It’s not that hard.
You might think it is. The truth is, so many people have stood in front of me, with the fidget spinner planted firmly between their fingers, rocking back and forth awkwardly on their feet and said; “I don’t want to say the wrong thing.”
While I appreciate the effort, there no logical reason or excuse, as to why someone would say the wrong thing. We’re meeting in a social space, typically, and unless your question has less to do with what I do for a living, or if I’m married- really any polite conversation- and more to do with a blatant curiosity about what’s in my pants, then you’re not looking at me as a person. Instead you’re looking at me like a spectator at the zoo, and I’m on display. Unfortunately my keeper ran out of the information pamphlets that I usually hand out to avoid such face-to-face buzzfeed quizzes on my gender and presentation.
Cis people complicate it tremendously, thus, develop unnecessary anxiety in our company. “I don’t know want to say the wrong thing,” “I’m afraid I’ll offend you,” “I’m not used to being around people like you.” All this before they even know my name. I want to beat them about the head with a foam noodle and scream, “CALM DOWN!”
Nervous people make me nervous. Like it’s courageous. It throws off my equilibrium and suddenly I feel obligated to comfort this poor Cis-soul. As if I need to pat them on the head and whisper “There, there… you’ll be okay.” However, I lack that patience. Gone are the days when I’d sit there and placate some cisgender person whose chakras have been jolted from their undisturbed standard of expectation and now they’re banging together like cymbals in their ears.
Here’s a simple guide for Cis people to allow them their dignity instead of embarrassing themselves or us. You’ll be amazed how easy it is.
Pronouns: Regardless of popular myths, pronouns like He/She/Them are not characteristics created by snowflakes to make you uneasy or to force you to conform to some liberal new-world order. It is not to inconvenience you. It is who we are, not what we prefer. You see, I reserve the word “Preference” for things like cake. I “prefer” chocolate, but I’m okay with vanilla. It’s not a matter of preference, or liking versus disliking something. My gender pronoun is not a preference, it is not negotiable. That’s why misgendering someone is offensive; Not because we’re fragile little flowers with a huge sense of entitlement, but because misgendering someone is a failure to acknowledge my person as valid. Cismen would be very upset if everyone started referring to him as “her” and “she” — and his reasoning would be shouted from hills to the valleys, “Because I’m a boy!”
Well, why not presume we have that same commitment to our gender? It’s not complicated, nor a reach, really… unless there is a willful intent to offend the person whose gender you’re disregarding. These are words, in fact references to gender that Cis people have used their whole lives. It does not require re-learning what they already know. You don’t have to go back to school to figure out how and where to use appropriate pronouns.
Presentation is key. Pay attention. Are they in a dress? A suit and tie? Are they androgynous. If appropriate gender pronoun is unclear, listen for social cues; How do their friends refer to them? And if that still cannot be discerned, simply ask; “Do you prefer a specific pronoun?” And they will answer.
I am guilty of misgendering someone in the past. He was a handsome guy at a party with his girlfriend. I had to get some things from my car and he came along to help me. Because I had erroneously thought he was a masculine lesbian, I referred to him as her, when someone else asked if I needed anything. “She’s going to help me.” I said. But, immediately I turned to him and said, “Actually, what pronoun do you use?” He said “He, but that’s okay. It happens all the time! I can’t wait for my testosterone to kick in!” And we laughed. It wasn’t a moment. It wasn’t conflict. I simply asked to ensure I hadn’t made a mistake. And if I did, to correct myself. You’d be surprised how many people demonstrate gratitude if you take the time to ask.
Making the same mistake repeatedly is like slapping them in the face. Because you’ve already been told, the information given but not received and that’s not acceptable. You remember the password to your phone, the pin to your debit card, you can quote every line of your favorite show, but you can’t stop using the wrong pronoun in reference to a person? No. I don’t buy it. After being corrected, it’s passive aggressive attacks using ignorance as an excuse. Don’t feign being insulted and claim you’re being harassed when someone corrects you again, perhaps more firmly. You’re not a victim.
Line of Questioning: This isn’t a mob movie, you’re not Tommy Lee Jones, we haven’t committed any crime, so don’t assume superiority over us and subject us to invasive lines of questioning. “Did you have surgery?” “How long have you been like this” “Do you take hormones?” “Your tits real?” “What was your guy name?”
When you speak to someone in a manner which you would most definitely not speak to anyone else out of consideration to their privacy, your are dehumanizing them and objectifying them. You’re also demonstrating prejudice. Unless you’re that person you grabs the arm of every girl who walks by and asks “You on your period,” “How big are your boobs.” When you selectively differentiate how you interface with one person, or one type of person and proceed to climb onto a superior limb in order to interrogate them on intimate details of their body, or their life, you are being an aggressor. It should be common sense- should- being the operative word, to treat people you meet with polite formalities like “How is your day?” “You new around here?” Instead of startling, awkward public interrogations. That’s the best way, however, to look like a pompous, self righteous turd.
Trans people and gender diverse people are like everyone else. Speak to them with the same kindness, consideration or even indifference you would to any other stranger you meet. If your manner of engagement changes in the company of a Trans or gender diverse person, ask yourself why. It’s not because of them.
The Tale Of Two Trans People: “Oh, so you’re like Caitlyn Jenner.” Someone said of me one time upon learning I am trans. I understand that Caitlyn is the most high profile Trans woman in the entire world, and much of the cis humans shared that journey with her. In fact, more people watched her interview with Diane Sawyer than there are Trans people in the country. It was great to have that learning experience provided to the masses… who now think we’re an army of Caitlyn Jenners. Okay, I’d join that army for the haute couture DVF designs and free makeup from MAC cosmetics because a lipstick is fifty dollars! 50 dolllars! For a tube of lipstick! Most of which ends up on my teeth anyway so… I digress.
The reality is that the spectrum of trans people is wide and diverse. Some trans men and women have full and complete surgery to align their body with their spirit. Others choose not to do that. Some may have never taken hormones. Some may suffer no body dysphoria but present as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth. Some people feel indifferent to gender and identify as neither male nor female. And in between those examples, a million, beautiful variations.
Every trans person is unique, and that’s what makes it confusing, I guess, for some Cis folks reading this like they’ve been on the toilet trying to pass a hard stool for two hours. Let me break it down:
None of us are the same. We are not clones. This is not medical condition, like a cold or chicken pox, where textbook symptoms can identify us collectively. No one is doing Trans wrong, but we’re as vast as hex codes on the color wheel, each one valid and worthy of acknowledgment as single cells. Meeting one Trans person does not identify every Trans person you will meet in your entire life from that point on.
The human race is a chaotic organism, and our behaviors, interests, ideologies and life experiences on our independent journey are unique, including yours. The goal is to reach the end, which is inevitable, with a sense of internal peace. Maybe, we have that in common.
Then again, maybe not.
And, I’m okay with that. You should be too.