Trans Etiquette 101: No Offense, But That’s Offensive

Brennan: [to Booth] You seem uncomfortable. Does his size make you self-conscious?
Booth: Bones.
Brennan: It’s a condition: skeletal dysplasia. Pseudoachondroplasia or S.E.D. congenita?
Booth: Bones!
Brennan: What?
Radswell: Dr. Brennan, I can see that you’re a straightforward person. And as much as I appreciate that quality, what you’re asking me is neither your business nor relevant.

(Season 2, Episode 6, The Girl in Suite 2103)

I am turning into a bit a of a “Bones” junkie. In just two sick days I’ve cleared through the first 25 episodes. Today I was watching an episode in which Dr. Brennan asks a little person, Mr. Radswell, some inappropriate questions about his condition and he politely but firmly reminds her she has no reason to ask. Couldn’t help but draw some parallels to my own experiences.

There is a lot of curiosity about people who are atypical. Being trans seems to draw out a kind of curiosity similar to what Dr. Brennan displayed in her interactions with Mr. Radswell. For example, in a comment on my introductory piece for Autostraddle, someone asked me if I’d had “the surgery.” My piece had nothing to do with surgery and certainly did not directly solicit questions of this nature. And yet, I was not surprised to have been asked. This type of inappropriate questioning is incredibly common. People ask all sorts of invasive questions.

They are curious. And to a large degree, rightfully so. Until recently, the media has presented us as all but non-existent. And when learning about gender and sex in schools, most of us don’t hear one word about any sort of gender- or sex-variance. So we humans are an uneducated mass when it comes to trans issues. We meet someone who has at one point volunteered their trans status and here’s our opportunity to learn everything.

Ah, except that person is a person, not a textbook. And to borrow from “Bones,” what we are asking is neither our business nor relevant to our relationship with that person.

A lot of non-transgender people have asked me what is and isn’t appropriate to ask trans people. I think the relevancy test is a good place to start. As much as you might want to know when they started hormone replacement or how their parents are handling “it” or what kind of surgery they want to get, if the answer does not impact your relationship with them, don’t ask the question. And to be honest, that means most questions are off limits in most every situation.

Here is the exception: if someone invites people to ask questions. I like to be as open about my transition and about trans issues as possible, because it is an opportunity to be an education resource for people who otherwise might not have one. It means you have to have a thick skin and I think it is completely acceptable to not be as open as I am. But there are plenty of trans people who are.

So let’s say you are a non-trans person and you are with someone who is out about being trans and is knowingly open to questions. You have some things you want to ask. Here are some guidelines to follow.

1. Ask permission to ask questions. Even if you think you know they are comfortable answering, they may actually not be or maybe not in that setting, and it is just rude and pretty off-putting to not ask. Say, “Hey do you mind if I ask you some things about your transition? I’ve been a little curious – feel free to not answer or say no.”

2. Avoid private and personal questions. Even a so-called open book like me doesn’t want to discuss my sex life with most anyone. If you really want to know about trans men and sex, ask in general terms – i.e. “Are many trans men ‘stone butch’ in bed?” vs. “Are you stone butch in bed?” BIG difference.

3. Do not ask questions that in any way challenge the trans person’s gender identity or expression or could obviously lead to dysphoria. Do NOT, for example, ask if a trans man will grow to be ‘average male height’ or if a trans woman is uncomfortable with the size of her hands. I’ve gotten, “Are you ever going to look your age?” Ouch, honey.

4. Phrase your questions in a way that affirms a trans person’s gender. And avoid anything that defines the trans person in terms of who they once “were.” This is pretty simple, actually. Instead of asking if someone is “still legally female,” ask what the steps are to becoming legally male and if they have completed them.

5. Avoid comparisons to non-trans people and never use the term “real” in distinguishing between transgender and non-transgender people. “Cisgender” or “non-trans” are the only appropriate ways to signify non-trans status.

Try Google First

6. If it is a general question, try Google first. There is a lot of information on the internet and an open trans person should not be a stand-in for your own research.

7. Do not ask what the person’s birth name was. There is absolutely no reason for you to need to know this and it is likely something this person wants distance from. It is a particularly offensive question when phrased, “What is your REAL name.” After all, Sebastian is my real name and has been since I started asking people to use it.

8. Request specific permission to ask questions relating to genitalia, even if you’ve already received general permission to ask other personal questions. “Are you comfortable discussing your genitalia?” Chances are they aren’t. After all, do you want to talk about yours? But some people are and I acknowledge that there is definitely education needed on the topic so I am not opposed entirely to asking questions, as long as you get extra permission first.

9. Be wary of your phrasing. If you aren’t sure how to talk about trans issues, you need to announce that in the beginning. Be open to correction and don’t get defensive if a trans person is offended by something you say. As a heads up, don’t refer to a trans person as their previously-assigned gender – don’t say “when you were a girl” to a trans man for example. A more accurate and safer route is “before you transitioned” or “when you were living as a girl.”

10. Be aware of your setting. These are private conversations. Don’t approach someone at a crowded party or in algebra class and expect them to have a trans chat with you.

11. Be sensitive to the person’s comfort level throughout the conversation. If they’ve given you permission but are obviously growing uncomfortable discussing things, don’t press. Be grateful for the information you’ve gained and change the subject.

12. Respect the person’s privacy. Unless this person stated otherwise, the personal information they gave you is not for you to share with the world.

Of course, this list probably doesn’t cover everything. If you have any questions about tactful and appropriate question-asking hit the comments! I’ll respond!

Original illustration for Autostraddle.com provided by and copyright Michelle Mishka Colombo 2011

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Sebastian has written 16 articles for us.

169 Comments

  1. Thumb up 1

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    Solid advice! It’s sad that so many people have to be instructed on what should be common sense. Being trans (or queer for that matter – “So what do lesbians do in bed anyway?”) seems to drive even the most polite people off the etiquette rails.

    Just as a warning (not to be a total killjoy), but around season four (or five? I can’t recall), Bones also flies off the rails into blatant heteronormative, anti-trans, racist garbage. And I say that as someone who loved the show deeply.

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      Yeah, I was a fan of Bones’ campy, light (yet gross) fare up until around that time, too. Like the nightclub with mostly Black patrons and a drug-related death. Also, the storyline with Angela and her relationships: have the writers never heard of polyamory? Not such a big deal!

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        Nvm, I just fact-checked myself and realized the nightclub episode was Season 1 (I was watching them out of order). So maybe Bones has been problematic from the beginning. But then so are many of the procedural dramas on TV right now… I’m lookin’ at you, Law and Order SVU!

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          I missed a lot of the first season, but yeah, most TV shows are problematic in some way. With Bones, I really enjoyed from around the second to the fourth season. There were all these women around and they were the bosses and some of them were even women of color and not size two. And everyone respected them for being smart! Weird, right?

          But then somewhere after that they introduced the Muslim character that existed solely for the purpose of terrorist jokes, and they had the androgynous character who was sexually harassed for an entire episode because a bunch of characters with about fifty doctorates in anthropology and biology became obsessed with whether “it” was a boy or a girl. Argh! And then Bones herself, the character that I loved from the beginning because she didn’t follow gender norms, suddenly wanted to have a baby. As for the polyamory… yeah, writers can never handle that. See: Shane on the L Word.

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          Exactly! I love that the title character is a brilliant, kickass, doesn’t-take-shit-from-nobody, professional woman, and that the bosses are people of color who DON’T follow stereotypes, but then…ugh. The show just doesn’t live up to its potential.

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          And that thing, with that giant and out-of-character spoiler which happens at the end of one of the seasons? That’s the point at which it just jumped the shark and hasn’t at any point improved, although I thought it was still barely watchable for a season or so after that. (Sebastian! I’m trying not to spoil you! It was a really terrific show for a bunch of years, so enjoy it!)

          IMO the show became unbalanced. It was always about Brennan presenting one point of view and Booth presenting another, usually like a conservative/Xtian point of view, and although you’re clearly supposed to sympathise with Booth more, at least Brennan always made sense and was articulate and confident and you could feel like your opinions were worthy of respect. Then Booth “fixed” her or made her fuzzy or whatever and it got shit.

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          Law & Order Episodes are ripped form real life headlines. So the cases stand as they are. If you’re talking about interpersonal relationships between the reoccurring characters, then I’d be interested to hear about that! But as for each case and ruling, those come from real life events. I would hope the show would have enough respect so as to not alter the basic skeleton of the case and the ruling. Otherwise, what’s the point?

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    I think this is really great, except for one annoying nit-picky thing: can someone fix the weary/wary typo on #9? They are very different words and it always just makes me crazy!

    Thanks for sharing, I think it was really important for someone to post something like this.

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    Thanks for this article, now I have somewhere to direct people I know who have had a friend recently reveal that they are trans.

    I can’t wait to read all of your future articles, too. I’m sure they’ll all be as useful/helpful/interesting. :)

    It seems a lot of people really have no idea in regards to etiquette…And just other things. I recently had a friend tell me that he thought gender was biological, sex social. And as much as I tried to explain to him that no, it was the other way around and academically established he wouldn’t change his mind and just said “that’s how it is to me.” :\ How do you even deal with people like that? Same guy also told me that he would keep thinking of his ftm friend as a “she” in his head even though he would use male pronouns out loud in order to be polite…and didn’t get it when I said that it was incredibly rude and disrespectful of him to invalidate his friend’s identity like that.

    /rant >O

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          He told YOU he’d keep thinking of the FTM friend as ‘her’ in his head, not the FTM friend. Right? I think that’s fine. In fact I often find myself telling people to do just that, because when people resist “thinking of” someone as male or female, they are the ones who throw tantrums and pointedly continue using a transperson’s birth name and assigned pronouns. They might come around, but it is a process and in the mean time, it’s better to support your friend even if it means pretending to be at ease with their identity than to tear them down indulging your own hang-ups.

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          I agree. It takes time to accept thing that one doesn’t understand. Considering how little major media outlets cover trans* issues, disowning friends who are struggling to understand, while also attempting to be respectful and pronoun-correct, seems unwise. No one can rightfully expect their friends and and family to go through a complete paradigm switch the second that person comes out as trans*, all they can expect is for those people to continue to love and support them and try their best to understand.

          While coming out as trans* is really hard for most people, I feel like those who come out are are immediately rage-filled at their loved ones who need some time and honest discussion to understand what they’re going though create even more confusion about being trans*. Most people have never met an open trans* person, and by meeting their confusion or struggled attempts to accept with aggression only further alienates them from understanding.

          That’s why articles such as this help to foster a understanding about trans* people, instead of alienating those who are trying.

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    “ask in general terms – i.e. “Are many trans men ‘stone butch’ in bed?”

    Gotta be careful with this one. One trans person can’t speak for other trans people, one can only speak on behalf of their personal experience. Generalizing about trans people is always a bad idea. For example, my trans experience is different from almost all other trans guys I have interacted with, so it’s not fair for me to speak generally about anyone else’s transition.

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      Definitely important to remember this. What I meant is that I can speak about others experiences that I know of in an anonymous way if someone phrases their question this way. I have spoken with a lot of trans guys (and read a lot) about their own experiences and think I can safely speak on their behalf because they have explained things to me. I can say, “I know of a number of trans men who are stone butch. They’ve explained it like this: “blah blah blah.” And I also know guys who are comfortable being touched sexually in certain settings, etc. etc.”

      I think there are ways to speak more generally about trans experiences without generalizing. And I always include disclaimers when answering questions like this – “It’s definitely different for each trans guy.” Because you are absolutely right that our experiences are all unique

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        I also think it is important to remember that a generalization is exactly that, a generalization. No one person can speak for an entire group of people, whether trans*, cis, straight, queer, gay, bi (another incredibly unacknowledged group) etc, but most anyone who is part of a group can make a generalization about that group. Everyone’s different, but we’re all pretty much the same too…

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    This is what I needed. For reals.

    I believe open dialogue is absolutely essential for understanding and true acceptance. But sometimes I am so acutely aware of my own ignorance and the potential for offense that communication is too intimidating – silence seems safer. Thanks for improving my cultural competence and instilling me with some badly-needed linguistic confidence.

    As you say, nobody can be blamed for not being this open… so I feel like I owe you one. You’re good people, Sebastian.

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      I agree totally. I think one of the things that reinforces ignorance is that people get scared to open up a dialogue — that they might use the wrong words, or ask something inappropriate, or that they aren’t entitled to speak about something — and then nothing is said. Also I agree that Sebastian is good people

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    This is excellent, really useful. Thank you.

    I’m glad you brought up the “the surgery” comment from your previous piece. It really bothered me when i read it and i meant to come back and reply, but didn’t. But yeah, really not ok to ask that kind of question right off, plus this idea of a mythical one surgery on which a trans person must base their entire life/identity.

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    Great job, Sebastian. I found myself doing body builder strength head nods all the way through your piece.

    The content on AS is a veritable safe space cocoon of original ideas and eloquently worded truths. Props, you guys.

    Praise party over hereeeee.

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    yes, this should be common sense, thanks sebastian!

    i began to transition two years ago in a very non-normative way, and because of my genderqueer-up-in-the-air-thing-a-la franky-fitzgerald-disposition, folks feel entitled to ask questions abou everything, anytime, anyplace, EVERYWHERE. having brown skin prepared me a bit for douchey out-of-left field questions like “what country are you from? what’s your nationality?” HOW DOES THIS MATTER? it feels so invasive to be deconstucted racially and genderwise without even being asked your NAME first. or, gasp!, what’s your preferred gender pronoun? i wish i was asked this one million times a day, just for funsies.

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      Ugh, my family has people of various races in it, and people are constantly focusing on my nephews’ racial makeup. One is 2, and the other is 7 months! People started this bull before they were even born! WTF, Who cares?? It’s a new member of the family! Ever hear of love?? I understand curiosity, since there aren’t that many images of racially mixed people out there in the mainstream media, but come on. Jackasses hyperfocusing on race. I understand the huge social and historical significance race can carry, but if race is the main lens through which you interact with people, you are insane. This shit goes up my ass sideways. I mean, sitting there staring at a baby, and doing a racial analysis on it. WHAT ARE YOU DOING????? Ugh.

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    This is solid advice! Many thanks. Respect in general is very important, and quite a large portion of people tend to ignore it completely when they encounter someone different/shiny/new/wrapped in tinfoil. My FAVORITE (sarcasm) question that I’ve heard a couple times when I let it slip that I’m a lesbian (or when people ask after seeing me walk/swagger/talk/radiate rainbows) is the “So, you know how some lesbians kinda… (awkward pause for the straight people/people who’ve never taken a gender/sexuality class/people with the same level of tact as my uncle) …look like men? If you’re going to date a girl like that, why not date a guy?” I hate this question. I really do. My favorite way to answer it when I’m not in the mood to lecture about perceived standards of beauty/when the person asking would not be capable of understanding a conversation about beauty standards is by being flippant and saying something about how great boobs are, possibly topped off with a hand/tongue gesture to seal in the awkwardness. Then let that awkwardness simmer with a pinch of salt and possibly a booty shake, and you’re well on your way to a “Get Baked with Autostraddle” recipe.

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        I think what they are trying to say is can someone who may lack social finesse be friends with someone who is transgendered, because they may say things that are unintentionally rude or blunt. The offensive terminology in the comment is an example of that lack of finesse.

        Angus’ response shows that’s it’s definitely possible to maintain a dialogue/friendship in that case, if you can communicate openly about what is offensive/why you have social blunders. Which is why I think this article is pretty much magic :-)

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          Thank You, beautiful illistration of why the social rules are so hard to understand. You see I learned that term from a transgendered person, so I assumed it was acceptable slang. So, I’m confused, is the word offensive, or is it one of those rules, like it’s OK for African Americans to say Nigga, but white people better not go there? (I suppose I just offended someone again.) Just asking. It’s hard enough to get along with neurotypicals, but then you throw LGBT issues in and it gets ridiculous. Is it better not to talk at all, or to risk stepping on each others toes? I think it best if we think of one another as natives of different planets, and try to learn as much as we can about each other.

          You should know, I’m not this outspoken in real life. Anonymity of the web makes it easier to say what I really think.

          BTW, I only asked because of Bones reference. The character is supposed to portray Asperger’s syndrome, tho’ I don’t think they completely pull it off. Most of the Apsies I have met are the really geeky type, the kind who got picked on & ostracized as children. (Think of Artie Abrams on Glee) Bones doesn’t quite embody that image. Also, Aspies are often portrayed as emotionless machines. This is so far off. We have deep emotions & are quite prone to anxiety. We just don’t like sharing – probably a result of the years of bullying.

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          Some trans* people are okay with it, but it’s a term that will take many, many more years to reclaim. The racial slur you used as an example is in the midst of such a reclamation, but the fact that I, as a person lacking color, am not comfortable using it means that it’s not entirely reclaimed.

          A lot of the trans* people I know personally have anxiety too, because of a variety of reasons, so we at least have that in common. :)

          Also, a problem with using the word ‘tranny’ is that it was originally a slur toward trans -women-, and it seems to be mostly trans men that seek to reclaim it. I am personally of the opinion that it is not their place to do so, and therefore do not use the term. I second the recommendation to read the essay posted by Ginasf, keeping in mind that she is speaking from personal experience, as one of the oppressed group.

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          Angus, thank you for your comment how specific terms can have very different meanings and impact to different members of a group and your mindfulness that reclaiming terms needs to be done by the group which is oppressed by them. Just as guys don’t get to decide whether “bitch” will be reclaimed. Sadly, a lot of transmen (and cis gay men/women) I’ve encountered are not terribly empathic when it comes to this subject. Related to Sebastian’s essay, I’ve heard non-trans people (including female partners of trans men) tell trans women they have no right to be offended by ‘tranny’ because their trans friend/lover told them it was okay. Not cool and, maybe, this belongs on Sebastian’s list of guidelines (eg. just because someone else trans at some point said it’s okay to say _______ doesn’t mean it, therefore, has to be okay for all other trans persons). Doesn’t work that way. :(

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        Actually, Aspie is what a lot people with Asperger’s syndrome refer to themselves as. Some folks “on the spectrum” are offended by the word “Autistic” they prefer to be called “a person with Autism” Personally, I think they are splitting hairs, but I can see the point of wanting to be seen as an individual, not a disease. After all, if you have a heart attack, you aren’t forever after known as “a cardiac patient.” If you ask me, offensive terms for an Aspie would be: Geek, Weirdo, Klutz, & Freak. Although Geek has changed meaning over the last 30-40 years, and Freak isn’t bad if you are in the right sub-culture.

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          Just as a sidenote: I like your recognition of “the spectrum” in relation to the above use of Aspie. My younger brother has Aspberger’s and its been a struggle for him for most of his life. It’s refreshing to see how in the last few years (maybe a bit more) Aspberger’s has become recognized in a more legitimate manner, rather than the “ADD knock-off” attitude it was given in decades past (not exagerrating – have heard people say this to my baby bro).

          But I would argue with the “splitting hairs” thing. Maybe some people are comfortable identifying as Autistic or an Aspie, but many are not. And isn’t the whole point of this article to educate re: how people are comfortable speaking about themselves? Just as a person who is transgendered wants to be seen as a person first, so does a person who is also “on the spectrum”.

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      For people who don’t know about this, it’s in reference to a Bones episode called “The He In The She” about a murdered trans woman. Sebastian, I’m curious that you would bring up Bones as an analogy yet not reference this show which is the one episode which completely obsesses over a trans person’s body.

      Media depictions of trans issues (and by that I include media like Oprah, Tyra Banks as well as many CSI shows, etc.) have a lot to do with why people feel entitled to ask highly personal questions about trans bodies. Today Oprah’s guest is trans woman model Lea T. From the clips I’ve seen Oprah’s breaking virtually every guideline you mentioned. Yet, no doubt, many will be defending this segment as “ground breaking” and pro-trans. And when trans women bring up how we’re not comfortable having our bodies objectified, pathologized or fetishized (much less ridiculed), we’re immediately shot down because we’re being “negative towards allies.”

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        I actually hadn’t seen that episode of Bones when I wrote this article. There’s another episode (also in the 4th season) where a number of the characters obsess about identifying the gender of an androgynous scientist. It is terribly offensive and I’m going to talk about that when I write about the episode focusing on a trans woman.

        And yes, I have seen some REALLY offensive segments on mainstream talk and news shows (I’m thinking mainly of Tyra right now) where they do the opposite of all of the guidelines I listed. In those situations (and in the fictional ones like Bones and I’m guessing CSI though I haven’t seen an episode on the topic) trans bodies become sensationalized and exotified. It’s even more than just feeling entitled to ask because they are curious and ignorant. It’s about exactly what you said – our bodies being objectified, pathologized, and/or fetishized.

        I will have to watch the Oprah show with Lea T – I hope I can find it on youtube or Oprah’s site.

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          When you’re transgender, you feel like a woman. So I prefer men.

          The hell?

          Any transgender lesbians here who have feelings on this?

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          Hi, I’m a trans lesbian. I saw most of the Lea T. segment. She also said that transsexualism is “definitely a mental illness” when even Oprah pointed out that most of her trans guests said otherwise.

          My take is that Lea T. means well, but isn’t very good at expressing herself on this subject, and isn’t all that familiar with trans advocacy. For example, her ignorant statement about orientation was an attempt to explain to Oprah that she had never been a “gay man” in terms of her relationships, which is something I can understand because I was never a “straight man.” But she phrased it horribly. I also get the impression from her statements that she defended the “mental illness” concept because she wanted to establish that this was definitely an inherent mental trait, not a choice, and she wasn’t aware of any other way to word it.

          I was also not especially happy with Oprah’s continued use of “transgender” as a verb to mean “transition.” You’d think after all the transgender guests she’s had, she’d know better. But I do think that while both Oprah and Lea T. are not especially good at what they’re trying to accomplish, they’re both trying to advocate for us, even though they both sensationalize transsexualism in the process.

          (And hey, I don’t mind a little extra attention if it’s positive. I mean, I do have some experiences on gender that most people don’t think about, even little things like how weird it is to have to relearn how to button up a shirt. But it’s frustrating that most questions are the standard, sensationalist questions, and that very few people ask or talk about the real issues, like our struggle against certain abusive medical institutions who psychologically torture us and cannot be held accountable.)

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          I know what you mean. Being Brazilian, I was really excited when Lea T started appearing on the media, and when she made an appearance at Fantástico, one of the most watched Brazilian shows. But she’s totally unprepared for public apearances.

          I cringed when she said: ”Before I had surgery I was a travesti – a man who dresses as a woman.” NOOOOOOO!!!! I know most ppl outside Brazil are not familiar with the term, but a travesti is someone who was assigned the male sex at birth, has a female identity, adapts her body to that identity (breast implants, hormone therapy, etc) but feels comfortable with her penis, and doesn’t wanna remove it.

          The LGBT movement here makes a point of distinguinshing travestis and transwomen, and it’s very important for both of them to have their identities understood and respected. While most travestis wouldn’t call themselves a woman (they will just call themselves a travesti),they’re female and they sure as hell aren’t men.

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          Thanks for sharing, Gina. I think it is disappointing when gender-variance is discussed only as a medical disorder. And of course I am disappointed (and not at all surprised) the Oprah asked a really non-important and invasive question like that.

          I also think it is nice to see trans people celebrated though. And to know that all those people who watch Oprah were forced to think about gender-variance and transitioning to at least some degree puts me at ease a bit.

          I wish someone else had been there to give a more progressive view or at least a disclaimer that not every trans woman has the same story or identity (like the discussion of how “all transgenders” try to live as homosexuals for a while).

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          Oof, and as I’m watching the video I’m cringing at Oprah’s phrasing. Continually stressing “born in the wrong body” and framing the issue not of Lea T actually being a woman and realizing that but as her not wanting to be a boy anymore.

          She also talks about sex and says penis like 15 times.

          At least Oprah was prepped to know that not everyone views being trans as a disorder. And you can see her being careful to say “living as” when discussing her life pre-transition and her decision to transition.

          Maybe I should be a media consultant and help these big wigs be less offensive and more accurate?!

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          I think the thing is with Oprah is that she asks invasive and non-important questions to EVERYONE. About sex, genitals, who they wanna fuck, where/how they wanna fuck, who fucked them up, what they give a fuck about, when they fucked up, when someone fucked up their heart, what they eat for breakfast lunch and dinner, when they felt the most miserable and exploited and terrible ever of their entire lives, what bra they wear, everything.

          That’s Oprah’s jam, and her guests come to expect it, I think. It’s almost an example of what Sebastian describes as: “here is the exception: if someone invites people to ask questions. ”

          So I feel like the debate really is — when she’s interviewing someone of an EXTREMELY marginalized, disempowered, oppressed and consistently misrepresented identity — should she make a conscious effort to be less invasive? Have a greater awareness of cis privilege? Use this opportunity to demonstrate how to preserve boundaries rather than break them down as per ushe?

          When Oprah asks Ted Haggard about banging his wife or asks Will & Jada about swinging, it’s unlikely anyone in the audience thinks “oh, I too can ask my married friends about their private sexual adventures” ’cause that’s already a “rule” of everyday discourse. Also when Oprah interviews models, she asks invasive questions about their bodies because the “body” is usually the “topic” of an interview with a model, and Lea T is a model.

          But when Oprah asks Lea T what she does with her penis, and very few people know the “rules” explained here and elsewhere, it probably sets a dangerous example. And asking Lea T about hiding her penis is a much more loaded question than asking Christie Brinkley about hiding her extra centimeter of stomach flesh — or, at least, it’s a different kind of loaded.

          Furthermore — and this is something we talk about every day here w/r/t queer visibility in the media — when someone is so rarely represented, every representation “counts” tenfold, and requires the extra attention paid to anything of such great weight.

          If I was going to make a point in this comment, I probably lost it

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          Ted Haggard should be asked questions about his hypocritical behavior involving sex because 1) He was putting himself on a pedestal as a highly moral person who’s entitled to judge others and made millions doing it; 2) He was clearly lying about his behavior. Lea T is just a person who made a very personal journey public and I don’t think she deserves any of that line of questioning.

          I think it’s even more problematic when someone who’s assumed to be an ally or even an advocate of a group has members of that group on her very high profile outlet and proceeds to ask them highly inappropriate questions. In the name of being an ally Oprah is, to me, very clearly misusing her position of power. A lot of trans people have gone on Oprah assuming she would treat them with respect only to find out that whatever concerns they expressed to her Associate Producers were ignored when it came to Oprah herself. Yes, she asks personal questions of everyone, but does she ask Janet Jackson or Celine Dion about their pussies? By asking questions like this of a trans person, she’s controlling what the discussion is around their bodies. By asking Lea (which she did) “you’re going to have surgery to remove your penis?” is saying “this is what’s important from this experience… it’s all about the penis”. That is NOT the behavior of an ally.

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          ooh i remember that episode. it’s the japanese anthropologist with the fancy hair. that episode made me cringe.

          The He in the She episode had annoying bits when Booth kept tripping up “he/ she/ he/ she” but i think in the end it was okay because everybody learned and stuff. also it would be consistent with Booth’s character being more old school, not really sure how to deal with girls/ guys.

          remember that episode when Bones was dating the botanist? He kept saying the botanist is gay because he wears European clothes and drinks mint tea. but since Booth is a decent guy overall, he sort of figured things out in the end, and is respectful.

          but the Japanese scientist episode you mentioned made me cringe because the lab people, who are supposed to be smart and enlightened, would do the whole “is she? is he?” thing, up till the very end of the episode. nobody learned anything.

          i love this post by the way, not only for the Trans Etiquette tips, but because of the Bones stuff!

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          I don’t think there’s a group alive that Tyra hasn’t offended at some point. She was good at that, especially when she jumped in and made it all about her. Cuz seriously, no one else in this world exists except her and she has ALL of the world’s problems on her shoulders. I mean, didn’t you KNOW that?!?!?!

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    Wow, thanks. I wasn’t aware of a lot of this, thanks for the guidelines. I’ll have to email this to my parents… even though they still have problems with proper pronouns.

    My mom- “This guy on TV… He had transitioned… he looked great! His boobs looked great.”
    Me-”That’s not a very nice way to talk about his chest surgery.”
    Mom-”No, he had boobs put on! He wants to be a women.”

    That’s a general outline of about every discussion we have about trans people.

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      Awwwww I don’t know the whole situation, but give your mom some slack. I WISH my mom would have positive conversations about trans people with me.

      Besidesssss…if boobs look nice on anybody, I sometimes enjoy pointing it out. Jus’ sayin’. ;)

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        I know she means well, but it’s frustrating, because I explain this stuff to her time after time, and she still won’t get these things right. Really, it’s a little stubbornness, and her not really thinking that a transman is really a man, just a women wanting to be a man. I have to give it to her though, she tries. Sometimes.

        Of course you do, it’s lesbian etiquette. ;)

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    This is a great article for trans 101 workshops – thank you for that!

    Also, has anyone else noticed that “google cat” is on facebook? Although cute and irrelevant, I found some humour in that.

    I look forward to showing this in one of my classes!

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    This is a very helpful, necessary article! Since there’s such a shameful lack of education regarding the wide range of gender and sexual expressions in our culture, there are a lot of people who are genuinely curious about these things. Hell, we’re not even taught *how* to have these kinds of conversations. Which is why we need articles like this out there!

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    Sebastian, thank you so much for this post and any to come in the future. I also think most of this is common sense, but I’ve never known the correct way to phrase any questions I might have. Now, I feel a little bit better about not sounding like an idiot and/or asshole.

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    THANK YOU. I once nearly got into a fight with this (gay) guy at a bar who was asking my trans friend some ignorant-ass questions. I wanted to yell at him “Who raised you, bigoted wolves? Why do you think it’s okay to say rude, insensitive, clueless things to a perfect stranger?”

    Now I know some better, calmer ways to handle such a situation. Thanks, Sebastian!

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    Because I can’t get enough of this article/the author who is an incredible human being and so freaking talented/smart, here is an indispensable resource that covers a lot of the same ground that Sebastian does.

    Part 1
    http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/19/ask-about-transgender-issues/

    Part 2
    http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/22/answers-about-transgender-issues-part-2/

    Part 3
    http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/23/answers-about-transgender-issues-part-3/

    To find out more about “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves”: http://www.transbodies.com/

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      um actually you probably have met a trans person before and just didn’t know they had transitioned. you can’t tell once someone has been medically transitioned for a certain amount of time and a lot of us prefer to keep our transition history private.

      i’m sure 99% of the people i interact with on a daily basis think they have never met a trans person before too

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          No, it’s not stressful at all. Why would it be stressful? I’m living my life honestly and being true to my identity for once. Anything but this would be stressful. I identify as MTM, not FTM; I have always been male. I am queer but that is not in relation to my gender identity or transition history (ie; my sexuality and politics are queer, but I do not see my gender identity as queer despite having transitioned). I identify as gender normative. My transition was nothing more than a medical condition for me, like being hypogonadic or having a hormonal disorder.

          I think this question is problematic. Why would you assume that being stealth would be stressful? Sebastian has written on his blog about why living stealth is right for certain trans people, you should check that out. I have lived my life not stealth and that was not right for me because I do not identify as trans*. Telling people about my trans status is stressful for me.

          This is a quote I found from Sebastian’s blog that I relate to:

          “To begin, let’s catch up on the basics of what disclosure is and isn’t. A lot of people attempt to extend the metaphor of “the closet” from LGB identity to the issue of trans status disclosure, but it’s really a different situation. Cis (non-trans) LGB folks who are closeted are presenting a fake image to the world and hiding who they really are. What makes “coming out” so liberating for them is that they finally have the chance to be and be seen as who they really are. Being a trans woman living as a woman, I get to be who I really am regardless of whether or not I disclose my trans status. However, telling people I’m trans can result in people suddenly no longer seeing me as a real woman. Contrary to the experience of coming out, disclosure of trans status often puts me at risk for losing the ability to be seen as who I really am.”

          Disclosing Trans Status | The Bilerico Project

          A really really great article about disclosing trans status.

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          Thanks for responding, and I just wanted to comment quickly, though I have not yet had a chance to read the articles you suggested.

          I wasn’t assuming it is stressful. I did not know if it is stressful or not, and that’s why I asked. I was wondering if it was stressful if a transperson is concerned that someone would “find out” their history and then treat them in a bigoted way. For instance, people are required to show birth certificates or transcripts for some things. Though you have already answered that it is not stressful to you.

          I will check out those links you provided. Thanks again.

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          It depends what sort of stealth you’re talking about! stealthtransguy gave you his opinion, which is totally valid. I personally feel that stealth, especially ‘deep stealth’ (think photoshopping childhood photos, moving to a new province/state, and completely cutting links with everyone who knew you before you transitioned), can be tense/stressful.

          That said, if you’re instead just electing not to mention it, it can absolutely be something approaching a non-issue. Like the quoted bit of Sebastian’s other post: disclosure can be a bad thing in a lot of cases. Being trans *is* part of who I am, but I’m sure as fuck not going to go around telling everybody that.

          Will I disclose trans status to prospective partners, medical professionals and a few other people? Yes, because those categories are generally low-risk for backlash. So, basically, stealth is really really complicated, and very few people are 100% stealth, but the vast majority of trans folks (if they have the ability to do so/pass for cis) are going to play balancing games with disclosing and not disclosing.

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    It’s a great article and a great list or do’s and don’t’s, but now I have to figure out how to direct my straight male friends to a lesbian news site to read about trans people D:

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    Thanks for posting these guidelines. It’s really amazing how little people actually know about being trans* and its issues and how untactful they are about them. It’s a tricky subject, that’s for sure. Google is definitely your best friend when it comes to basic questions! (eg. What’s MTF/FTM? HRT? Whats SRS? What do you mean it’s not a single surgery and there’s multiple different types?) There have been quite a few times where I get super upset with my friends or family when they ask invasive or ignorant trans* related questions that they could just google the answer for :(

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    Thank you for this, Sebastian. I think it’s important for people to be reminded that they shouldn’t allow their curiosity to override their etiquette. I’ve experienced enough rude questions about being queer that I can only imagine how offensive people can be when it comes to a person’s gender identity. Who you are is not a choice, it’s how you were born. I would also like to say that I admire how open you are, I understand it’s not easy.

    <3

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    Thanks, Sebastian! This is a super-helpful article. I know I need to be more conscientious about not “othering” people, cis and trans alike; being actively aware of what is offensive and inappropriate is an important part of that.

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    I needed this article. Thank you.

    Also, I was filling out a survey today and under sex it listed Male, Female, Transgendered, Other(Please Describe).

    I think my feelings are super important to mankind so I fill out lots of surveys, but I had never seen “Transgendered” as sex option before. I’ve seen “Other (please describe), but I always thought that was for people that didn’t identify with trad gender/sex categories.
    I thought a person who had transitioned would consider themselves male or female. I guess it could be a question about what anatomy a person was born with, or maybe they were refering to those in transition…

    Can someone clarify this for me, please? If you filled out a form and thought that it was relevant where would you indicate that?

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      Thank you for reading it and taking it to heart!

      And yes, I actually feel a little weird when I see transgender as a sex or gender option, because I personally identify my gender and sex as male. But I think that is a nice option for trans people who feel they do not fit within either category. Or perhaps fit in both! And there are lots of people who identify more with trans than with either of the binary genders.

      I have also talked to some trans men who see their gender as male but their sex as female-to-male or transgender. This has to do with the line of thought that gender is what’s between the brain and sex is more anatomy. (And of course this also requires the assumption that a trans man’s anatomy is female or at least was female, which I think is open to discussion.)

      That survey seems incredibly progressive in offering various options for sex identity. And you are right that most people who transition would identify themselves as male or female.

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      I’m struggling with the same thing but from the other side! I work at a nonprofit sexual health clinic. Currently, our paperwork has “Gender identity: [ ] Woman [ ] Man [ ] Transgender [ ] Other ___________”. I’d be pleased as punch if every patient just filled out as many boxes as they desired (and there are no instructions telling you not to).

      Our software, however, is not so helpful. In the billing portion, all we get is “M” or “F”, and it’s a required field (for insurance purposes). So if a genderqueer patient comes in, we have to put whatever gender their insurance thinks they are, which is stressful for both the patient and the person taking their paperwork. We have a separate area of the software where we can add our own things (where we input things like Transgender and the patient’s reported sexual orientation, etc).

      Basically my problem is that insurance companies are dumb and should care more about gender identity, I think.

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    Its funny… I have a few friends who are transmen, and most of these things just never came up in conversation. The few who are open about it and I always end up talking about how after all the struggles they’ve gone through, the end prize is hormones causing male pattern baldness. EVERY conversation that delves into their trans status always boils down to me being jealous of their chest hair, and them being jealous of the hair on my head. ;-) Other than that, its none of my business and I think it would damage our friendship if I treated any of my friends as an encyclopedia instead of a buddy.

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      not all trans men go bald. you will only go bald if you carry the gene for male pattern baldness. there is a prominent trans male author who transitioned medically about 30 years ago, he is in his 60s now and still has a full head of hair. i have personally been on T for a long time and my hairline has barely changed.

      statistically, 20-25 percent of men begin balding by age 20; and about 70% of all men are bald by age 60 (see http://www.ishrs.org/hair-loss/hair-loss-male.htm or search male pattern baldness wiki)

      men go bald period, that’s just the way it is. if you have a full head of hair, it’s because you either a) haven’t started balding yet or b) do not carry the genes that make your hair follicles sensitive to DHT

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        Oh, Im doomed and I know it; its started receding a little tiny bit but judging by the men in my family I’ve a ticking clock on top of my head.

        I didnt mean my post to read as a scientific pronouncement (and I can see how my wording wasnt what I had hoped to say; I’ll own that) What I should have made clear is that the transmen friends with whom Ive had that conversation ARE themselves balding; its a point of humor for us, nothing more, and was meant to indicate that there are surface topics we’ll speak of and joke about but that our friendship does not need to include prying investigations into things that just have no relevance to our friendship.

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    thank you for posting this! since this is an open discussion, i have a question.

    i’ve newly been chatting with Drag Kings after their performances (when they’re still in costume). one has said unprompted that he was transitioning. but then i wondered (and didn’t ask!), are all of them transitioning?

    am i assuming too much that Kings are transitioning or going to be?

    Are some Drag Kings performing for the theater of it, and don’t really identify as male? i guess i assumed that since they were up on stage, performing as male, that they their personal life would be similar.

    ??

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      Not all drag kings are transitioning. Many are performing for the theater of it, some for fun, some to critique gender roles, some because they think it’s hot to dress as a boy on stage. Drag is centuries old and its meaning has shifted constantly over time. I would say avoid embarrassing situations and never make assumptions. That’s my general rule. :-)

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      It’s interesting that you assumed that because I once assumed the opposite!

      I was really surprised when I met a few trans men who were also drag kings. Drag is about performing gender and playing with gender boundaries. But being trans has to do with gender identity which is so real.

      If I ever performed drag, I’d perform as a drag queen (I have seriously considered this, by the way), because I don’t think of being a man in terms of performance – it is who I am. In fact I sometimes think of my life pre-transition as a life lived as a drag queen. I was definitely performing and putting on certain aspects of femininity to “pass” as a girl when really I was a boy.

      But even after transition, for some people gender expression is all about performance, in many aspects of their life. So some trans guys take that performance to the stage.

      Additionally, drag performance has helped many trans men realize that they were trans and realize they were men. Performing on stage as kings was more comfortable and natural than “performing” off stage as women if you will. I have heard similar stories about trans women beginning their gender transition as drag queens and then realizing they were actually women.

      It is my experience however, that most drag kings are women not trans men. And most of them are lesbian-identified. And most drag queens are men.

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        I’m a queer woman who has performed as a drag king a couple of times – and if anything it made me realise that I DIDN’T want to be a man, that despite not really being comfortable with social ideas of femininity I was even LESS comfortable with masculinity and wanted to be recognised as a woman. I was being stressed out that people were mistaking me as male even *out* of costume, was sick of it after a couple of weeks, and was overjoyed when being called “Lady” for the first time in a while. It’s fun to dress up, and I still have major issues with how gender roles are codified, but I’m definitely not a closet trans man that’s for sure!

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    this comment has been removed by the editors because while it was largely confusing and unclear, it seemed to be calling into question a person’s right to be referred to by the gender pronouns they identify as, and also demonstrated a general lack of understanding about how human emotion and interaction work.

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      I don’t think his point was to make rules for everyone to follow, but honestly if you want that person to even speak to you you should probably try to change your language. I think it’s simply about having tact and respecting the other person (in the VERY least). I’m actually quite irritated with this comment in general, but I really don’t want to engage in an argument with you over your inappropriately aggressive language (i.e. saying he has a “mental illness” and the “punishable by pain” comment).

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    I think this is a great article, but I have a separate etiquette question. Today I found an old friend on facebook. In real life, I haven’t seen him in over 10 years and did not know about his transition until now.

    Basically, what is the etiquette when you’re reconnecting with someone post-transition? I’m part of his past; if we weren’t close during his transition am I just out now? Or do I have to let him reach out? Can I friend him, when technically I never knew him by his real name/appearance? If I go home and see him, can I just go up to him (his appearance is obviously different from our previous time together — would it then be offensive if I recognized him)? Should I just leave it alone?

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      You know–something tells me that he’s not going to be offended when you recognize/go up to him. I mean this world is a lonely effing world enough as it is to pass up on a chance to reconnect with someone just to avoid doing the wrong things. you know?

      I say, do go up to him. Call him by the name indicated on the social media site that you found him on. And maybe from there try to clarify somethings?

      For example:
      “Kyle, hi! It’s Dawn from ABC Highschool! It’s so nice to see you.”

      “Hi Dawn.”

      “Is it okay to call you Kyle? I saw on twitter/facebook that you use the name Kyle.”

      “Yes, that’s what I go by now.”

      “Great, and just to clarify–which pronouns should I use when referring to you–do you have a preference.?”

      “Yes, I prefer male pronouns” OR

      “I still use female pronouns”

      “No, it hardly matters, male or female is fine” OR

      Y”es, I’ve been going with non-binary pronouns such as _____”

      Anyway, this scenario might go several ways but it might help you keep in touch with an old friend and tactfully clarify new boundaries.

      Good luck!

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      Good question and Chrissy’s approach is definitely a respectful way to handle the situation.

      I have been “friended” by people on facebook who have handled the situation in various ways, all of which were fine by me. One guy sent me a message saying that he had assumed I had transitioned and was really happy for me. He started the message off with “Hey Sebastian” which immediately put me at ease. Other friends have asked me if I am using the name Sebastian in real life (offline) as well and which pronouns I prefer. Others have ignored the issue entirely and addressed me as Sebastian.

      The one thing that I think is really important in reestablishing contact is letting them know privately that their trans status is not something you care about or plan on sharing. Many trans people choose to live stealth and even those who don’t typically don’t constantly broadcast their trans status. It can be really awkward for us to reconnect with people from our past because a) we worry that they will somehow out us and b) they saw us as a different gender for so long that perhaps they aren’t seeing us as we truly are now.

      Be mindful of that, let you know that you support him if you want, but don’t make too big a deal of it, and obviously do it privately. My most comfortable interactions with people from earlier in my life have included a very brief message of support (“I’m so glad to know you are living happily as a man”… or something like that) and then have focused on the loads of catching up we have to. After all there is much more in life that has changed in the past 10 years than my gender! Ask him about work, family, anything that will show you aren’t just friending him because you want to see how his transition turned out :)

      Thanks for asking!

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        @chrissy e

        I would be careful about asking what pronouns he uses and this whole scenario in public:

        “Is it okay to call you Kyle? I saw on twitter/facebook that you use the name Kyle.”
        AND
        “Great, and just to clarify–which pronouns should I use when referring to you–do you have a preference.?”

        Someone from my past did this with me in a very public setting (when I was clearly transitioned/presenting as male, I had a beard..) and since I keep my trans status private (stealth), in doing so, this person outed me publicly. It was very stressful and caused a lot of anxiety for me. I would have preferred if they just used male pronouns and my new name and didn’t ask about it.

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    i really appreciate this, thanks!

    i work as an assistant to a guy who has some complex, visible disabilities, and i see a lot of parallels to some of the things people ask about him.

    (“what does he have??” …well, he has a lot of things. like an ipad, which i am totally jealous of. “has he always been like this??” have you always been like this? “what’s wrong with him?” well, sometimes he makes fun of me, but i make fun of him back, so it’s not actually a problem. otherwise he’s pretty cool. “what’s his diagnosis?” do you want his full medical history? while we’re sharing, let me tell you about this bitch of a yeast infection i have.

    none of these questions have any effect on your relationship with him, so asking him these things just shows that you value his privacy less than others’, because he’s “different”.)

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    I know this article was partially in response to some of the questions I asked on your first blog post here, and I appreciate it. Until you know the rules, you’re bound to make mistakes. I try to understand boundaries and make it clear that if I ask a prying or uncomfortable question that the person is not at all obligated to answer it and I won’t be in the least offended if they told me to back off. I hope that came across.

    My best friend from childhoood through till 27 years old was a girl who was legally blind and I saw the way people treated her. Consequently, I NEVER told anyone she was legally blind if she was first meeting them because then they’d coddle her and treat her like a child. Ugh. People often guessed anyway or would sidle up to me after and say “what’s wrong?” People are and will always be curious about what it “atypical”. I think it’s okay, from my experience, to asks questions, as long as it is framed with respect.

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    I have a question: I have an ex-friend who came out as a trans male in the middle of our high school years. The problem is, most of my friends knew him before he transitioned and still refer to him as a “she” when we talk about those years. How do I non-awkwardly correct my friends when they do that? These are private conversations, without him involved, but I still feel irritated that it happens.

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    thank you for this.

    i feel completely ignorant about trans issues and i know that for the most part I totally am.

    i live in nyc. i’m queer. i’m artsy and yet i don’t know any trans people or maybe i do and i don’t know it.

    yet i just try to like just give people the respect i’d want them to give me.

    that’s the only rule i try to keep in my head. (now i’ll add some of yours to my list hehe)

    i’m going to be honest when i see someone and I can’t immediately tag their gender…it makes me do an inward double take.

    but then again when i see an extremely hot chick, i also do a double take.

    yet i don’t ask the extremely hot chick, hey can i see your tits or hey who gets to fuck you?

    u know? so why blast a trans person w mad personal questions?

    i don’t want someone asking me if i was born here and i hate it when people refer to me as “spicy.” and other dumbass shit.

    so i try to avoid all that dumb ass shit and i’ve realized that if i just take a damn second and get myself together and act like how my momma raised me, i usually do ok.

    i ask people their names. and call them by those names.

    it’s not always easy even in our glbtq community to be one hundred percent aware of everyone’s struggle but we can all try to be respectful of each as people.

    thank you for this article sebastian. i want to hug you.

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      “i live in nyc. i’m queer. i’m artsy and yet i don’t know any trans people or maybe i do and i don’t know it.”

      You definitely know trans people. Believe it or not, some of us pass for cis(when people use ‘pass’ to refer to gender, a vast majority of the time they’re not actually referring to passing as ‘male’ or ‘female’, but as a CIS man or woman, which is why I make this distinction).

      And respect is good!

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    Trans 101 for trans people

    I’ve seen some good guidelines for cis people when talking to trans people, and this is yet another great list. But what I think we need to talk about just as importantly, is guidelines for how trans people talk to other trans people. I feel like almost every time trans people meet each other for the first time, they feel obligated to harass each other with invasive personal questions. Only they don’t ask for permission first, because they’re trans too, so they think it’s ok. I’m so fed up with being asked “when did you come out?” “how long have you been on T?” “what surgeries have you had?” I mean could we please start with a “how are you today?” or something? 

    Sorry, it’s just been bothering me a lot lately. I’m living far from home at the moment while I’m undergoing my “final surgery.” I’ve been going to local groups to meet other FtMs because I don’t know anyone here and I want friends that I can feel safe and comfortable around while I’m recovering. But it’s not working out because they feel entitled to very detailed information about my genitals as if it’s my duty to tell them. I’ve generally always been an out and open mentor to other guys, but these last few weeks have really drained me and left me feeling violated to a small degree. Yes, I’m having phalloplasty done, but that doesn’t mean I want to talk about that. I like to think that I’m a pretty interesting guy that’s capable of talking about lots of other topics that are completely unrelated to trans issues.

    Essentially I just want to see a movement within the trans community to learn more respect for their trans brothers, sisters, and siblings. I think I’ve needed to get this off my chest for awhile, so thank you for giving me the space to do so. I think I now feel inspired to write my own blog entry discussing this. Thanks again.

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    Hi all! Thanks for this article, Sebastian, I found this really helpful!
    I’m currently in the process of starting a GSA in my highschool. Since I am a cisgendered lesbian, and my co-creator is a cisgendered gay man, and there are no openly trans people (that we know of) at our school, it would be really helpful if you (or anyone) could give us some advice on dealing with transgendered issues in the club.
    That would be super awesome.

    Sorry for that run-on sentence.

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      Speaking as someone who volunteers at her university’s queer collective – just be nifty. If you don’t have trans issues being things for you guys, try not to make them big issues. I’d suggest making sure that the GSA is a safe place for trans folks – have a policy that people are accepted regardless of gender identity, expression or sexuality, as well as one of confidentiality(what happens in GSA stays in GSA), and then make sure that everyone is aware of those policies. If there aren’t any out trans kids at your school, there aren’t any out trans kids at your school.

      If the closeted trans kids decide that maybe there’s a safe space where they can come out, let them do that. But you can’t pressure anyone into coming out – all you can do is help give them options.

      If you’ve got any other questions, feel free to ask them and I’ll help you out.

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    Sebastian, this is a great article. Thank you for posting. I am non-trans same-gender loving but have several trans friends in different stages of transition. A few months ago our church, Metropolitan Community Church of Baltimore, hosted a Trans Revival. It was awesome to see my trans siblings from all over the USA in touch with their spiritual selves as well. Too many times we allow others to steal our faith because we aren’t like them. Sebastian, please keep speaking out and educating. Thank you.

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    Hey Sebastian,

    Do you mind if I use some of your article — attributed to you of course — for a resource for trans allies i’m putting together?

    Deen (i’m the Transgender Outreach Chair for a NYC LGBT org)

  33. Pingback: Interview : SALGA’s Transgender Outreach Coordinator, Deen | Gaysi

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    In #4, I do not want someone asking me if I have completed the steps to become legally female! That is getting in my pants just as much as, though not as rude as, do you still have a penis. Or are you going to get it cut off… wtf, it doesn’t get cut off!

    For number 5 there are 2 other terms…. one being Genetic Girl and the second Biological or Bio Girl, same goes for the male gender. Perfectly safe ways to describe cisgendered people.

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      I agree. I think the rudeness scale can vary a little depending on location– I mean, people around here (in Oklahoma) have absolutely no idea how any of this works, and wouldn’t know how to begin to phrase any of these questions. The safest thing to do is to let the person in the unfamiliar situation (that is, the trans person) lead the way. If we want to talk about legality, we will. If not, don’t force us.

      But I don’t agree with your thoughts on #5, Christina. I’m not a robot! I’m a biological person too, just like every other guy. I’m also trans. The terms genetic girl or genetic boy can be an issue too, since chromosomes can vary– xx, xy, xxy, or other combinations– and we can’t know unless we get them tested, which is pretty dang expensive. Genetically, we’re a pretty diverse species.

      Basically: ugh, binaries. I prefer to stick with cisgendered, or cis-boy/cis-girl/cis-person.

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        I see your point. And you are right about chromosomes, because of intersex people. I too do not prefer people to use bio whatever but it is better than saying real. Because I AM a real girl and a damn sexy one at that, so exactly. I prefer cisgender too but like most all non-queer people do not know what it means.

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          You ARE a real girl! And I do not doubt your sexiness, because your attitude is hot. Personally, though, I’d rather explain cis (“what’s cisgendered?” “you are.”) than explain the problematic aspects of bio- or (ugh) “real.” Sometimes I just tell people to friggin’ google it already. XD

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          :) I couldn’t agree more… and I would like to show you a pic of me and my girlfriend. We are both trans and are both somewhat stealth, I could be 100% stealth but I want to raise the awareness that our community deserves! We do not deserve to be treated like shit.

          Here is a pic of me. :D I am on the left, GF is on the right.

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    I really enjoyed this article… But as someone who isn’t trans, at the end of the day. A transition is someone’s personal decision, and I’m not going to change around too much of my life because someone decided change their gender. It is important to not be offensive in life period… and those with no tact don’t limit there tactlessness to trans people.

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      With all due respect, I do not think you got the point of the article, because I am offended by yr comment. This would be like someone saying “living openly as gay is someone’s personal decision and I’m not going to change around too much of my life because someone decided to live that way.”

      It’s not just important to not be offensive and to interact with tact, but also to value people as human beings and to understand those who are different from you. I’d encourage poking around the other articles I’ve written and the ones Annika, a trans woman, has written for Autostraddle. We also both have blogs that might help you understand gender diversity and transition better.

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        I’ve been an advocate for LGBT rights for years. From personal experience.. We as Queer people can wear our “oppression” on our sleeves and thats not fun for anyone. Sorry to offend you.

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    Hi to all and kudos to Sebastian for an enlightening article.

    I too, as a “Woman of Transsexual History”, have been inundated with questions from family and friends as well as total strangers. While my attitude is generally “Educate, rather than obfuscate”, I do take exception at the random invasive questions and worse, assumptions that non-trans people feel no qualms about saddling me with.

    I generally make it known that I encourage questions at appropriate times, but also point out when a question is inappropriate. Many of my friends who came out years ago as Gay or Lesbian, have told me “You don’t owe anyone an explanation of your being”. I understand that I don’t and I will ignore someone trying to ask questions that are truly none of their business, but I also feel fine with family and friends who truly want to understand.

    I have noticed over the course of time (I have known I was female as far back as I can remember) that most media spokespersons and indeed even members of the LGBT community are not cohesive about Trans issues. I’ve seen a lot of misinformation go back and forth, or one person’s narrative given as the “bible” for all of us.

    Also, terms tend to get lumped together. I saw the Chaz Bono interview with Letterman and Letterman could not in his mind, separate, Gay, Cross-dressing, Transgender, and Transsexual, and kept saying “Homosexual”.

    One thing I am careful to explain to people right off the get-go, is that MY experiences are just that, My interpretations of what it is like to be who I am.

    I also try to be clear to people who want to choose specifics, like “Do you see yourself as a Woman or as a Transsexual?” I’ll say “Yes”. They look confused, and I explain that I was born female, and always KNEW I was a girl/woman. I was born with a medical condition, a “birth defect” if you will, that left me a tad “genitally challenged”.

    I also consider myself Transsexual. When I am completely through transition, I am still Female, and still Transsexual. SRS will complete MY journey to bringing MY physical body into congruence with who I am. It does not “make me a woman” I was a woman from the moment of conception.

    The other issue I have difficulty explaining is to some friends even who will give you the “You need to do x, y, and z now, because you are a woman.” I try to explain to them that not all women are cookie-cutters of one another, (thank goodness) and neither do I have to be.

    I found this site recently, and was delighted to see other Transfolk given voice and authorship, and also the overwhelmingly healthy response from the community here at large, to being open about looking at all issues and all points of view. I find that refreshing.

    In closing, I’d like to say, please feel free to ask me questions. I’ll be happy to answer those I can, and I am not afraid to let you know when something is inappropriate to ask as well.

    And Sebastian, keep up the good work!

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    thanks for posting this, sebastian! i don’t identify as trans, but i have a few very close friends who are trans; and i also dated a transguy for a bit. as you can imagine, i got alot of questions from friends and strangers about being with someone who’s transgender. and while i try to share general knowledge about trans issues with people, i think everyone should be reminded about what is an OK question and what is just none of their business.
    i’m also in the process of doing research on the trans community regarding health care and health care concerns so that trans folks are able (and are less hesitant) to get care from well-informed, safe, and trans-open health care providers. i’m hoping to eventually produce pamphlets and panels to educate health care providers, as well as the general public. but that’s a ways off. soon, though. hopefully.
    thanks again for this post!

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      I’d love to hear about your research when you’re done! Or now if you want to talk about it, lol. I work at a trans-friendly non-profit sexual health clinic and I’m going into nursing to do LGBT health, considering focusing on trans health.

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        holy mackerel! that’s exactly what i want to do – nursing with a concentration in LGBT/trans-specific health! but i haven’t applied to grad school yet. lol.
        and yeah, i’d totally be down to talk about my research – and hear from someone else! but i’m a tad busy right now… finals and such. i’m sure you understand. i’ll be done in a week and a half though, so maybe if you’re still available, we could chat or something. i hope you’re having a marvelous weekend!

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    This article was really helpful. Incidentally, I’ve made friends with a genderfuck/FTM guy from another country on LiveJournal, and I’ve been curious for ages to know if the name he uses online is his real name or just a screen name, but to this day I haven’t asked cause I’m afraid if I say ”So, it’s X your real name?” he’ll think I’m an ignorant bigot who wants to know if that’s the name on his birth certificate. (I don’t know if I’ve made myself clear. It’s like, if you haven’t already said that Sebastian is your real name, I might wonder if that’s your name or just an alias you use online because you’re a fan of Sebastian Bach or whatever)

    I admite sometimes I get curious to ask him stuff (like if he plans on taking T and if his mom knows how he feels), but I know it’s out of line, so to this day I’ve only asked what pronouns he prefers.

    On a completely unrelated note: I have a general question that perhaps you can answer. I’ve seen a transwoman once saying she hates expressions like ”male-bodied” to describe a transwoman. Do you also feel this way? Would you say ”female-bodied” is a disrespectful term for a trans guy who hasn’t transitioned/hasn’t had bottom surgery? Why? I’m obviously not gonna start using the term again (I removed it from my vocabulary as soon as I read her article) but I’m just curious since I have never seen someone voice this complain before.

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    This is a really useful article. I have some friends that are transgender, and I’ve always tried to be as kind and understanding as possible also without invading their personal space. One of my biggest questions though, is: How would you suggest asking someone what gender they are/consider themselves to be if you aren’t sure, and don’t necessarily know them well? Sometimes, as a non-transgender person, I notice those who are particularly androgynous, and I get curious. But in no way would I ever want to be offensive in asking someone.

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    Great article, helpful in my relations with trans people, and applicable to many oppressed groups. I’m especially reminded of questions about my mixed, Jew of color heritage–”Which are you, REALLY?” “How do you…(eat, dance, celebrate holidays, speak…) Translate to “How it is possible that you exist?” Your list is specific to trans folk and very useful, but what’s shared is how hard it is for people to handle the bending or mixing or crossing of categories they’ve been taught to see as permanent and fixed– gender and race/ethnicity.

    My favorite question to ask as I’m getting to know someone about whose life conditions I know little is: What would it be most useful for me to know about you in order to be a good ally?

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    Great article! On the topic of acceptable synonyms for cis, may I call myself an xxgirl without being unintentionally bigoted? I haven’t actually seen proof that I have two and only two x chromosomes, but I feel like at this point in my life, if I didn’t have them, there’d probably have been some indication. (I’m not sure though, my biology teacher pretty much just gave away A’s so my knowledge of genetics is spotty.) Because Sebastian, when I saw xxboy Meets World I just thought, “I like the sound of that!” But I also see ways calling myself an xxgirl could be potentially problematic. So I’d love to hear the thoughts of anyone who’s willing to offer them on that, as well as any constructive criticism if I said anything in an icky way without realizing because of my various forms of privilege and upbringing.

  42. Pingback: Transgender: How to be an ally instead of an asshat | The Daily Springbyker

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    Better still just treat people as their chosen gender, accept it and move to some other topic for conversation. Stop identifying people as trans at all unless they say they are and let them share with you when they decide yoiu are safe to confide in. Why is this all about someone else’s need to ‘know’. It’s not an Inalienable right to know someone else’s private medical concerns.

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