Trans*Forming the Dialogue

I am participating in Transforming the Dialogue, Simmons College’s Online MSW Program’s campaign to promote an educational conversation about the transgender community.

By participating in this campaign, I will be offering my perspective on what TO ask and what NOT to ask trans*people.

The question asked by the program to me is:

What are the do’s and dont’s when asking a trans*person about their experiences?

What are some questions that one are not good to ask a transgender person?

1. “What is your real name?”

For some transgender individuals, being called their birth name is a tremendous source of anxiety. Or, it could possibly just be something that they do not want to bring with them. Could you imagine having a female sex organ, but feeling like a man your whole life.. finally coming out to those around you, just to be called by your female name again? It just sucks. A person’s real name is the name they tell you and the name that you call them. Just like you wouldn’t question a non-transgender person’s name, don’t question a transgender’s name.

2. “Do you still have your penis?” and other questions about someone’s genitals.

Just like you wouldn’t go around asking questions about the size, shape, etc. of someone’s vagina or penis, this topic is private and should only be discussed if the individual brings up the subject. Not every person who is transgender goes through a surgical change. This does not make them any more or less “trans.” This is about accepting people for who they are and that has nothing to do with what is in between their legs.

3. “How do you have sex?”

This question made me cringe to write. A lot of people may wonder about if being transgender affects their sex life. While the interest may be present, it is no more appropriate to ask this of a transperson than it would be to ask anyone else. If you’re close enough to ask them this, it doesn’t matter if they’re transgender or not!

What are some questions that are encouraged to ask a transgender person?

1. What pronoun would you like me to use when talking to you or about you?

“I want to be sure I’m being respectful, so can you let me know what gender pronouns you’d like me to use?” This is just having good manners and a great way to signal your support by just asking the question. When someone gives you the response, thank them and follow their guidance. Depending upon where someone is in their transitioning experience, their answer may change, and that is ok!

2. Ask if you’re confused or need guidance. 

There are so many terms that come in and out of our vocabulary that go from being the “politically correct” term to the worst term you could ever say, in what feels like over night. If you’re not sure if a word you’re using is the most respectful or the best option, just ask! No one

3. “Would it be okay if I asked you about ________ sometime?”

Everyone on this planet has a different comfort level about what they talk about with their friends, family, strangers, etc. This is no different for a transgender person. If you have a question about something, ask about if its okay to talk about with them! We learn by asking, we learn by sharing, but still respect the fact that someone may not be comfortable talking to you about some of the things they’re going through.

I hope that this was helpful and that you will consider becoming a transgender ally. PFLAG’s Straight for Equality program published this great handbook that you can download for FREE by clicking here!!

 Let’s keep up the dialogue, keep asking questions (even if they’re not “PC”), and keep striving to understand each other!