DEAR MISS MANNERS: In place of “sir,” “madam” and “miss,” how should one address a nonbinary person or a person whose gender is unknown when you don’t know their name?

I once asked this of a friend with a nonbinary child, and she became very defensive, insisting that saying “excuse me” was a good enough way to address someone. I just don’t think “excuse me” conveys the respect I want to afford a stranger, nor does it go beyond getting someone’s attention.

GENTLE READER: “Sir,” “madam,” “ma’am” and “miss” all fail to narrow down the particulars, either — and run equal risk of offending: “I’m too young to be a ma’am!” or “Don’t define me by my marital status!” being the most common (and rude) retorts.

Miss Manners will do her part in asking everyone to calm down and exercise tolerance when it comes to these inaccurate guesses. But if we can avoid guessing altogether, that would also be helpful. She therefore defends your friend’s option — if not its defensive delivery — of simply saying “Excuse me.”



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