I am super excited to have Storm Moon Press on the blog today. They're doing a blog tour of the most importance, by educating us about Transgender/Queergender individuals. They also brought a giveaway of Pearl which I reviewed yesterday. Help me welcome Storm Mooon!
Post title: Good and Bad Questions for Trans* Persons
Remember when your teachers told you there were no such things as stupid questions? Yeah, they were lying. There are a lot of stupid questions, starting with "What's the number for 911?" and progressing steadily downwards from there. But more than that, there are also questions that are not only stupid but offensive to boot. And as we here at Storm Moon Press are celebrating the release of our first trans* offering, I thought it would make sense to examine a few of these questions as they relate to trans* persons.
Bear in mind that I am writing as a cis person to other cis persons, based on my personal interactions with trans* individuals, and nothing I say here is meant to speak for the trans* community or to present myself as some kind of expert. But what I've noticed -- and experienced myself -- is that even when a cis person is genuinely trying to be sensitive to trans* issues, sometimes we simply lack the vocabulary to adequately say what we want without causing offense. And so, what I want to do here is present a few common well-meaning questions that nevertheless can be offensive to trans* persons.
Also, I would like to add the caveat that all of these questions should be preceded by something along the lines of "Would you mind if I asked you some personal questions? Please feel free to say no or not answer." Trans* persons are not obligated to satisfy your curiosity and have likely heard every one of these questions a thousand times before. Understandably, they may be sick of rehashing it over and over again. And if they do say no, that means drop it immediately. Try Google.
BAD: Do you identify as male or female?
BETTER: What gender do you identify as?
EVEN BETTER: What pronouns do you prefer?
The bad versions of this question are especially heinous with in-person interactions, when it can quite often be obvious how a person is presenting. But this is the Internet Age, and there is a lot of interaction that goes on without any face-to-face contact. In such cases, particularly when a person is using a screen name with no gendered markers, the question of how to refer to someone is a legitimate concern. However, distinctions like 'male or female' enforces the gender binary, which not all trans* persons subscribe to. Asking someone what pronouns they prefer shows that you are trying to be considerate to their identity while acknowledging the range of possible gender expressions.
BAD: Are you pre-op or post-op?
BETTER: Are you considering reassignment surgery?
EVEN BETTER: Do you have plans to transition?
Not all trans* persons are interested in transitioning, and for those who are, there are a number of ways to transition, not all of which include sexual reassignment surgery. One should never assume that SRS is the goal for all trans* persons. Again, this is a question that should only be asked with permission, and should probably not be among the first batch asked. Transitioning (or not) is a highly personal decision that each trans* individual makes for themselves, and it is not something that everyone is comfortable discussing with just anyone.
BAD: When did you decide you were trans*?
BETTER: When did you realize you were trans*?
EVEN BETTER: When did you first feel disconnected from your birth gender?
Trans* persons did not "decide" they were trans* any more than one decides to be cis, gay, straight, black, or any other aspect of one's identity. They simply are who they are. However, like being gay, there is often a process of coming to grips with a non-mainstream identity. Some trans* persons were fortunate to have had support through these realizations, and some weren't. Everyone's experience is different, so don't make assumptions, and just be supportive if and when a trans* person chooses to share with you.
BAD: Do you identify as gay or straight?
BETTER: What sexual orientation do you identify as?
EVEN BETTER: Want to go out sometime?
Gender identity and sexual orientation are mutually exclusive concepts. One does not inform upon the other. There are trans* persons who identify as straight, gay, bisexual, asexual, pansexual, and everything in between. Knowing that someone is trans* does not give you any hint as to their orientation, nor does it, frankly, give you any right to question it. There's a reason why the "even better" question is what it is -- the only reason you would need to know a person's orientation is if you wanted to date them and was curious if they would be into you. But even then, not being into you is not an indicator of their orientation, either.
BAD: What's your real/actual/birth name?
BETTER: What was your name before your transition?
EVEN BETTER: [say nothing]
Just... leave this one alone.
The name a trans* person gives you is their real name. It is who they are. It is their identity. Many trans* persons feel (and rightly so) that any other name refers to someone that isn't them. Asking for it is like telling them you don't care about who they are. And while it's not necessarily the height of insensitivity to inquire about a trans* person's past previous to their transition, the best thing is to just leave it. If a trans* person wants you to know about their life prior to you knowing them, they'll tell you.
This is just a very brief list. If you're curious, there are plenty of other articles discussing the right and wrong ways to discuss trans* issues. Just Google "how not to talk to a trans person". You'll find a plethora of resources on the subject, most of them sadly pulled from actual things said to trans* persons by people far less interested in polite discourse than the readers of articles like this one.
Edith sleepwalks through
a life so normal as to be boring. She lives with her mother, works a
mundane job to support them, and makes no waves among the ladies of her
sleepy 1920's Canadian town. Secretly, though, she watches the flappers
and so-called "loose women" with envy, dreaming of what glamorous lives
they must have. And that's before Clark walks into her life.
Clark embodies the world that Edith wishes she could be a part of.
He's slick and dangerous and sexy in a way Edith has never experienced.
So when Clark offers her a window into his world, she dives through
without thinking. On the other side, though, her black and white world
explodes into shades of gray, challenging Edith in ways she never
Also! For those of you who have gotten this far, we're doing a giveaway! Comment on this post in order to enter to win a copy (in the format of the winner's choice) of Pearl by Kelly Rand, Storm Moon Press' first trans* title! Hopefully, there will be many more, but we think this is an awesome start. Comment, win. :D Contest runs until May 6th 11:59pm
S.L. Armstrong is the Managing Editor of Storm Moon Press and the author of Catalyst and Other Side of Night: Bastian & Riley.You can find her on the web at SLArmstrong.net or on Twitter @_slarmstrong.