Lets Talk About Transgender Folks!
I'm so happy for Caitlyn and the greater awareness that she's bringing to the transgender community. I have trans friends and I feel like the T in LGBT gets overlooked way too much. Here are some pointers if a friend comes out to you as transgender or you meet a transgender person for the first time.
- •First some terminology[Transgender]: a person who does not identify with their physical assigned sex. [Cisgender]: a person who does identify with their physical assigned sex. [Genderqueer]: someone who identifies outside the gender binary system. These folks could be agender, nongendered, genderless, genderfree, pangendered, third gendered etc. Genderqueer could be a totally huge list all by itself.
- •Always use that person's preferred gender pronoun choice. This could be "he", "she" or even a gender neutral "they" (used in the singular) or an unfamiliar term like "xe" or "zhe".It's tough and can be a hard habit to break. My friend Tracy transitioned to Alex in college. I had a hard time breaking the habit of using female pronouns when he identified as a male, so I opted to always just call him Alex all the time instead of using generic pronouns for awhile until I got used to using "he" and "him". He appreciated it. Keep in mind some folks prefer a neutral gender pronoun. Keep an ear out to what they use and follow suit.
- •If someone confines in you that they are a transgender person, respect their privacy. Don't gossip about it.Gender identity is really difficult. Don't demean it by making that person the subject of gossip. They're human and they just revealed a big thing to you. Not all transgender people are out. Please don't out them.
- •Understand that sexual orientation and gender identity are different.One of my trans friends is a gay man and currently in a relationship with another awesome guy. He's a transgender male FTM (female to male) gay identified person.
- •There's an awesome Genderbread Person illustration that might help (or confuse) you even more.It illustrates gender identity, gender expression, biological sex, sexual attraction and romantic attraction. The image I've attached here isn't super helpful because it's so small. But go to this link for a larger version of it. http://bit.ly/1BERlDE
- •Understand that being a transgender person is just one part of a person's identity.I have a trans friend that is an amazing individual. He worked in Thailand spearheading HIV treatment for Thai youth. He put himself through nursing school and now works as a pediatrics nurse in the hematology/oncology department. Seriously. The guy is a rockstar. Being a transgender man is such a small part of who he is and what he does. In fact, it's probably the least interesting thing about him.
- •Don't use words like "natural", "real" or "normal" when you talk about a transgender person.Even if it sounds like a compliment, it's not. It just invokes the idea that he person could look fake. If you think a person looks great, just tell them he or she looks great. No need to qualify it. And really avoid the word "normal". It just a really loaded word that no one likes to hear.
- •Be respectful of the questions you ask.Don't start prying into the person's sex life or their plumbing below the belt. Some transgender people might be willing to talk about those topics. But most prefer their private life stay private. Instead try asking if they are willing to talk about gender issues at all. If they are, tread lightly with your questions and if they get uncomfortable with the conversation, change the subject.
- •Treat he, she or they like a person.This is the most important one. They are first and foremost a a human being. Treat them like you would anyone else. And realize that there are all sorts of transgender people out there. Some are awesome. Some are assholes. All of them are just trying to live their life like the rest of us.
- •Use the term "transgender" not "transgendered".The term "transgender" is preferred over "transgendered". The former is a stated identity while the later implies it was something that happened to the person. Always use it as an adjective, not a noun. For more information, visit the GLAAD tip sheet http://bit.ly/1GhOJmy (h/t @stamos for that one. Thanks!)
- •Know I'm not an expert on this, I just have transgender friends and this is what I've gleamed from them.I'm a cisgender male. I don't have the same experience as a transgender person. That said, all of what I said above is pretty basic and straightforward. It's mostly common sense. But I'm happy to have other thoughts on the matter or answer questions to the best of my ability if you got them!