One woman's story of the subway patrons who assumed she was pregnant prompted us to consider the danger of assumptions — and ponder some other things you should never assume.
First: never assume a lady is pregnant.
Over at The Hairpin, Halle Kiefer chronicles her dawning horror as she realized why an older lady was volunteering to give up her subway seat: "I mean, sure, I was carrying a heavy computer bag, but why would she think that was … OH GOOD GOD NO. And that's when I realized: this bitch thought I was pregnant." It's actually a common tale: Kiefer is far from the first woman to tell the story of strangers assuming you're with child based on their own inexpert appraisals of your belly. However, she provides this handy explanation of why the situation sucks:
I don't mind the idea of someone thinking my abdomen was pulsating with life rather than sandwiches; I just don't want to be the punch line of a cultural joke. What sitcom/shitty rom-com/episode of Reba hasn't featured the protagonist accidentally identifying some one-off lady character as being with child? The audience gets to share in the protagonist's delicious embarrassment, their paralyzed smile about to shatter with laughter as the sullen faux-pregnant woman sits there silently, her bulldog face and her empty womb betraying her as The Butt Of The Joke.
Take-home message: don't assume a lady is pregnant. Says Kiefer, "Even if they were 99.9% sure, they should have stopped themselves."
When in doubt about someone's gender, do not guess.
Expressions like "sir" or "ma'am" are highly overrated. I say this as a woman who has been called "sir" multiple times. Interestingly, this never happens when I am rocking my suit. It did happen once in a liquor store in Iowa City, when I was wearing a parka (and, I believe, buying some very masculine boxed wine), and another time, in middle school, when I was sporting my lemon-yellow Daisy Dukes. That time the sir-er was an administrator who was yelling at me for hiding in the halls during lunch instead of subjecting myself to the torments of my fellow eighth-graders. I just yelled right back, "I'm a girl," and the admin was totally shamed.
Seriously, though, this is something that happens to trans people in much more serious, obnoxious, and invasive ways than I just described, and it's a good idea to remember that in a lot of situations, knowing a stranger's gender is not really necessary to whatever business you need to transact with them. Just say, "excuse me!" Easy!
Do not assume that two people are together, or married.
I was once surprised, at the age of 22, when a Vegas hotel clerk asked my then-boyfriend, "Would you like an extra key for your wife?" This dude's first mistake was talking to my BF like I wasn't even there, but his second was assuming that two people checking into a hotel room together were married. This may be a Vegas thing — some archaic form of discretion — but assuming two people must be together just because they're dining or staying or taking a cab ride with each other is a common mistake. It happened to a friend of mine and his brother, and many women I know have been severely icked out by being mistaken for their dad's younger lover. Nine times out of ten, it really doesn't matter if the people you're dealing with are boning, or whether they're doing it in or out of wedlock — just give them the damn keys.
There are lots of other assumptions that can go badly awry — assumptions about children, ethnicity, occupation, economic status (the cringeworthy scene in Please Give where Catherine Keener's character mistakes a restaurant patron for a homeless man leaps to mind). Ultimately, we're all going to make a few bad faux pas in our lives — and, on the other side, endure them. But we can prevent a lot of awkwardness — and worse — by remembering that strangers are just that — strangers. We don't know about their lives, and we probably shouldn't act as though we do.
I Didn't Know Other People Didn't Know I Wasn't Pregnant [The Hairpin]