Oh, hello. How funny to run into you here. Thanks for coming back for your monthly dose of words from your friendly neighborhood trans man. As I’ve written this column, joined community committees, boards and been recognized as a Louisville Business First Forty Under 40 I’ve gotten even more attention as the “resident trans guy”. People have approached me out of the blue, asking questions, wanting to build connections and even apologized if I have felt “tokenized”.
While it is easy to tokenize someone, I don’t feel that way. I have offered my identity and experience up to this community. I’m a believer in asking questions, having difficult conversations and getting comfortable in transparent vulnerability. We are all humans with different experiences. We can’t understand someone else’s experience without honest conversations. Hiding in the darkness and sweeping things into corners perpetuates stigma and fear. So let’s chat — but, just like you shouldn’t ask a POC if you can touch their hair, there are things you shouldn’t ask or say to a trans person, especially if you have no personal relationship with them. Let me be your guide as we walk through some of them.
*As you get to know a trans or GNC (gender non-comforming) person and become best friends or potential romantic partners, some of these questions will arise. Obviously you’ll want to talk some things through, and you should. Honesty is a huge part of any healthy relationship, so navigate with care, kindness, and compassion when you get to those crossroads. Otherwise, stick to these guidelines.
1. DON’T SAY: Your Assumption Of Their Pronoun
We touched on this in last month’s article, but it’s really important so I’ll reiterate. If you aren’t sure what someone’s preferred pronoun is, don’t assume. If you’re not 100% sure, just use “they”. If they’ve given you their name, but no pronoun it’s ok to just use their name.
Remember, you can always introduce yourself and state your pronoun. That’s a polite way of validating them by subtly telling them that you see them and will respect whatever pronoun they ask you to use. (Also be prepared that some people may prefer “xe” or no pronoun at all. Some people may prefer to use an letter, rather than a name or pronoun. Even if you don’t feel like that person meets society’s stereotyped expectations of what that pronoun or name should look like, respect it. It’s not your place to decide what someone should be called.
It’s also helpful to volunteer your own name and pronoun. Add it to your name tag, your email signature or even a sticky note on your office door. These all communicate that you are an ally and will respect someone else’s pronoun.
If you accidentally mess up, no biggie. Correct yourself and move on. Don’t dwell on it, and if we are in public, PLEASE don’t make a big deal about it, that’s more awkward for us than it is for you, trust me. If you hear or catch someone else misgendering or misnaming someone, help us out by correcting that person. This should be done quietly, like pulling them aside or by working in our preferred name and pronoun into the next sentence you speak. Being misgendered and misnamed really takes an emotional toll on most of us, so having an ally step in shields and affirms us.
2. DON’T ASK: What Was Your Name Before?
Listen, there is a reason we don’t use that name anymore. Some trans folx call it their “dead name” or “assigned name”. I refer to mine as my “birth name”. I totally respect the intent my parents had behind my birth name. I know they spent a great deal of time deciding what to call me based on their assumptions about my gender assigned at birth. That name is a part of my history, but it’s not something I want to talk about, hear or be called.
My birth name wasn’t gender-neutral, it made assumptions about me and had a really gender-specific rationale behind it. For 32 years that name gave me shame. It wasn’t until I began transitioning that I realized why I’d always preferred my last name or a nickname to that one. Even though I’ve legally changed my government documentation, that name haunts me. I cringe a bit when I hear it, even if it’s being used in reference to someone else.
Words carry weight. My birth name feels the same as if a bully were to call someone ugly or fat. If you dig deep into some repressed childhood, or maybe even an adult memory, there is likely a name or words that caused you physical pain, like a punch in the stomach or a pain in your heart. That’s what a birth or dead name feels like to most of us. So, respect that it hurt us, there was a reason we changed it and disassociated ourselves, so don’t ask and if you know it, don’t use it or tell others. It’s not your place and frankly, telling others or intentionally misnaming us is a form of bullying. Don’t be a bully.
3. DON’T ASK: Can I See A Picture Of You Before You Transitioned?
Don’t ask that. We have gender dysphoria and hated our bodies. You asking that is really insensitive. Think about that unflattering picture of you eating something. Think about your middle school yearbook picture. You know, the one where your face is covered in acne, you’re wearing big, thick glasses and have a piece of something stuck in your braces. You hate that picture. You’ve gone to great lengths to hide your yearbooks in some deep stacked box in the attic or garage. You’d die if that was passed around or posted at your office. Right?
Think about your social media account. Chances are you take 7 selfies then review which one makes you look the thinnest/happiest/best lighting/no double chin/etc. before posting it with an ironic or awesome hashtag. You immediately delete the others. You’d be horrified if someone saw the others. There’s a good chance that our “before” pictures are like that. Before transition was like middle school for us. We hated it. We hated our bodies, we hated the way our clothes fit. We hated the way people viewed us. It was agony. Awful daily torture. Puberty and gender roles were our bully and we barely survived. We came out, (pun not intended), but carry those scars with us. Those pictures are memories of a terrible time in our lives. They are not a reflection of who we are or want to be. Please don’t ask us to see them.
Also, maybe you knew us before transition. We don’t super love being tagged in old photos either. Consider our feelings and don’t share it, or ask us if it’s ok to share/post before you do. We might be ok with it, or not, but let us decide. Respect and consent are key.
4. DON’T SAY: Wow, You Totally Took Like a Real Guy/Girl
(insert screeching tire sound and blow the whistle) TIME OUT. Trans guys ARE real guys. Trans women ARE real women.
I’ve got a friend who posted once that he was going to start telling cis people that they pass really well for a cis person. I get your intention here, and if we are close friends, I will probably take this as a compliment because I understand the intention behind this comment. But in general, we don’t want to be told that we look “like” something. It would be rude to tell someone they look smart for a girl. Or pretty for someone from Kentucky. WTH? Don’t let that kind of hurtful garbage come out yo mouth. We are human people too. Like you, just want to be validated as ourselves.
Save the analogies for the high school English test. Instead of comparing us to something, say something like, “You look really handsome.”, “Your arms are so strong and masculine”, or “Your beard is really sexy”. Validate us in our masculinity.
Ladies love a good compliment too. Tell them how beautiful they look. Tell them that you love that dress and those heels make their legs look like fire. There’s no need for comparisons. Everyone is unique. Trans, cis or GNC, positive affirmations and validations work just fine.
5. DON’T ASK: So, Your Girlfriend/Boyfriend Is A Lesbian/Gay? Or, Bisexual?
NO! That’s not how any of this works. Sexual orientation and gender identity are totally separate. Yes, you can be a gay trans man or a lesbian trans woman. You can identify as a lesbian or a straight woman and still date a trans man. Gender identity is about who you ARE, not who you are attracted to. Why do we have to go around spoiling so many good things with labels?
Society makes us feel like we have to put things in a box. There is science behind this. It’s called implicit stereotyping. Our brain wants a quick way to process information, so a quick and lazy sort of 1-2 categories helps us to better understand something and move on. But labels are not just lazy, they are assumptions and can hurt people.
Since I try to keep it 100 with you, I’ll share that I recently made an assumption I made about someone based on my own implicit stereotype about who someone. I’m new to the dating scene and I made an assumption that this incredible woman I was talking to was bisexual, simply based on my own implicit stereotpye that she was attracted to me and I’d previously thought her to be a lesbian. It was wrong of me to make that assumption, so if you’re reading this, I apologize. I shouldn’t have labeled you. That wasn’t my place to make that assumption about you.
Labels and assumptions can put people into boxes and keep people from getting to know each other. Sexuality is on a continuum. Its fluid for everyone. Even if you don’t realize it or want to admit it to yourself, it is. Let people define themselves. As with so many other things, it’s not your place, or mine to define or label someone else. Furthermore, give people grace and space. Just like we change hair and clothing styles, it’s possible that someone’s label may change. Sexuality and gender are fluid. Don’t believe me? Give Bill Nye, the Science Guy a listen.
6. DON’T ASK: Have You Had “The Surgery”?
Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. What gives you the right to ask me private things about my body? I’m a pretty open book, so if we’re close friends, or you’ve taken the time to show up as my ally and earn my trust, I’ll likely be open to discussing this super personal stuff with you. But whoa, we just met or maybe I’m your first trans friend — let’s not ruin it by talking about our genitals.
Now, if we are discussing a romantic relationship and there’s a chance we’ll be bumping pretties, yea, we should probably discuss some things – just like EVERY COUPLE should do. Otherwise, polite conversation doesn’t typically include “Hi, is that a banana in your pocket?” The bottom line here is just don’t ask. It’s not your business. You probably don’t want to discuss personal things about your body and private areas with a stranger, so assume that’s the same for all humans.
If a trans person offers information about themselves and creates a space for this intimate and vulnerable conversation with you, then navigate with validation in your curiosity. If you’re entering a romantic relationship with a trans person, ask them what they prefer for their parts to be called. Just like cis people may hate or prefer different names and labels, so do we. Don’t make assumptions. In this context, it’s ok to ask. Again, this is just a part of honest communication between consenting people – a basic foundation for a healthy, adult relationship.
7. DON’T ASK: How Do You Have Sex?
Umm.. safely? Consensually? Pardon me, but again, that’s private. People have sex the way they have sex.. It’s different for everyone, and again, it’s NOYB. You may share the details of your sexcapades with your bestie, and that’s fine, but if we aren’t besties, let’s not go there.
While we’re on the topic though, let’s chat about a few things.
- Sex should ALWAYS be consentual. Always. There are no exceptions. Ever.
- Let’s drop this stigma around STD’s and the LGBTQ community. Don’t help perpetuate that stereotype. It’s harmful and hurtful.
- Be smart to get tested anytime you are considering bumping bits with a new person. This testing is quick, simple and often free – especially at places like the VOA. The Lou Metro Dept. of Health & Wellness also offers a free HIV test and a $40 test for HIV, Syphilis, Hepatitis C, Gonorrhea and Chlamydia. They also accept some insurances.
- Be honest. If you’re dating someone, trans or otherwise and it might be headed this direction, it’s ok to have conversations about what sex might look like between you. It’s also ok to voice fears, concerns or hesitancies. Open and honest communication is key in any relationship.
- When that time comes, don’t assume that someone will want or do something just because of their gender, sexuality or physicality. Not all people like or want the same things. In a safe and healthy relationship it’s ok to have these discussions and express your needs and feelings. Some things may take time or make you realize you aren’t getting what you need from that relationship.
- Be open. Try not to write someone off just because they are a little different than someone you’ve sexed with before..Take your time to get to know them and don’t jump into a sexual encounter until you’re both ready. When the time comes you may be surprised to find that your openness has led to really incredible and fulfilling sex. Maybe even the best you’ve ever had.
Sorry, not sorry for going a little Dr. Drew on you there at the end. As always, thanks for taking an interest in my trans life and better equipping yourself to be an ally. Since October is my favorite month, holding both my birthday AND Halloween, my next article will be all about costumes. Stay tuned.
Want more but can’t wait? Follow my transition on Instagram @trans.parent_kasen! You can also catch me at Baxter Jack’s on Saturday, Oct 5th from 5-10p playing in the annual Pandora Drag Volleyball Tournament on Team LPF (Louisville Pride Foundation).
Also, mark your calendar to hang out with me on the Halloween Belle Cruise for the LPF. Tickets are 20% off until October 7th.