Friday 17 April 2015

Me vs My Gender-Neutral Name

Short hair, still a girl.
My name is Jamie. I’m a girl. I know that in the past I’ve had short hair, but that’s ok, I’m still a girl. I only say this explicitly because you would not believe the number of times this has seriously confounded people who meet me for the first time.

When I screw up a gender-neutral name and wrongly assume male or female, I find the best tact to take is something along the lines of “Oh sorry”. Frankly, it’s probably happened to them before.  Disappointingly what I have frequently gotten is “Oh, you’re a girl? But that’s a boy’s name”.  Gosh, thanks. I’ll let my parents know they did it wrong. Good thing you were here to point that out!

To me this is a special kind of ass hattery. In a world where names like Sealice exist (and yes, this can be read as either Sea-lice, or as Viagra’s less popular erectile dysfunction pill competition, Cialis), I think that a girl named Jamie is hardly something to be that concerned about.

I also recognize that some people think I spell my name the “boy” way. As I’m in fact a girl, I would argue it’s also the “girl” way. To be fair I don’t add a lot of extra vowels (Jaimie or Jayme, which ironically get red squiggly lines on my spell check), but I rarely have people stare quizzically at the name while wondering how to pronounce it (For example La-a, also known as Ladasha….yes, really).

Because people often just assume Jamie is a man, my gender-neutral name offers a unique perspective on the quiet gender discrimination that Jennifers and Stephanies are unlikely to even realize is happening.

The first really blatant time this happened I was as a teenager applying for my first job. As if it isn’t already a miserably hard task getting a job with no job experience, enter gender discrimination.

I applied to be a delivery driver with a pizza company. I got a call from a woman asking to talk to Jamie. I said that was me and her response was “Jamie? I thought Jamie was a man. We don’t hire females to be drivers”. I was speechless. And as if that wasn’t enough, she tried to placate me by telling me it was for my own safety.  Thanks. I’m glad that some faceless harpy on the other end of the phone has nothing but my best interests at heart. I’m sure it has nothing to do with liability at all.

Ten minutes later she called back, asked for Jamie AGAIN, and then said “Oh right, you’re a girl. Never mind” and hung up. Just wow.

I really think that so transparently and unapologetically using gender discrimination in your hiring practices is shameful. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s not supposed to happen. I get that if I applied to be a male model, I would be turned down for lack of penis, but that should be about the only one. I’m pretty sure I can drive a pizza around. Is it the safest job, maybe not, but I applied for it and should have at least been given a chance. Hell, find me unqualified due to my terrible disposition, but not because I have a vagina.

Frighteningly this wasn’t an isolated incident. A few years later I was looking into becoming a helicopter pilot and attended an information session at one of the local schools. I took my husband with me, and when we walked in the instructor looked at him, shook his hand, and said “You must be Jamie”. I looked at him and politely informed him that no, in fact I was Jamie, and was here for the info session. Without missing a beat he looked me up and down and said “Oh, I guess we’ll have to discuss female issues now”

….Like what issues exactly? How my period will cause the plane to fall spontaneously out of the sky? How my breasts will get stuck in the steering mechanism causing erratic flight patterns? (I have nowhere near enough boob for that, btw) Or maybe they worry about how my femininity will cause all the men in the logging camps to refuse to fly with me (to which I say tough shit, get in or walk up the mountain).

He told me flat out that I would have problems getting hired because logging camps didn’t want to put in the effort to accommodate women. They wouldn’t tell me that, but that’s what would happen. Well, there went my confidence out the fucking window.

Despite all the ridiculousness that I have to put up with given my name, I’ve come to really enjoy it. There are definitely some perks.

My favourite is the ability to make all telemarketers feel incompetent. Depending on how my day is going, when they ask for a Mr. Jamie, answers will range from no one here by that name to breaking into a tirade about how they shouldn’t make assumptions based solely on names. What if I was a boy named Sue?!?

It also made middle school a bit more entertaining. For most of my grade 8 year, my mother would get almost weekly phone calls notifying her that I wasn’t in school. This would cause my mother to panic because she had dropped me off in the morning, and the school would then be scrambling to find me.

I was always in school. Every. Single. Time.

One day the secretary called (again) to tell my mother (again) that I wasn’t in school. The difference was that she said “Your son Jamie isn’t in school”. My mom asked (somewhat confused) if they were aware that she didn’t have a son, and that Jamie was her daughter. It appeared that no, they did not know that, and that for most of a year they had been looking for a non-existent, but apparently highly truant, boy named Jamie. HE was never in school.

To really bring the whole gender-neutral name issue home, I managed to marry a man with an uncommon and gender-interchangeable name. This makes calls to utility companies very easy as we can both pretend to be each other without difficulty. Yeah, sure, he’s Jamie this time.  

Finally to keep the tradition going, we accidentally did this to our kids as well. I personally don’t find Avery a traditionally boy name, but apparently it is. I’m sure she’ll survive. It’s her name now. And Gabriel….well, I would personally spell it Gabrielle if it was a girl, but that hasn’t stopped innumerable nurses from being surprised that I had a baby boy.

Basically I think that it doesn’t matter. Name your kids something you like, try not to be too evil about it, and I’m living proof that we’ll sort it out for ourselves eventually.

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