It's been just over three years since I transitioned from my life as a guy to living full time as a woman. I have had incredible highs with the undaunting support from family and friends. I have also had significant lows, sometimes caused be the carelessness or thoughtlessness of those around me. For me, and many trans women like me, the vocabulary you all use can sometimes cause us to stop in our tracks and really question what you think about us. I know many times it is out of total ignorance or just by accident, but never the less, these times can stir with in me and other transgender women some very negative feelings.
There are several blog posts and articles out there on the web that list the things that you shouldn’t say or ask a transgender individual, but in recent days I have felt I needed to put a personal look on the subject. Most of us grew up hearing the phrase “Sticks and Stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt you”. Yeah – we all know that’s a crock. Words hold extreme power even when you don’t know it.
1) Transgender vs. Transgendered – Starting with an easy one. Stop using the ‘ed’ at the end, please! The word transgender is not a verb and thus can not have a past tense. I am no more “transgendered” as President Obama is “blacked” or James Gandolfini was “Italianed”. This is just following simple grammar rules. I see this happen all the time, from mainstream media, bloggers, and even medical professionals. I was shocked when I looked at my medical records this past year and saw ‘transgendered’ repeated multiple times. Supposedly educated people wrote these notes and yet the lack of knowledge was surprising.
2) Get your pronouns straight – I have been over this before, but it bears repeating. In July of 2010, I legally changed my name AND my gender. I am no longer a "HE". The State of Illinois, though it has had it’s issues in many other areas, has done a great service to the transgender community. The elected officials had the insight, after much prodding from the transgender community, that having the proper gender marker on our state identification cards and driver’s licenses is extremely important to avoid unwanted attention and avoid possible harassment. The Department of State for the United States also recognizes this need when traveling overseas. It is now possible to have the marker on our passports reflect the proper gender with out having to go through the costly and sometimes inaccessible reassignment surgery. My own birth state, the State of California, along with a few other states, also allow transgender individuals to change the gender marker on our birth certificates. So here’s the reality – if my health insurance, the State of Illinois, the State of California, and the U.S. State Department ALL see me as female, do me a favor and show me the same respect and use the proper pronouns.
3) Watch your use of gender specific colloquial terms – The top two most obnoxious colloquial terms for me are ‘dude’ and ‘guy’. These words send shivers down my spine and always have. If you see my current picture, tell me you see a ‘dude’ or a ‘guy’. You won’t. If the nurses at Rush Copley Hospital didn’t know, then I doubt you would.
I know many of my friends use both of these words to reference both men and women. The problem arises for the transgender woman is that we have worked hard to shed the male persona that we dragged around for years and we want to put behind us all those male labels as well. I know I am asking you to change the way you approach the way you talk to people and the phrases you use but it comes down to a matter of respect again. Will we ever drop such colloquial gender specific terms in the near future? I’m realistic and I know the answer is no and I’m not asking you to drop them all together. Trust me, I use them all the time, but only when referring to males. Is it so difficult to treat a woman as a woman and not lump both genders in to one masculine label?
4) Don’t ask a transgender individual if they have had surgery yet! - When you meet someone new at work or at church or on the street would ask him or her what’s between their legs? Of course not, unless you want to get slapped or punched or fired for sexual harassment. Then why is it common place to ask a transgender person the same question? Will your opinion of us rest on the answer to that question? Well, here's a clue - The anatomy between my legs does not define who I am. My spirit, my soul, my inner most being defines who I am, regardless whether I have a penis or a vagina. Being a public figure, I have made choices on what I share about my life. I know that I am pretty open about my personal physical status and thus have to deal with the ramifications of that choice. But I am not immune to this question on a regular basis. When new people enter my life and discover who I was in the past, the question still comes up.
Unfortunately, the knowledge that I have not yet had the surgery has caused me to be the recipient of prejudice and discrimination in many different venues. I think that’s what hurts the most. When that question is asked, I can’t help but think that your opinion of me is affected. Do you see me as a woman or something else? Do us, the transgender community a favor - never ask that question again. For someone to focus on one part of my anatomy rather than my soul or my spirit or who I am, in a way, lessens me.
I would love to hear from you – are there things that people say or ask that are taboo in your mind? Are you a trans individual that has experienced these as well?
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