Did that manly guy from work with the big bushy beard show up one day shaved and wearing a dress? Have you been seeing the man who lives next door go out to his mailbox while wearing a wig and makeup? There are a lot of cisgender people (the term used to describe people who identify with the gender that they were assigned at birth) who have never met an openly transgender woman (the majority topic of this post, because I cannot speak to the experience of transgender men). But, the fact is, that most people have encountered way more transgender, non-binary, agender, or other gender nonconforming individuals than they realize. We are everywhere, and despite the negative political climate that we currently face, more and more transgender people are building up the courage to live authentically every day.
Transgender women often seek out social groups of other transwomen. It’s comforting to know that we’re with a group that’s not going to try to clock us or look at us as if we’re monstrous perverts just trying to peek over a bathroom stall. Other trans people have shared experiences, common problems and goals, and are generally more at ease with each other.
However, we all have to work and, at least for now, there are no transgender only businesses. That means that cisgender men and women are going to occasionally have transgender men and women as colleagues. Because this is a new experience for a lot of people, they may not quite know how to react or treat their trans co-workers. Fortunately, I am here to give you some simple tips.
Pronouns are a huge part of our language. We use them more than we use names. Historically, for most people, pronouns have been quite simple: girls were called she/her and boys were called he/him. However, in today’s society, where the gender spectrum is more understood, the world of pronouns has become much more complex. Don’t assume what pronouns people want you to use to refer to them. Instead, if you don’t know, ask them. No gender non-conforming person is going to get upset with you for asking. In fact, they will appreciate your openness and your attempt to understand.
When you do know someone’s preferred pronouns, be sure to use them. And trust me, we all understand that if you knew us as “he” and we want to be called “she” or vice versa, that slips happen. Don’t get upset. Just correct yourself and move on. A quick apology is appreciated, but certainly not necessary if you’ve corrected yourself. However, repeated misuse of pronouns moves from the area of it being a mistake to being purposefully ignorant or downright rude. If you hear others misgendering us, we definitely appreciate your support in correcting them. Sometimes it takes a cisgender person pointing out ignorance to get someone to correct themselves.
As transwomen, we grew up wishing we could have been invited to slumber parties and other girls only events. It’s a part of the experience as women that we will never have. However, there are typically women-only events that exist. If you have a transwoman as a co-worker and you’re planning a girls’ night out, invite her along. Having a jewelry, candle, or sex toy party? Invite her to that as well. Planning on going shopping? Ask her to come along. Many transwomen are too nervous to go shopping on their own. You might also be shocked that many of us have fantastic fashion sense and can be incredible shopping friends.
I can personally say that my own female colleagues have been absolutely phenomenal with their acceptance of me as “one of the girls”. They pretty much welcomed me into the fold with open arms, no questions asked. I very much appreciate that. Having ciswomen as friends has made my transition significantly easier.
Questions. We all have them. We’re human beings; curious by nature. Many trans people are completely comfortable answering questions. Many are not. If you’re curious, ask if you can ask about our experience before you jump right into the personal questions. That being said, there are a couple areas that are off limits for nearly everyone. Definitely DO NOT ask about our genitals. The general rule of thumb is that if you wouldn’t ask a cisgender woman about something, don’t ask a transwoman about it either. Of course, if someone were to offer it as a topic, then it’s fair game. I just wouldn’t expect that to happen very often.
Here’s one issue that many people have a hard time accepting, including some people in my own life: Transwomen are women. Transmen are men. Yes, we have not experienced, and will never experience, many of the same things as our cisgender counterparts. I did not grow up having to worry about what a predator might do to me. I didn’t have things mansplained to me, or buy feminine hygiene products for the first time. However, I now face some of those same challenges and more. Transwomen need to be worried about being assaulted and killed by homophobes. We need to be concerned about the potential of a doctor refusing to care for us because doing so would violate his or her religious beliefs. At the same time, we face mansplaining, we receive messages with photos of genitalia, and have men look at us as if we’re objects as well. What we should not have to deal with are women looking down on us as if we’re something less — not men, but not “real” women either. No one should be made to feel like they are less than what they are.
Being transgender is not easy. We live in a world full of people who think we’re mentally ill, twisted, sexual deviants and we don’t deserve basic civil rights protections that all people should receive. We face giggles and stares every time we venture into public. Many of us have lost family and friends, businesses and promising careers, homes and vehicles all because we accepted that we needed to be our true selves. Accepting us, befriending us, and caring about us can go a long well towards helping to bring a sense of normalcy into our crazy lives. And who knows? You may find that trans person could be your new best friend.