1. Ask permission to ask questions. Even if you think you know they are comfortable answering, they may actually not be or maybe not in that setting, and it is just rude and pretty off-putting to not ask. Say, “Hey do you mind if I ask you some things about your transition? I’ve been a little curious – feel free to not answer or say no.”
2. Avoid private and personal questions. Even a so-called open book like me doesn’t want to discuss my sex life with most anyone. If you really want to know about trans men and sex, ask in general terms – i.e. “Are many trans men ‘stone butch’ in bed?” vs. “Are you stone butch in bed?” BIG difference.
3. Do not ask questions that in any way challenge the trans person’s gender identity or expression or could obviously lead to dysphoria. Do NOT, for example, ask if a trans man will grow to be ‘average male height’ or if a trans woman is uncomfortable with the size of her hands. I’ve gotten, “Are you ever going to look your age?” Ouch, honey.
4. Phrase your questions in a way that affirms a trans person’s gender. And avoid anything that defines the trans person in terms of who they once “were.” This is pretty simple, actually. Instead of asking if someone is “still legally female,” ask what the steps are to becoming legally male and if they have completed them.
5. Avoid comparisons to non-trans people and never use the term “real” in distinguishing between transgender and non-transgender people. “Cisgender” or “non-trans” are the only appropriate ways to signify non-trans status.
6. If it is a general question, try Google first. There is a lot of information on the internet and an open trans person should not be a stand-in for your own research.
7. Do not ask what the person’s birth name was. There is absolutely no reason for you to need to know this and it is likely something this person wants distance from. It is a particularly offensive question when phrased, “What is your REAL name.” After all, Sebastian is my real name and has been since I started asking people to use it.
8. Request specific permission to ask questions relating to genitalia, even if you’ve already received general permission to ask other personal questions. “Are you comfortable discussing your genitalia?” Chances are they aren’t. After all, do you want to talk about yours? But some people are and I acknowledge that there is definitely education needed on the topic so I am not opposed entirely to asking questions, as long as you get extra permission first.
9. Be wary of your phrasing. If you aren’t sure how to talk about trans issues, you need to announce that in the beginning. Be open to correction and don’t get defensive if a trans person is offended by something you say. As a heads up, don’t refer to a trans person as their previously-assigned gender – don’t say “when you were a girl” to a trans man for example. A more accurate and safer route is “before you transitioned” or “when you were living as a girl.”
10. Be aware of your setting. These are private conversations. Don’t approach someone at a crowded party or in algebra class and expect them to have a trans chat with you.
11. Be sensitive to the person’s comfort level throughout the conversation. If they’ve given you permission but are obviously growing uncomfortable discussing things, don’t press. Be grateful for the information you’ve gained and change the subject.
12. Respect the person’s privacy. Unless this person stated otherwise, the personal information they gave you is not for you to share with the world.
A pretty solid list, applies to trans* and genderqueer people in general really. The first is one I particularly appreciate since other etiquette related posts tend to be focused on the person who isn’t trans* educating themselves or not asking at all, which of course there is a time and place for as this list articulately points out but, yes, the acknowledgement that sometimes it might be alright to engage in such discussion so long as questions are asked in an interested, respectful way is very refreshing. Another one I would add is “Don’t ‘out’ someone as trans* or genderqueer unless they’ve told you it’s okay if a specific person / people know.”
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