You claim to be an ally of the trans* community or even a friend of an actual trans* person or two. Still, you have your concerns and, rather than use Google like the rest of us, you think to yourself, “why not use the wonderful and bottomless educational resource that is my very own trans* community?” Why not, indeed. Unfortunately, some of those so-called “concerns” are really your unwittingly transphobic beliefs couched in a seemingly innocent desire to learn from or worse, to “help” your trans* comrade. So, before you embarrass yourself and possibly lose a friend in the process, allow us to help you understand why some statements are better left unsaid.
1) “What’s your ‘real’ name?”
– “What’s the big deal?” you ask. You’re just curious after all. And yet, when you meet a woman introducing herself as Mrs. So-and-so you probably don’t ask her what her “real” name is. You don’t ask her this in spite of knowing that there is a high likelihood that So-and-so wasn’t the name she was born with. You say Mohammad Ali’s name in the face of readily available evidence that his mother wanted him to be called Cassius Clay. In fact, it is possible that you have no idea what your favorite rapper’s name is at all. This is because you not only have the capacity to respect adults’ decisions (and in the case of Soulja Boy Tell’em, teenagers’ decisions) to decide what they’d like other folks to call them but you’re also fully capable of calling them exactly what they tell you to call them without being side-tracked by your curiosity.
So then, the real issue is that you are having trouble accepting this trans individual as the person they say they are. When you view a person’s identity as a costume or charade, it is only natural to want to get to know the “real” them underneath the mask. The only problem with that is that in this case, unlike in the case of Soulja Boy, there is no mask. The person you were introduced to by whatever name they were introduced to you is who they are and you need to accept that and stop trying to uncover hidden mysteries that aren’t actually there.
2) “Gender is a social construct anyway, why can’t you just be a butch girl/femme boy?”
– I find it terribly interesting that the folks who mention that gender is a social construct never consider the possibility of operating outside of that construct themselves. For instance, why don’t you identify as the opposite gender or as no gender at all? It’s because “social construct” doesn’t mean that something is imaginary, it means that we’ve collectively agreed to call a certain set of behaviors/traits/phenomena by a name (in this case, gender) and to treat people with variations in those traits certain ways. Within this social construct, some of our actual genders do not match our birth-assigned gender. Outside of this social construct, trans*folks wouldn’t be different, what people called them would be different.
3) “Did you get ‘the surgery’?? / what do your genitals/boobs look like?”
– Remember that time when you initiated a conversation with a complete stranger by talking about how you were uncircumcised so your junk sort of looked like it was wearing a flesh-toned turtleneck sweater most of the time, but it was ok because the ladies didn’t seem to mind? You don’t? Why not? Would that be weird to have a in-depth conversation about how your sex organs look with a person you don’t know (or even with a person you do know relatively well if that’s not the type of relationship you have)? Oh, ok then.
4) What kind of sex do you have? / What do you do in bed?
– I see what you did there. You thought that by modifying the question we wouldn’t notice that you’re still just trying to figure out the answer to number 3 above. If this is the case, ask yourself why you’re so concerned with what’s happening inside the underwear of a person who probably doesn’t want to sleep with you at this point.
5) “Why would you be trans if you still like [insert whatever is the opposite of your birth-assigned gender here]? Can’t you just be straight?”
– This question is sometimes accompanied by the similarly incorrect assumption that binary trans*folks are just super-gays, so gay that they have transcended traditional butchiness / femmedom into a whole other gender. While I won’t deny our unicorn-like amazingness, we trans*folks are hardly gay super heroes. In fact, being gay or straight has zero to do with gender. That can be hard to remember since the T is tacked onto the LGB as though they are all sexualities but you’ll have to do your best here. Just like knowing a person isn’t trans* doesn’t give you any clue about who they’ll be taking home tonight, being a trans-person doesn’t guarantee a hetero-normative coupling.
6) “I don’t get ‘they/them/their’ pronouns / they is plural and it’s grammatically incorrect to address a single person that way.”
– Some people, who may have otherwise been composing treatises via hashtag and who speak in mostly in text shorthand, become surprisingly huge sticklers for grammatical correctness as soon as someone requests that they use the gender-neutral pronoun “they”. In spite of this, trans* folks wanting to be called by the less common ze/hir pronouns get even less compliance. It’s not that it’s hard to understand that some folks don’t consider themselves to be men or women (or consider themselves to be some combination of both). It also follows that these folks would prefer not to be called he or she if there was another viable option. So what’s really going on in this situation? As it turns out, acknowledging that someone doesn’t fit into the two gender categories you’ve been taught your whole life is pretty uncomfortable, especially when it forces you to change the way you use language in order to communicate with and about them. But you know what’s even more uncomfortable than that? Being of a non-normative gender in a society that not only doesn’t acknowledge you exist, but also doesn’t come with language to talk about your existence. So get over yourself and try harder. (also, if you want to learn more about gender neutral pronouns, go here: http://transcendingboundaries.org/blog/153-a-crash-course-in-gender-neutral-pronouns.html).
7) “I still see you as a girl/boy.”
– When you were little, you thought the tooth fairy actually flew into your bedroom at night and carried off your gummy bear coated choppers in exchange for their hard-earned money from the tooth fairy factory or wherever those little suckers work during the day. I can imagine your shock at discovering that this mythical creature was no more mystical than your own parent, which I suppose could be kind of a bummer if you’re 8 and a half. Similarly, your friend/family member/co-worker/neighbor was never the gender you thought they were. They have always been the person they are now expressing outwardly to you and the rest of the world, you just didn’t find out until recently. The fact of the matter is, you were wrong and just like the tooth fairy situation, sometimes we need to grow up and accept that things aren’t always what they initially seem to be.