14 What’s in a Title?


What’s in a Title? presents eight different variations of a similar encounter that explores preferences characters have in the titles that are ascribed to them. Through this scene, learners can discuss assumptions that are made based upon perceived gender, including homophobic and transphobic microaggressions. Additionally, the scenes prompt us to think about how implicit biases around gender exist systemically. Even something as seemingly innocuous as a questionnaire can be embedded with biases about what responses are possible—and what responses are not.

Topic Risk Level: Low to High
Dramatic Skill Difficulty: Low to High

Watch the Scene:

Note: These are eight small vignettes that have been combined into one video. You may choose to use the entire video, or you may want to use one or a combination of the vignettes. Our facilitation and jokering section is divided into 2 sections: general jokering ideas for all scenes and specific jokering ideas for specific scenes.

Facilitation and Jokering: General

Hot Seating

  • In Hot Seating, learners can take on the role of any one of the characters such as the person asking questions or the person answering. Here, we can ask questions like “Why did you assume that they went by Mr. or Mrs.?”

Voices For and Against

  • In a number of the small scenes, characters questioned whether or not to correct the questioner regarding their title. We can gain deeper insights about these decisions to speak up or not by using “voices for and against” to joker this scene. One side can represent “for,” one side can represent “against,” and a learner in the middle can be left to make a decision. Some people have this kind of experience frequently; this scene invites exploration of the many reasons that people may feel not able to speak up.

Inner Dialogue

  • What might the in-the-moment thoughts be of characters who have been misidentified? Here we can replay the scenes and pause at specific moments to glean more information about how different people might react in certain situations.

Facilitation and Jokering: Specific

Scene 1: Man Asking Preference: “Wife Prefers”

  • Out Scene – Rescue the Situation (higher skill)
    • In this sub-scene, we see an encounter where the questioner assumes that Taissa has a husband, yet she responds that she has a wife. Any one of us can make mistakes or presumptions about another person. But what do we do with those mistakes? When someone has made an untrue assumption about us, how can we ‘rescue’ these situations, respecting all individuals involved? Invite two learners to replay the scene and have the questioner improvise a new line after he learns that Taissa has a wife.

Scene 2: Woman Asking Preference: “Wife Prefers”

  • When used in tandem with Scene 1, Scene 2 can open the room to intriguing discussion on bias.
    • Is there a difference between a woman asking these questions and a man asking these questions? While both scenes hold the same dialogue, what assumptions might we make based upon the perceived gender of the person asking?

Scene 3: Woman Asking Preference: “Husband Prefers”

  • Discussion: Do you think that people tend to generalize what a female and male point of view might be? Explain your answer.
  • Out Scene (higher skill): Create a scene where the ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ discuss this choice prior to their wedding.
  • Out Scene (higher skill): Create a scene where the ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ have a discussion after this encounter.

Scene 4: “Actually it’s Doctor”

  • Voices For and Against (lower skill): Create a voices for or against tug-of-war based on whether or not the character should correct the questioner. What risks are associating with correcting a title? Are there different risks depending on the gender identity of the person doing the asking and the gender identity of the person who has been mis-identified? Does the character potentially open herself up to further biases if she corrects the questioner? Do you think that this character should correct the questioner or not?

Scene 5: “Doctorate in Nursing”

  • Voting with your Feet/Chat Burst (lower skill): The character explains that he has a doctorate degree in nursing but is told not to share that information as it would confuse the patients. What do you think? Would this information confuse the patients or not. Are there common gendered assumptions that people make about ‘doctor’ vs ‘nurse’?
  • Out Scene (higher skill): Create a new scene between the Doctorate in Nursing having a conversation with management insisting that the title Doctor be used.

Scene 6: “Mr.” is Assumed

  • Discussion: Not all cultures distinguish marital status. In Canada, why do we distinguish women as married/unmarried with words like Mrs. and Miss, but not men? Are these assumptions based on implicit biases? Explain your answer.
  • Out Scene (Higher Risk): Have a debate between two betrothed whether or not to wear rings. Debrief society’s beliefs on martial status declarations.

Scene 7: Pilot

  • Do you think that occupations are gendered? Are some more gendered than others? Give some examples to back up your ideas.
  • Voting with your Feet (lower skill): Based upon the Pilot’s tone, did she seem offended by the assumption that she was a flight attendant? Should the questioner attempt to rescue the situation by saying something more or move on to the next question? What would pros and cons of each approach be?

Scene 8: Mx

  • Out Scene – Elevator Pitch (lower skill): Questionnaires are often systemically biased, and prioritize binaries of male and female while leaving out a broad scope of gender identities or simply putting all non binary identities under the umbrella term “other.” Invite learners to create a new and inclusive demographics questionnaire. What would it include? What might be omitted or replaced? Download a PDF example of a demographics questionnaire that we developed for this project as a starting point for discussion.
    • Discussion Questions:
    • Is it possible for a questionnaire to be implicitly biased?
    • Often, questionnaires will have an ‘other’ section. Is ‘other’ an appropriate word? Are there risks or disadvantages that come with using the word ‘other’ to describe a person? Why or why not?

Initiating Questions

  1. How do titles establish status and social positioning?
  2. What are the social justice implications in such positionings?
  3. What title do you personally prefer? Does your preference of title change with your context?
  4. Do you think the titles used in these scenes are out dated? Why or why not? How do they line up with your experiences in health care and other like settings?
  5. How important do you think it is to collect titles on official forms? Is it possible that titles can sometimes do more harm than good? Explain your perspective.

Microaggressions and “What’s in a Title?”

Using titles that assume a binary identity can be a form of homophobic and/or transphobic microaggression. These kinds of microaggressions can prevent LGBQ and trans people from seeking needed healthcare.

The following readings and news sources may be useful to initiative class discussion before or after using these scenes.

Tobia, J. I am neither Mr, Mrs nor Ms but Mx. The Guardian. August, 2015.

Bennet, J. She? Ze? They? What’s in a Gender Pronoun. The New York Times. January, 2016.

Bear Bergman, S., & Barker, M. J. (2017). Non-binary activism. In Genderqueer and non-binary genders (pp. 31-51). Palgrave Macmillan, London.
Liszewski, W., Peebles, J. K., Yeung, H., & Arron, S. (2018). Persons of nonbinary gender—awareness, visibility, and health disparities. The New England journal of medicine379(25), 2391.
Moser, C., & Devereux, M. (2019). Gender neutral pronouns: A modest proposal. The international Journal of Transgenderism20(2-3), 331.


Spotlight on Jokering:

Watch a virtual workshop of the scene in the video below.


Haunting our Biases: Using Participatory Theatre to Interrupt Implicit Bias Copyright © 2022 by Kevin Hobbs; Michael Martin Metz; Nadia Ganesh; Sheila O'Keefe-McCarthy; Joe Norris; Sandy Howe; and Valerie Michaelson. All Rights Reserved.

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