A few months ago a lively debate broke out among the submissions editors at Apex Magazine. The subject of the discussion was quite simple:
What, dear author, do we at Apex call you?
When we reply to your submissions and emails, how do we address you? Calling you by your first name seems overly familiar, unless whoever is emailing you actually knows you to some degree. This is, after all, largely a business transaction. You are selling me your work, or trying to, and we are either accepting the submission or telling you no. Either way, it’s a formal discussion.
You are the writer. Without you, Apex doesn’t exist. I respect you and your work. I want that to be clear in our correspondence.
Yet this immediately raises a very sticky point. Honorific-plus-last-name is the formal mode of address in the United States. But all the honorifics are definitively gendered. Mr. and Ms. connote a certainty on the part of the addresser as to the gender identity of the addressee.
Ouch. That’s just a landmine of mistakes waiting to happen.
See, no matter WHAT your name is, I can’t know your gender. I do not want to disrespect you by misgendering you. None of us at Apex want that.
So, then ….
What do we call you?
After robust conversation, the consensus emerged. We at Apex will address you, dear author, as FirstName LastName in our initial correspondence. After that I will probably address you however you have signed your reply to me. (Which tends to be FirstName. That’s how I sign my emails, personally.)
Dear FirstName LastName is a tetch awkward-looking. It’s not a common or natural form of address. And it looks a bit like a form letter. But it’s the compromise we at Apex have currently accepted between the strictures of the English language and the needs of polite society.