I am participating in Trans*forming the Dialogue, Simmons College’s Online MSW Program’s campaign to promote an educational conversation about the transgender community. By participating in this campaign, I will be offering my perspective on what TO ask and what NOT to ask trans*people.
As veteran readers of this blog know, I do answer reader questions and requests for topics from time to time. I received an email from Simmons College, a private all women's college in Boston, MA. They informed me that they are "the third US women’s college to accept students who identify as transgender." And they asked me to discuss the above point. They even provided a Nifty logo!
I think I've covered this ground before, but it's good to re-visit it. I can never do as well as Calpurnia Addams did on this, but here goes. After all, one of the purposes of this blog is Education. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Your mileage may vary. Read the prospectus before investing. Void where prohibited.
The first question is one I have heard a lot. "So does this mean you like guys or girls?"
Well, I am starting with this because this covers a LOT of ground. It's pretty simple- would you ask this question of any other woman that you meet? Say, the person ahead of you in line at the grocery store? Unless you're colossally socially inept or five years old, you wouldn't. All of these sort of questions come down to one thing- It's none of your fudging business. Only I don't say "fudge."
The really disappointing people who have asked this are the people who have known me for years, and know that I am married.
Folks, it's like this: Gender Identity and Gender preference are two different things: apples and oranges. Gender Preference is who you wish to go to bed/ have a relationship/ whatever with, and Gender Identity is who you ARE.
Pretty simple right? They are independent of each other. Always. Girls like boys; boys like girls. Some boys like boys; some girls like girls; vice versa, etc. Being trans has nothing to do with that. As if it's anyone's business. Ibid.
The second question I get a lot isn't as egregious, but it's common and invasive. "Are you going to get the surgery?"
I understand you wanting to know more about the TG condition. However, my medical history is no one's business but mine, my doctor, and my Wife. Do I ask you about your medical history? Tell me about your hysterectomy. How about that nose job?
Some TG people will answer this question. Depending upon the person, I will too. After all, it's all about education. But think about it- unless you're a medical professional, would you ask a stranger about their medical history or intentions? You wouldn't.
Then there's the rudest one. "What will it look like down there when it's all done?"
Yes, I've been asked this. That's like me asking a man about how many times he couldn't get it up or asking a random woman on the street about her menstrual cycle. Ask this one to a trans-person and all bets are off. That's slap worthy. That's defriending time. That's just plain rude. And again, none of your fudging business. I usually reply with something very pointed, like "why are you hung like a light switch?'
Yes folks, it's just common sense.
Photo by Cassandra Storm
Now for the second part, which is a bit nicer. Things to ask a trans-person.
What would you prefer to be called?
Him, her, whatever. Bruce Jenner said to call him "him" until otherwise informed. Fair enough. I am she/her. I am female.
"How can I help?"
Really, transition is brutal. I have said/ written/ used semaphore flags many times saying that if you don't HAVE to do it: DON'T. It's nice to have someone extend their hand and ask this. Often, the answer will be a polite "no" but it's always nice to ask. And it's ALWAYS appreciated.
"Tell me your story."
Not really a question, but a prompt. And a good one. But don't ask if you're not going to listen. By telling our stories, we become Real to people. We are no longer these strange societal outcasts. As Professor Jennifer Finney Boylan has written (and attributed to her mother) "You can't hate someone whose story you know." And the New York Times agrees- they're publishing trans-people's stories (I submitted mine but to date have not been published.) But a few friends of mine have been published. And all the stories are worth a read. All people have stories. All are worth hearing. That's part of being Human.
I could go on with these questions for a while, but those, to me are the Big ones. If you wish, submit your questions you Love/Hate in the comments here. And as always, if you have questions for me, you can either ask me here or at my email firstname.lastname@example.org. Maybe your question will be a blog entry! (With you receiving full credit of course!)
Thank you to Simmons College for supporting the Trans community, and for this opportunity.