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Authored by Helen-Anne Smith 

Insta @hsmithdrinks


Like a lot of people I was brought up with a very distinct idea of what was for girls and what was for boys. As I got older I began to realise, this applied to not just interests, but what was expected of me. The societal rules of how I should act, how (and when) I should speak, were being laid out for me, alongside what clothes I was expected to wear. 

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't like I grew up in an environment where I was forced to be feminine. But there’s still a binary within gender exploration, for example if you don’t want to be a girly girl that’s fine, your other option is that you can be more of a tomboy. 

I’ve never really known where I landed on that scale, it always felt like such an unreasonable choice. Even within the queer community I didn’t know where I stood, regularly described as a ‘chapstick lesbian’–a boring play on the trope of the ‘lipstick lesbian’. Once I was described as a ‘sloppy femme’ which is an essay in itself. 

By the time I hit my mid twenties I began to realise that the reason I don’t feel comfortable is because I feel restricted. The gender binary doesn’t work for me. In the same way that I have always been fluid with my sexuality, I discovered that I was fluid in my gender.

There was just something about working behind the bar and hearing parents say things like "say thank you to the lady" to their kids, or even a simple "excuse me Miss" that was starting to make my eyes twitch. Suddenly I realised I work in an environment where I was being addressed, regularly, by strangers. 

Ma’am, miss, lady, girl, woman, she, her, waitress, manageress (don’t), lass.

The phrase “don’t assume my gender” has become a bit of a joke amongst the zeitgeist, but honestly I think that it’s something that we should be taking more seriously. My own journey has made me really think about how I speak to all people when I am bartending. A lot of these customers are people I have never met before, I shouldn’t assume to know their gender in the same way that I wouldn’t assume to know anything else about them. 

I now wear a they/them badge to work, in order to help bridge the gap a little. This wave of gender exploration is a new use of language for so many people, and I don’t expect everyone to get it right, or to even understand. I know who I am. And if I can help move a social interaction along to avoid some discomfort, then I’d much rather take the path of least resistance. 

If you’re unsure on how to make your workspace more inclusive, or are looking for some tips on non-gendered language in a customer service environment, I would highly recommend checking out this article by Barista Magazine. 

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