‘They’ Series: Public Conversation

This is the final installment in the series where I talk about how to use the singular pronoun ‘They’ and other gender-neutral terms. This post is for the public and addressing nonbinary and genderqueer folks in a public setting.

This could be at work, at a cafe, at a restaurant, etc. This could also be useful for waiters, waitresses, and other service workers that would like to start using gender-neutral greetings to their customers.

I will go through each main public setting that Nonbinary folks would be addressed, and go over what people usually say, as well as what they could say instead to be inclusive of nonbinary folks.

The first thing to note is that using ‘They’ as someone’s pronouns until their gender is known (which is usually not told to strangers), is correct because ‘They’ is a neutral pronoun in the English language when you don’t know someone’s gender.

That neutral pronoun used to be ‘he’ but that was misogynistic because it insinuated that ‘he’ that is typically seen as a masculine-gendered pronoun, is the default for everyone. Which it is not. ‘They’ is seen by society as non-binary gendered, and such is what nonbinary folks typically use as their pronouns as well.


Most people in the service industry tend to say phrases like:

“Hello Ladies, what’ll you have?”

“You guys ready?”

“Hey man, what’ll ya have?”

“And what about the little lady/man?”

These phrases unnecessarily gender the stranger they are talking to, and for a nonbinary person, can be damaging over time. Use phrases like these instead:

“Hey folks, what’ll you have?”

“Would you like more water?”

“How are you all doing today?”

“And what about the little/small one?”

“For the special someone/person!” (Birthday Parties/Endearment)

Using these, you will ensure that you are being inclusive of everyone at the table, no matter their gender or lack thereof.

Retail/Clothing Store:

What’s important to note at these establishments, is that they tend to have dressing rooms. And everyone reading this, I am assuming knows that anyone of any gender should be able to use whatever dressing room they feel comfortable with. At least until all dressing rooms are co-op anyway. And not assuming folks should be in a certain dressing room, also avoids trans customers having to speak up and out themselves in public. Even when they don’t feel safe. Because most likely they will. They just want to be comfortable like everyone else.

Phrases here are:

“Hello Ladies, how many items?”

“Hello/Sorry/Excuse me Ma’am/Sir

“Could I help you, sir/ma’am?”

She/He wants to return a shirt.”

Luckily there aren’t too many gendered words in this setting, but here are some of the ways to correct the ones there are:

“Hello, how many items?”

“Hello/sorry/excuse me?”

“Could I help you?”

They want to return a shirt”

In clothing stores, it is also important to note that clothes are not gendered, and to not question someone’s clothing choices just because they ‘look’ like a certain gender, as expression, does not equal identity.

Grocery Store:

At grocery stores, folks are the friendliest they can be. But you want to be super inclusive! And luckily it’s easy!

Phrases typical to a Grocery Store:

“Hello ma’am/sir, how are you?”

Ma’am/sir, you forgot your ___!”

“I have a young lady/man who would like to know-“

She/He said that She/He bought it here.”

These are very easy to fix!

“Hello, how are you?”

“Excuse me, you forgot your-” Or “They forgot their-

“I have a customer here who would like to know-“

They said that they bought it here.”

This ensures that all customers who are just trying to buy food, are all equally addressed appropriately. You don’t have to gender people to have a connection with customers!

Street/Cafe/Transit Setting:

If you are addressing a stranger/acquaintance in the street or another informal setting, it is important to remember that the person you are meeting for the first time, you do not know their gender. No matter what they look or sound like, you do NOT know their gender.

Some phrases said in these settings are:

“Hello ma’am/sir, how’s your day?”

“What does she/he want?”

“Excuse me, sir/ma’am.”

“Sorry dude/girl.

“Hey, guys!”

“I moved so she/he could sit”

He/She took the other chair.”

I myself am guilty of these phrases, and try to change “hey guys” as much as I can. Here are some corrections to include nonbinary folks:

“Hello, how’s your day?”

“What do they want?”

“Excuse me.”

“Sorry!/I’m sorry.”

“Hey All/Folks/You all!”

“I moved so they could sit.”

They took the other chair.”

These phrases are easily fixed, and pretty much any time there is a group of people or even one person that you do not know their gender, ‘They’ is always more inclusive than He/She/You guys/Ladies/etc.

I hope that this series, in general, was useful to you in figuring out which context you say ‘They’ in your life, and how you can start using the gender-neutral pronoun and phrases in conversation, to normalize the inclusion of Nonbinary individuals.

Thank You,


Featured Image: Broadly-Vice Gender Spectrum












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