Nine times out of 10, when cisgender people ask me about my experiences as a queer, non-binary trans guy, they aren't actually intending to make me uncomfortable.
And yet, it happens. It happens a lot. And these situations can often cause harm to trans people who are trying to live their lives without being subjected to microaggressions like these. Whatever the intention, the result is that someone gets hurt.
Which is why I think talking about it is a valuable thing -- the more open and honest we can be, the more we can learn and grow, right? I'm all about reducing harm whenever possible, both as an ally to other communities and as a trans person who finds themselves in a whole lot of awkward situations.
So I'm going to share with you some common mistakes that cis people make when interacting with trans people. Part sass, part education -- I hope that you'll get a chuckle out of these and learn something along the way.
Here are six quick and easy ways to make me uncomfortable as all hell (in other words, things that you should probably avoid if you respect or value me as a person):
1. Ask me if I'm getting or have had "the surgery."
Call me old-fashioned, but I actually don't want to discuss my genitals with you.
I feel like it's a pretty good rule of thumb to not go around asking ANYONE about their genitals, honestly. Unless you're a gynecologist, which I'm assuming you're not, and even then, it's a little weird outside of the office to be honest.
Exceptions to this rule: We're about to get busy and you want to know which sex toys you should bring over. You are my medical doctor and it is relevant to the conversation at hand. You're about to perform said surgery and you're asking me to sign a consent form.
2. Pry into my past (before I transitioned).
My favorite question is when someone asks me what I was "born as."
The answer is simple: A badass. An alien. A badass alien.
I think it's safe to say that I will share any details about my past -- whether it's about my gender or not -- if and when I feel comfortable doing so.
The name my parents gave me, the genitals I had as an infant (because that's what you mean when you ask what I was "born as" -- and yes, it sounds creepy BECAUSE IT IS), and whatever other weird curiosities you have are probably (read: absolutely) none of your business.
In other words, don't be a nosy asshole. Who I was prior to transition is personal and I'll share it on my own terms.
Exceptions to this rule: You are writing my biography and giving me serious cash royalties on every copy sold.
3. Tell me I look like a woman/man (i.e. discussing if I "pass").
When I say that I'm a queer trans guy, people love to let me know whether or not they think I "look" like a woman or a man.
Fun fact: I don't give a f#ck.
I'm not interested in "passing" because my identity is not up for debate, regardless of what I look like. I am what I say I am -- outside opinions are irrelevant.
I'm also fairly sure that you don't just go up to cisgender people and say, "Hm, weird, you don't really LOOK like a woman/man." I am almost certain that this is rude. I am very certain that you should sit down.
Exceptions to this rule: If I am wearing a costume or performing drag, and have asked you how my outfit reads to you. In other words, if I solicit your opinion. Safe answer: I look fabulous.
4. Complain about my pronouns.
My pronouns are he/him. That's just the way it is.
I understand that this might take practice. I understand that you might mess it up sometimes. I understand that, oh my God, you are SO sorry. And I am willing to give you the space and compassion to work on that. As long as you're giving it your best, I'm very appreciative and understanding.
But please, for the love of Nutella, do not complain to me about how hard it is.
Because I can promise you that shifting your language is nowhere near as difficult as the challenges I face as a transgender person. And it's a little insulting when you imply otherwise.
Exceptions to this rule: There is no exception. Ever.
5. Ask for my opinion on something you know will offend me.
The number of times a Facebook friend has tagged me on a post about a transgender person being murdered or a new discriminatory law being passed is actually astonishing.
The commentary is usually something like, "Thoughts?" or "Have you seen this?"
Just wondering, y'all... what do you think my response will be? Really?
First off, you're subjecting me to something that is very painful for me to engage with and deeply personal. Not to mention, it comes off as an expectation that I should do the emotional labor of sharing my perspective so that you don't have to do your part as an ally by educating yourself.
As a trans person -- and especially as a writer and activist -- yes, I have probably already seen this article you're sharing. And my thoughts are usually something to the effect of, "That really fucking sucks."
And if you are wondering what a transgender person might think about that topic (if it isn't already obvious), there are plenty of advocates, organizations, and writers who are already discussing it on the Internet. Tune in instead of looking for your Token Trans Friend™ to break these things down for you.
Because listen, I have 400+ Facebook friends. And if they all tagged me every time a trans person was in the news, I'd be writing Facebook comments 24/7.
Exceptions to this rule: You're a journalist and you're quoting me for an article you're writing. You're an activist and you want me to weigh in on a course of action that you might take. You are paying a consultation fee ($$$) that we agreed upon prior to the conversation.
6. Tell me about your trans fetish.
Trans people are not your fun sexual experiments. We are not objects or playthings. Either you're into me for me -- and I mean all of me, not just because you have "a thing" for trans guys -- or you need to do some serious soul-searching on your perceptions and attitudes towards transgender people.
Exceptions to this rule: You're explaining your reasons for breaking things off with me after doing some intense reflection about the problematic nature of how you engage with me. You're warning me before our OkCupid date so I know to block you. This is a consensual fantasy that we've discussed and we're both super-stoked about it.