roger W. Smith Post author

        Thank you for responding, Karen.

        I am against a lot of political correctness which seems to me nonsensical or in its own right, “repressive,” unduly restrictive, and ill informed. I believe in preserving or not trying to remake our language with the honorifics and pronouns we are used to.

        I do respect you and your discernment and am always prepared to take seriously anything you say, since I know it is a thoughtful, carefully considered response. We don’t agree and are unlikely to, but I am glad that we can have a reasoned, respectful discourse.


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