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Don't Tick
Off Trans

Don't Tick
Off Trans


Transgressive questions likely to be a transgender conversation-ender.

Let's say you're at work, a social setting, or political event, and a real live transgender person says "Hi!" You don't want to say anything wrong since you recall the tedious questions and responses you've endured about your sexuality, but you want to appear interested and engaged. Thankfully, there's etiquette for talking to trans people. Here's a look at questions to avoid. Trans people will thank you for it.

What's the T doing in LGBT? You probably get the L and the G from extensive personal experience. You might even get the B (we'll save that for another article). But that pesky T can be a real mystery. LGBT people (in fact, all people) have a gender identity and expression. That's how many LGBT people are oppressed.

Our society rewards partnering with the "opposite" gender and is organized around a procreative ideology: Male and female are the two types, and they make babies. Same-sex partnering violates the first rule of gender identity and expression, which is so deeply ingrained and enforced that a violation of it is sometimes described as "unnatural."

Here's the real problem. We aren't oppressed just because we're queer but often because we look and act queer. That's gender identity and expression. And it's often imposed from inside our own community. Some LGBT personal ads demand only "straight-acting" applicants need apply. The community often rewards those who pass as members of the majority culture.

Can I ask you a personal question? This usually means "Don't be offended, but I'm about to offend you," which often leads to one of the following:

Are you transgender? (Variants include "Are you a real girl?" or "Were you always a man?") The first rule of Trans Club is, You do not talk about Trans Club. Let the trans person bring it up. Many trans people make great efforts to align their gender identity and expression. Many don't like to talk about it. Getting "read" (slang for identified as trans) can be a demoralizing blow, and asking equals reading. The better someone can pass, the more likely it's going to hurt if you ask. And please resist speculating with others or confirming their speculations if you know.

Do you have any "before" pictures? This question comes courtesy of media hacks who exploit the freak show angle. Some trans people are proud of their transitions and, like someone newly in shape, might show "before" and "after" photos. But for many trans people, old photos and details of their past remind them of difficult times they'd rather not revisit. Also, they're often used as evidence that we're "really" whatever we were assigned at birth.

What is/was your "real" name/old name? See above. Never mention someone's old name or other name. Never ask what it was. Using someone's old name is often the insult of choice for those who dislike a trans person.

Can I still use your old name? This is why many trans people don't stay in touch with people they knew before transition. If you knew someone pre-transition, don't use that person's old name and pronoun. Before sharing stories about someone's past, check with the trans person to make sure it's OK. Remember, reminders of the past can be painful, so show respect for your longtime friend or acquaintance.

When did you get it/them cut off? Did it hurt? Can I see/touch? First, transgender surgery is performed under anesthesia by skilled plastic surgeons so, no, it didn't hurt. It's more like reconfiguring than amputation. Second, you don't ask nontrans people to describe their private anatomy, so don't ask trans people. Finally, don't assume we're getting surgery of any kind; many can't or won't. And, no, you can't see/touch until the third date.

What is sex like now? Don't ask about orgasms and mechanics. Again, would you ask a nontrans person? Maybe during postdate analysis with good friends but not during a casual conversation.

What pronouns should I use? The skit about androgynous character Pat on Saturday Night Live displayed a bit of good etiquette in its core premise. If you're not sure, avoid gendered terms like she, his, Ms., sir, and so on until you are sure. Don't ask outright; just strike up a regular conversation, and usually any answer will become apparent.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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Andrea James