Have you ever made a pregnancy comment about a large bodied women?
Getting names wrong, guessing the wrong gender of a baby, or an adult or insulting someone who is transgender by mistaking the clothing or appearance of the person can all be embarrassing and potentially problematic.
Strangely enough, and the emphasis is on strange (which suggests outside of the norm), these mistaken gender and sexuality responses happen more frequently than we would imagine. It is just that those who are the target of the comment, usually let the faux-pas slide by. The recognition that there is indeed a possibility for getting the gender, age, cultural identification, sexual orientation or other aspect of the person wrong, goes a long way to preventing any conflict, but there are those who just can't seem to get past the reality that a significant difference in any of these characteristics isn't always easy to pick-up, even for those with exceptional radars (referencing "radars" as the ability to socially recognize these unique characteristics).
With more diversity, comes more margin for error
I consider myself reasonably well versed with respect to gender and sexuality identifiers, yet after almost five decades on this plant as a model, banker, anti-aging skincare specialist and a variety of other industries, I can still be caught not recognizing either the gender or sexuality of certain individuals. As a moderator of a romance group, I recently suggested that the avatar (or so I thought) of a new member seemed strange for the name, which we'll call Steve. I made an introduction and noted that the beautiful woman in the photo had with a male name was indeed a transgendered "new" female, who took the comment as a complement. Fortunately for me!
It was embarrassing and not just a little bit surprising for me as I felt very comfortable with all sexualities. Yet, making such a quick judgement wasn't my style, especially when my certainty turned out to be wrong. Of course, I apologized and noted that I was glad she was happy with the remark. I also realized that the diversity of our population continues to increase and therefore offer more chances for a quick comment to backfire even if it was meant in good conscience.
Imagine if religious or cultural preconceived notions were considered?
Our cultures and backgrounds influence whether we can recognize subtle differences in the people we meet and live with. If we have preconceived notions of specific genders and sexualities, then we are likely to suffer the insults of ignorance, naivete or worse, prejudice. Once we wade into this area, we open a whole new set of issues, but suffice it to say, it is difficult to consider alternative sexualities and genders with per-conceived notions. That is in fact, why the default position is to stay within a homogenous environment, but that is limiting and sets us up for the very same mistakes that even a seasoned, well traveled and multi-industry individual can make.
Our religions, if taken literally or from the mouth of some religious leaders, often causes us to react uncomfortably to transvestite, transgendered or members of the broadly categorized LGB community. We aren't referring to our interest in type of sexual interaction (Liking bondage or S&M for that matter), rather it is the whole package that is humorously thrown at religiously conservative people because of the discomfort that is inherent in those communities with anything LGBT. Humor certainly is a significant element used to deal with discomfort, even when it is sometimes acerbic and unflattering.
Alternatively, we may be lazy, insensitive or just don't care as well, however these elements tend to be less about our lack or recognition and more about a basic character issue and not a negative direction or systemic problem as for those who are out-right bigots and racists, which certainly can play a role in mis-identifying those we interact with.
Consider our political leanings and we can have some serious issues!
Imagine if we threw political leanings into this discussion? Well we are when discussing these issues and the mishandling of them. Politicians try to pander to the largest constituency and in so doing, often throw minorities under the bus. If we consider religion, cultural and upbringing judgements imposed by our parents and communities, it is no wonder that so many grossly inaccurate assessments happen on a daily basis.
Fights are the result of many of these issues, but many alternatively difficult responses bubble-up despite the efforts by those in the LGBT community to temper their responses and understand the difficulty that mainstream folks have with their own discomfort.
Admit your error and move on
Lingering on your mistake is often worse than the initial faux-pas. There is no greater offense than to keep putting your foot in your mouth once it has firmly been planted in there. Most people recognize that mistakes do happen. The non-pregnant woman who is asked when she is due, the little boy who is complemented for being such a cute little girl, the man who is complemented for being such an attractive woman are all examples of daily miscalculations by people who may have meant well, but are socially inept at some point. Given the opportunity for substantial confrontation in an ever expanding universe of individuality, we are lucky that more combative types don't reach the headlines.
It is always good advice to keep your mouth closed, unless there is a reason for interaction. It is sometimes difficult to think twice before quickly making a judgement call, when none is necessary. So please consider the possibility for personal embarrassment, insult or other emotional trampling when preferring to make a comment, when one is necessary. We are, as a community, becoming more attuned to cat-calling women and this is the next step in becoming a truly tolerant and accepting culture, even when we consider the understanding by those we don't mean to call Steven when it is indeed a Stephanie.