I get asked a lot of questions about my trans son. Mostly because I’m willing to share. Party because people are curious. I never mind sharing my knowledge, building allies wherever I can. But I forget how little people outside of the community understand about trans people.
And how offensive and invasive some questions can be.
The only way to become a more educated ally is by asking, but a quick do’s and don’ts guide will help any well-meaning person avoid some common pitfalls.
DON’T use the term “born a boy/girl”. My child is a boy. He was born a boy and still is a boy. We believed, once, that he was a girl. But the truth is, he was never a girl. He also doesn’t have a girl’s body. He is a boy, therefore he has a boy’s body. When we start to see gender as more than our physical composition, we can understand how unique each of our identities truly is.
DO use the term “assigned male/female at birth”, instead. This acknowledges that a trans person was assigned a gender based on physical characteristics, which may not be how they identify.
DON’T ask if my child was assigned male/female at birth. Some hold the misguided belief that knowing that information will make a better ally. It doesn’t. The truth is, asking me what gender my child was assigned at birth is really asking me what genitals he has. When did it become okay to ask about children’s genitals?
DO ask how my child is handling his transition or if he needs support. Much like I might ask a child if they love Math or English. This shows concern for his present condition and gives me a chance to share some of our struggles and successes.
DON’T ask what my child’s birth name is. The birth name of a trans person is a trigger. It’s offensive and invasive. I’m not going to answer. I know that some people I meet are trying to learn more and be a better ally. For those that fall into this category, I will firmly but politely say, this is not something that we share. For those that don’t, mind your own damn business.
DO ask how we chose the name we did. For parents of trans kids, it can be very special, because we may have worked together with our children, to come up with a meaningful name. In our case, our child wanted to be named after his favorite cartoon character, but my husband said, “No child of mine will be named after a cartoon character!” “How about after your favorite author?” I retorted, to which he agreed. It just so happened that the nickname for his favorite author is the name of my son’s favorite cartoon character.
DON’T ask me if I’m worried this is “just a phase”. We all go through phases. I ratted my bangs and wore Z. Cavaricci pants. But I also started a journal in first grade, started writing poetry by second, and joined the church choir so I could sing all the time. Not phases. My son being trans is not a phase. Not at two, not at six, and not today at the age of nine. By asking me, it not only invalidates my decision, as a parent, to support my son, but also my son’s gender identity. And while we’re at it, DON’T ask if I’m worried he’ll change his mind. He never made his mind up to be trans; this is how he was born. And as he grows and matures, if he learns new things about himself and his identity, about his place in the world and how he fills it, that don’t match who and what he is now, I will still support him. I’m not worried in the least, because life is not a straight line from point A to point B.
DO ask for resources to learn more about trans people. A quick google search will bring up a dozen or so. I even have a business card listing lots of them. Not only will they answer all questions and more, but they’ll also help to avoid a lot of unintentional bias, discrimination, and yes, transphobia.
DON’T talk about someone pre-transition in the wrong gender. “He transitioned to a girl, when he was fifteen” or “No one ever knew he was a girl until he told us.” And when called out on it: “Well that was before, when he was a he or she was a he er…ugh!” I don’t care. When someone transitions, they didn’t change, from one to the other. THEY WERE ALWAYS THE OTHER. Out of respect, use their correct pronouns, no matter the context of when they transitioned.
DO respect pronouns. Always. No matter what. No excuses like, it’s too confusing or it’s too hard to remember. Every time a trans person is misgendered, they feel emotional and psychological pain and are put at risk of being exposed. It’s nonconsensual outing. It is an act of violence. If it’s too hard to remember a couple pronouns, imagine how hard it is to be trans. And yes, slipping up now and again will happen. When it does, acknowledge the mistake, apologize, and correct it. And if it isn’t clear what pronouns a person uses, ask!
DON’T be afraid to be an ally and to speak up in support of trans people. The trans community is happy to guide anyone through the do’s and don’ts of being a good ally. You’ll make mistakes, guaranteed. You’ll get called out for it, I promise. And you’ll do better and be better, next time.
DO offer your support and ask how you can help. Any time you see a parent of a trans kid. Every time you can. We can never have too many allies.
Most importantly, healthy, well-meaning curiosity will never be discouraged.