You may have just discovered that an associate/friend/loved one is transgender. Here are do’s and don’ts, using my own story.
DO Understand What It Means to Transition
Not all trans persons have the Caitlyn Jenner narrative (i.e., having always known they weren’t their assigned gender). Nor do they need any specific narrative to be trans. We all have different stories.
From an early age, I so buried my awareness of being trans that I was never conscious of it. I grew up in a local culture toxic to gender non-binary behavior. Though my family of origin was loving, it had a gender-binary understanding of the world.
Despite being a devoted husband and father, I couldn’t confess to my wife and children that I felt out-of-place and like a chameleon — especially given that I didn’t realize it myself … I just had a sense of displacement that made me figure that such was life, that everyone feels displaced to one degree or another. Through the years, this led to much anger and lashing out that surprised both me and my loved ones.
Not all trans persons have the Caitlyn Jenner narrative (i.e., having always known they weren’t their assigned gender). Nor do they need any specific narrative to be trans.
Once Pam and I empty-nested, this displacement came to the fore. Some years ago, I had the most vivid dream I’ve ever experienced: As I was washing my face at a sink of crystal-cold water, I saw myself in the mirror as a gorgeous woman. A man walked through the room without noticing me. My female identity asserted itself in the wake of that dream. As I prayed and learned about others’ transgender journeys, the more it resonated with me. I had been the man in my dream who had never noticed the female me.
DON’T Conflate Gender with Sexuality
I am, always have been, and always will be attracted to women. Other trans persons may be attracted to the same or opposite sex or be bisexual or asexual. Vive le difference! Think of the distinction between sexuality and gender this way: Sexuality is who you get in relationship with; gender is who you get into relationships as. So, that makes me a lesbian. Confused? Don’t worry about it. We love whom we love.
DON’T Assume That Being Trans Destroys A Marriage
Pam and I are lockstep on this. I owe everything to her courage, open-heartedness, and steadfast love. Unfortunately, though, many trans persons’ confirmation leads to the dissolution of relationships and other family ties. I’m under no delusions that mine has been anything but a privileged confirmation. Thank God for Pam (and for my daughter, son-in-law, and son, who’ve supported me from the get-go)!
DON’T Assume That A Trans Person Is Endangering Themselves
- This confirmation healed my life-long depression and anxiety, which illnesses were themselves symptoms of latent gender dysphoria.
- My workplace (as are numerous others) is LTGBTQ+-friendly, and I have a long-standing relationship with the company. This is not the first time my organization has been part of one of its employee’s confirmations. Sadly, a distressing number of Trans folk are discriminated against in the workplace. Their courage and conviction in gender confirming despite losing their livelihood is truly awe-inspiring.
- I’ve received nothing but support and affirmation from my local community. That said, for the first 12 months of my gender confirmation, I lived in Texas. Although no one openly harassed me, given the trans-toxic culture of conservative places like the Lone Star State, I found existence there to be wearing. Since then, Pam and I (for many reasons more than just my confirmation) have moved to Colorado, which affords a safer and more healthy environment. Not all trans persons have the means to escape their current toxic job/living/family situation. Still others choose to persist in a trans-antagonistic culture. I respect those situations and choices and wish nothing but fullness of life and love to all. I also do whatever I can to support them through their journeys.
- The trans murder and suicide rate is high because of discrimination, transphobia, and a gender-binary-focused society that destroys many trans people (especially trans persons of color). I’ve never contemplated suicide but completely understand why others do. The pain that leads to suicide is torture. Suicide is not a stigma or moral flaw; it’s a consequence of depression and anxiety. The sooner we acknowledge that much depression/anxiety is induced by hatred and discriminatory public policy, the better we’ll respond to those who feel their only recourse is self-harm.
DO Understand What It Means to Be Transgender
My feminine presentation is not a masquerade or an attempt to discount feminism or women who present differently; it’s one with my identity. #MeJustBeingMe, #YouDoYou
Being trans is not about my waking up one day to present as female. Wearing feminine clothing, jewelry, or makeup isn’t what it means to be a woman. It doesn’t mean I believe that all women must be that way nor that all trans women are that way. Again, vive le difference! All women should have the freedom to be who they are; that our civilization abuses, subjugates, and demeans women is a hideous reality that we, hopefully (if glacially slowly), are turning around. My feminine presentation is not a masquerade or an attempt to discount feminism or women who present differently; it’s one with my identity. #MeJustBeingMe, #YouDoYou
DON’T Ask Questions Like “So, have you had the surgery?”
Asking trans persons about their bodies, sexual orientation, medical procedures, et al. is NOT supportive but intrusive, rude, and an assault on our human dignity. Would you ask a pregnant person what sexual position they used to conceive? Whether the pregnancy was wanted? Would you question the legitimacy of their conception if it were in vitro? Or ask what they’d do if their child has in utero complications?
Don’t take them, or your relationship, for granted; give them the agency to tell their story their way, in their own time, even it that means they DON’T tell it to you.
Even if you feel like your relationship with a trans person allows such questions, ASK FIRST whether they’re comfortable addressing such private matters. Don’t take them, or your relationship, for granted; give them the agency to tell their story their way, in their own time, even it that means they DON’T tell it to you.
My story? (And I offer this openly; feel free to send me questions; there, see? I just gave you agency!): I’m under hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and hope to have gender confirmation surgery (GCS) some time in the next 12 months. Regardless, I am already transgender, and I have always been a woman. Not all trans folk elect to have HRT or GCS, and that makes them no less than the gender they are. “Male” ≠ “penis” and “Female” ≠ “Vagina.”
You haven’t walked in our shoes, so love us as you want to be loved — especially in breaking the bread of words.
DO Treat People with Decency, Love, and Compassion
If the above seems like Courtesy 101, then, you were brought up right. Sadly, until the world renounces fear and hatred, such compassion isn’t a given. You haven’t walked in our shoes, so love us as you want to be loved — especially in breaking the bread of words. To use Thumper’s mom’s advice: If you can’t say sumthin’ nice, don’t say nuthin’ at all. Here’s a quick guidebook to lovingly navigate potential flashpoints.
Some folks have “my pronouns” in their email signatures, blog “about” pages, etc., to clarify their gender identities and/or empower trans people. My pronouns are “She/Her/Hers.” Pronouns are as significant for trans persons as they are for cis folk. This isn’t “special treatment” or “political correctness.” How might you feel as a cisgender male if someone continually referred to you as “she/her/hers.” You’d think your interlocutor either utterly oblivious or picking a fight. #WhenInDoubtAskAbout
“Trans” Is An ADJECTIVE; NOT A Noun
“Transgender/Trans” is an adjective; never a noun. To call someone a “gay” or an “LGBTQ+” or a “Transgender” is dehumanizing—calling them a “thing” instead of recognizing them as persons. We are first human beings. Some of us are American, Italian, or Coloradan; doesn’t make us less than homo sapiens, just helps us locate nationality/citizenship/residency — i.e., how we identify.
To Those Who Say “I Object to A Sinful ‘Lifestyle Choice’”
Those who use “transgender” as a noun (or hateful terms like “transgenderism”) are no different than those who use slurs like “trannie,” “she-male,” etc. (At least the slurrers are honest about their fear, hatred, and bigotry.) Choosing your own grammar/nomenclature to refer to others in an attempt to express your “ideology” or “religious belief” is either a self-delusion or a prevarication designed to hide your bigotry.
Grow up and learn to deal with people not fitting your idea of what they should be. A la the Rolling Stones, “you can’t always get what you want.”
Ideology and religious belief don’t justify saying “down” is “up”; calling a blue sky plaid; or labeling Jewish, Native American, enslaved, and LGBTQ+ persons (to name a few) as not human persons “created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.” It’s your attempt to render persons into things you can manipulate to your ends. Calling someone what you want to call them, despite their clearly indicated wishes and the revelation provided by centuries of human experience, is your attempt to control or wipe out the “disorder” they represent to you. That’s your problem. Grow up and learn to deal with people not fitting your idea of what they should be. A la the Rolling Stones, “you can’t always get what you want.”
If You REALLY Are Honest About Treating Trans Persons with Compassion and Respect
If you’re in earnest about not wanting to offend — and you should be because you simply have NO IDEA of whether you’re in the presence of a trans person (and, really, can you morally justify using the n-word when you think no black person is around?) — always ASK A PERSON WHO SELF-INTRODUCES AS TRANS WHAT THEIR PRONOUNS ARE. Though I have a Master’s in English and have been a professional writer and teacher for 35+ years, I have no qualms using “they/them/their” in referring to anybody, singular or plural. It’s the most compassionate and efficient way to proceed until someone requests a different pronoun.
DO Know That Trans Persons Bear the Burden of Being Human
My confirmation may, to some, seem an attack on their core values. When others comment to me as such or unfriend me on social media or in-person, I try not to be offended or retaliate. Indeed, my younger son and his wife have rejected all contact with me and Pam. That hurts badly, but I’m done trying to understand what leads to such a reaction. Despite the loss, I know there are too many blessings in life to allow shunning to darken my horizon. I’ll always love my younger son, no matter what. My daughter, son-in-law, and older son are bulwarks of love, incredible people, and fonts of compassion and steadfastness. I’m sad when I’m sad, and I’m happy when I’m happy. Life, in most aspects, is usually a combination of sadness and happiness. I can embrace that by embracing others.
For more information on what it means to be transgender and workplace policies on equality and equal opportunity in the workplace, respectively, please go to:
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