How Not To Be A Dick To A Trans Person

Don’t out people. Don’t out people without their permission. Just don’t do it.
Publish date:
February 3, 2014
etiquette, how not to be a dick, trans issues

Gender identity is one of those things that most people are privileged to never have to think about or question.

You guys are so lucky. Everything innately makes sense to you, for the most part. No questioning why your lumps and bumps are in the wrong place -– or worse, not coming at all -– and none of the anxiety and stress that comes with not knowing what’s up with your gender.

It’s understandable that the first time (or few times) you meet a trans person, things are going to be… weird. Like, really weird and uncomfortable for all parties involved, especially if it’s not someone you know very well. It gets even stickier when the person is someone you’ve known and loved for a while who’s coming out to you. How do you know what’s appropriate to ask? Even the most well-intentioned question can come across in a negative way sometimes.

So, in the interest of saving everyone’s sanity, I’ve compiled some common comments that people have made to me about being trans that came off as… kind of super dickish, to be honest.

1.Don’t ask us about our genitals.

I can’t believe I actually have to point this out because I know none of you would ever ask this, but. There are some people out there who think it’s appropriate to ask trans people what they’re packing in their pants, which is strange, since these are often the same people who would be horrified if someone asked the same to them.

I think that if you’re never going to see someone’s junk, it’s probably none of your business. I know that many of us are unbearably attractive, but please, restrain yourself from asking that burning question. (Unless you want to put your mouth on my junk –- but even then, I’m sure you can find a more respectful way to frame that discussion that doesn’t leave me feeling like I’ve got Barbie parts down there.)

Also, if you can’t talk about body parts using the proper names for them and use cute analogies, I probably won’t want to talk about it with you. I don’t feel like people are taking me seriously if they have to refer to any body part of mine as a “thingy” or “parts.” That’s how people talk to their five year old, not a grown-ass adult.

2. Surgery can be a really personal thing, so don’t broadcast it to everyone you know without permission.

A lot of people don’t know this, but there’s no One True Surgery that magically changes a trans person’s gender. What surgeries I decide to have (or not have; there are a lot of people who transition without surgery too!) may be very different than the guy in the cubicle three rows down from you at the office.

On top of that, trans men and women will have to deal with very different decisions about how their bodies are going to look. If you have a friend or loved one that’s had surgery, please don’t tell people about it without their consent. Treat their recovery the same way you would treat someone recovering from a routine surgery -– back surgery, knee surgery, stuff like that.

Yes, for us it can be totally life-affirming and wonderful and magical, and some people want to shout about it to the high heavens, but some of us don’t, either. For some, it’s something that just has to get dealt with, like going to the dentist. (Except me! I love going to the dentist. I’m weird.)

3.Not everyone plans to have children -– and it can be a difficult and painful topic for some trans people –- so don’t bring it up unless we start a conversation about it.

Along with having to make decisions about surgery, medications and cosmetic procedures to do with our transition, trans people also have to make decisions about their fertility –- more often at young ages, now. Something I’ve encountered a lot is people asking, “What are you going to do when you want kids?” Which sucks, if you’re a person who wants kids.

I’ve always known that I would never have my own biological children, but there are many people out there who do, and there are just as many alternative fertility treatments to help them conceive, if that’s what they want to do. For a few months my wife and I discussed the idea of getting one of my male family members to be a sperm donor, but ultimately we’ve decided to go the adoption route.

Some people get really caught up on the whole “biological children” thing -– especially my family -– so if people get too pushy about it, I like to point out that family doesn’t necessarily have to equal blood.

4.Don’t ask us to “prove it” or tell us that you aren’t going to use the correct name/pronouns until we do.

What some people don’t understand about asking us to “prove” that we’re truly the gender we identify as is that literally everyone we deal with in a legal context is going to ask us to. The laws that govern specific criteria for gender marker changes state by state, country to country, but pretty much everywhere, for trans people to “prove” their gender is legitimate, the government is going to get in our pants (without even buying us dinner first!)

So please understand that you’re asking us to prove it, that makes it feel like you’re not on our side, that you think we’re making it up or being fake, and it’s just not a very nice feeling.

Refusing to use someone’s pronouns is just kind of a dick move, especially if you’re the type of person to get all aghast and offended if someone calls your dog a “she” when it’s actually a “he.” My stepsister thought her cat was a girl for an entire year. Unsurprisingly, no one had any difficulty adjusting the name and pronoun usage -– she to he, Sims to Simon –- which just proves how easy it can be to change the way you code someone’s name and pronouns in your brain if you put in the effort to do so.

5.If you need to mourn the person you knew before, do it in private.

Something that really surprised me when I came out to my parents was my mom telling me that she couldn’t be around me for a while because she “needed time to mourn her daughter.” Not only was it hurtful, it was confusing for me. I thought, “I’m right here! I’m not dead; why are you mourning me?”

My friends tell me that this is a common parental reaction, which is why I’m telling you that if you need to mourn, do it in private. Don’t tell your loved one that it feels like the person you used to know is dead. Unless they’ve been visited by pod people in the night, chances are that their interests, hobbies and life goals are exactly the same as they were before they came out to you. The only difference now is that they’re sharing more of their life with you and inviting you to be there for them as they work through transition.

Rather than mourning the person they once knew -– which is kind of awful, if you consider the fact that that person is still alive –- I encourage everyone to continue enjoying the same friend they know and love.

6.Please stop asking me which bathroom I use, or if I’m supposed to be in there.

The bathroom is the one place where we have absolute privacy to do our business. Ironically, it’s the place where I am most often asked if I belong there or if I’m “sure” I’m in the right one.

Last fall I was in the city to see a concert with my friends and, to kill time before doors opened at the venue, we hung out at this weird little dog park/botanical garden a few blocks over. I went to use the bathroom; this guy who was working inside the building followed me into the bathroom, stood at the door watching me wait for a stall, and asked me, “Are you sure you’re in the right place? The ladies’ is next door.”

First of all, how creepy is it that he purposely stood there to block my exit? I’m pretty sure I gave him a weird look and told him I needed to poop –- but why should anyone have to justify that? I thought about it later and realized how dangerous the situation could have gotten if the bathroom had been empty, or if my friends hadn’t been right outside the door watching the whole thing.

I’ve never really understood the bathroom hysteria surrounding trans people. We’re all there for the same purpose -– to get into one of those little stalls so no one can see us doing our biz –- so why does it matter what equipment someone has? The justification I’ve heard from some people about trans women, specifically, is that they’re going into the women’s bathroom for some perverted sex act, but… I’m pretty sure they just need to pee.

7. Stop prying for people’s birth names.

Asking for someone’s birth name is on par with your mom telling everyone that embarrassing nickname your classmates gave you when you were seven. It’s uncomfortable, it’s embarrassing, it’s invasive, so don’t do it.

You don’t need to know that information for anything -– especially if the person has already had a legal name change –- and even if they haven’t, there are very few social situations where you will absolutely need to know. Obviously there are certain times it will be unavoidable, like if you’re applying for an apartment together or something, but just remember that if that happens, they’re also going to know the super embarrassing middle name you got from your great-grandma.

Birth names are something that should remain private unless the person wants you to know.

There’s nothing cool about parading around one of the most humiliating parts of someone’s former identity. Giving out someone’s birth name without their permission is icky and invasive, and it also puts them in a vulnerable position because you’re not protecting that information from the people who could use it to hurt them.

People can -– and do –- use trans people’s birth names against them all the time. It hurts, just like it used to hurt when my mom would whip out the baby photo albums and everyone could see my terrible buck teeth. (PS: Thank you, parents, for letting me get braces.)

8. Not every conversation needs to revolve around being trans.

I understand that trans people aren’t something you encounter every day. That being said, most of us don’t want to talk about it all the time. It would kind of be like that one friend you have who plays WoW and only ever talks about that. Everyone has that one friend, and it gets annoying, right? So please don’t make me be that person. It’s exhausting enough to have dialog about being trans constantly mixed in with my internal monologue.

Plus, I don’t want to feel obligated to explain every single step of my transition to you. Some aspects of transition are really weird and gross. You probably don’t want to know about those any more than I want to know about your weird butt pimples. (Just kidding. I’m sure you have a really nice butt.)

If you can be cool and normal when we talk about stuff related to being trans, I will probably occasionally tell you about the positive, funny parts of being trans -– like how I can’t grow any hair on my face, but to make up for it I’m getting this one long, luxurious dark hair right in the middle of my neck. At the end of the day being trans isn’t as big a deal as some people make it out to be. It’s not consuming my entire being and swallowing up my interest in all other hobbies.

9.Stop asking me to explain stuff you can google in 30 seconds on your smartphone.

Look, I know you have your iPhone right there in your pocket. I won’t even get mad if you pull it out to text your boyfriend in the middle of dinner. But something that gets me really frustrated about being trans is that people expect me to be their sole source of information on the topic, when I am only one person and there is a whole Internet out there literally at their fingertips.

I don’t actually have all the answers. I just like to pretend that I do, so when I’m arguing with my mom or the guy at the post office, I can get my way.

And I don’t mind having a discussion about something you don’t understand. I get it; there are a lot of different ways people are transitioning, and since there’s no one proper way to do it, there can be a lot of information that leads in a lot of different directions. It’s just frustrating when people bring their grandma or whoever over to me and expect me to patiently and long-sufferingly answer questions like “What’s a transgender? Does that mean you’re a lesbian?” over and over for every single person who asks.

They don’t call it the Information Age for nothing! I’m not going to be upset if you have to take a pause in the conversation to do a quick search so that we can talk about things on equal footing. If you can do it to find out what movies the girl from Pacific Rim is in this year, you can do it for other things, too.

10. Don’t out people.

Don’t out people. Don’t out people without their permission. Just don’t do it.

This should go without saying, but here we are. If your friend has just come out to you, don’t assume that everyone else in your friend group already knows. Coming out is a long process and quite often, you have to tailor each conversation to the person you’re having it with. Some of these talks are easier than others. Unless your friend specifically tells you that it’s OK to talk about their transition with others, keep your trap shut about it.

In other situations it would be annoying or inconvenient, but outing a trans person can be potentially fatal. Outing them can leave them unemployed, homeless, or worse. These are frightening but true realities, which is why everyone needs to keep them in mind when a friend or loved one comes out to them –- not only for trans people, but for people of all types of queer identities.

Having someone else out me is one of the most painful experiences I’ve ever gone through, and I’m lucky that things turned out well for me, or I might have ended up just another statistic.