2 min

The other L word

I am so not a lady

Maybe it’s just me, but nothing throws a cold bucket of water on a hot lesbian date like the phrase “hey ladies.”

The problem is that it isn’t uttered by raging homophobes with angry placards. It’s usually from well-meaning people — people who do stuff for us like bring us butter for our bread or turn our cash into tickets. My people.

After working in the service industry for 15 years, I have learned a thing or two about my people and the biggest one is that we don’t like to be corrected. There’s no point in having the gender-spectrum conversation with someone who is trying to juggle umpteen useless facts about what everyone needs while fantasizing about the moment they can clock out and go home to their cat. It would be condescending.

But so is the word ladies, particularly when applied to most of the dykes I know.

Calling us that — especially those of us who wear prosthetic phalli or shave regularly to keep our beards just so — well, it’s insulting. Suggesting we have anything in common with the era of Edwardian dresses, parasols and covered chair legs is just plain wrong.

The truth is that any strap-on-savvy woman probably isn’t much of a lady. Even those of us who wear cute dresses and three-inch heels usually can’t boast ladylike behaviour. And thank God for that.

My biggest run-in with the other L word happened last month.

This past year, I took a job scrubbing toilets and schlepping garbage. Though I was generally all right with the job itself, it really stung when I heard myself referred to as a cleaning lady. It’s one of those insulting euphemisms like calling someone a Dumpster Diving Maiden. Back in the day, women used to aspire to be ladies; now all it takes is a mop.

I complained to my friend, “Why not just call me a cleaner? Or janitor? Or, better yet, call me a student who is trying to make ends meet.”

He helped me shake the rhetorical conundrum. He said, “Oh honey, you are many things but you are so not a lady.”

He’s put in his fair share of time hauling tables of dirty plates back to a hot greasy kitchen. I knew he understood.

It’s about respect.

I have no intention of ruining people’s evening by telling them that their greeting — which legitimately falls into the rubric of politeness in our culture — gives me The No Feeling. It’s not worth it.

Maybe instead of cringing, I should just be grateful to live in these times and assume that “lady” will eventually fade into history with the likes of bonnets and curtsies.