Address Etiquette for the 21st Century

 Posted by on December 4, 2010
Dec 042010

By Shanna Katz

As the holiday season near approaches, we have hit the mother load of assumptions about relationships. Where do these said assumptions often pop up? Why, in the addressing of holiday cards and party invites.

I know, this sounds like it may be a nit-picky type of rant, but I’m sick of having my own relationship not-acknowledged, having friends whose identities are lost in the way things are addressed, etc. I mean really, why are the Ms/Mrs/Mr/Dr/God of Thunder and Lighting honorifics really so ridiculously necessary?

Let’s take gender for a moment. You’re addressing a letter to Jamie Smith and Taylor Jones. Why the heck does it need to be Mr. Smith and Ms. Jones? Actually, given the commonality of these names, you’d actually do much better to address your letter to: Jamie Smith and Taylor Jones. Using the honorifics does nothing for anyone except place a gender identity on each of them that they do not always fit. How do you address something to a genderqueer friend or family member, or moreover, how do you even KNOW, for SURE, what honorific fits someone’s gender at a given time? For the most part, you just don’t.

How about Mrs vs Ms. I know many a woman (self-identified) in committed relationships (legally married and otherwise) who absolutely HATE being addressed as Mrs. To many, it seems as if their status in the world has been relegated to nothing more than being the partner/wife of someone else, usually a man. Think about it; when one is married, Ms becomes Mrs, but nothing happens to Mr. I remember thinking about it as a child, and wondering why men were so special that they didn’t have to change their name, or get a new title. Even if someone is married, AND shares the same last name, why not address it to Mary Smythe and Johnnie Smythe, or Mary Smythe and Dr. Johnnie Smythe (if titles like Dr. are important to you). Addressing things to Dr. and Mrs. Smythe or Mr and Mrs. Johnnie Smythe again take away that individuals’ identity.

Now, for some people, etiquette of the more traditional variety is incredibly important to them. That’s acceptable. However, making assumptions for people is not. If you’re not sure whether Mr, Ms, Sir, etc is appropriate for a person, please do not guess; ask. Just drop them an email or a phone call and ask what honorific they’d prefer to be used, and please remember that their choice might be “none.” That’s ok too. Wouldn’t you rather someone feel that you cared about their identities than have their gender shaken when they get a letter addressed to an honorific that doesn’t represent them?

Lastly, let’s talk relationships. Sure, if you want, you can send a card/invite to each person in a relationship, or even put “Shanna Katz and escort/partner/lover.” On the other hand, many people have no idea how good it feels to have your non-traditional (ie, non-hetero, kinky, or poly) relationship acknowledged. This means that mail comes to me addressed as Shanna Katz and My Partner’s Name. It validates us even more as a couple. I can still remember the first piece of mail that came to us addressed as such – it was a letter from Obama. Nothing big, no, but I remember it because I felt SEEN as a couple, instead of “Shanna Katz, plus one.”

I hear all the time to stop getting down to semantics, and am told that language isn’t that big of a deal. But the thing is that YES, for some people, language and semantics can make the difference between feeling good and validated, and feeling gross and having their gender/relationship policed. So as you get ready to address all the holiday mail that will soon be flying across the post office desks, think about what you’re writing, and how it will be read.

  One Response to “Address Etiquette for the 21st Century”

  1. Thank you for this! Language is so important, and it is greatly encouraging to see that others out there feel the same way. It is discouraging when people brush aside gender assignments and honorifics as if they are insignificant, particularly when they are so incredibly significant to so many of us.
    Thank you again, I’m considering this a must-read! (Time to go re-Tweet.)