Elliot Page, an actor, who you may know by their former name, Ellen page, has come out as transgender.
And I couldn’t be happier for him! I love seeing people, who are happy and able to live freely – so this was all kinds of wholesome, for me.
With Elliot reintroducing himself to us, I thought it would be a great time, to go over the dos and don’ts, of what to say to a person, who is trans.
The best way to showcase the “don’ts,” is with an example. Here’s one..
Y’all familiar with actress Laverne Cox? She’s amazing, you should be. Laverne and a colleague, went on the Katie Couric show some years back, and were met with an especially insensitive round of interview questions. The colleague, was none other than Carmen Carrera, the famous model, who you may know from Ru Paul’s drag race show.
Katie Couric, by all accounts, is an experienced interviewer – but she started off and ended this one, on the wrong foot. During the introduction of Carrera, she stated that Carrera was “born a man and that’s why she’s on the show.”
In talking about Carrera’s life, she referenced “back when you were a man.”
On the topic of transitioning, Couric was uber focused on Carrera’s genitalia and what surgeries she may have had. Carrera was visibly uncomfortable, shushed Couric and told her that it was personal and didn’t want to talk about it.
Shortly after, Laverne Cox takes the hot seat, and Couric, once again, fixates on her genitalia.
Hopefully, you read this and thought, “wtf Katie.” But if you didn’t, let’s break down, what was wrong.
“born a man..”
Couric very easily could have introduced Carrera, the model, the personality, who happens to be trans – and pointed out that, that’s why she’s on the show, but she didn’t. Was it for shock value? Maybe, but it was insensitive as hell. Carrera wasn’t born a man, she is and always has been, a woman. She was, however, born into a body, that didn’t match up with who she was. Words matter.
“back when you were a man”
Similarly, “back when you were a man” is incorrect and inconsiderate for the same reasons. Carrera has never been a man.
Couric bringing up her genitalia.
I don’t know too many instances, where asking strangers about their genitalia (besides the consensual, understood instances), is looked at favorably. You wouldn’t introduce yourself to a coworker, or friend of a friend, and follow-up with “but what that thang look like” would you? No. So don’t do it to people who are trans. It’s not anyone else’s business.
Laverne ended up shutting Katie down in a beautiful way, and I want y’all to read it:
“I do feel there is a preoccupation with that. The preoccupation with transition and surgery objectifies trans people. And then we don’t get to really deal with the real lived experiences. The reality of trans people’s lives is that so often we are targets of violence. We experience discrimination disproportionately to the rest of the community. Our unemployment rate is twice the national average; if you are a trans person of color, that rate is four times the national average. The homicide rate is highest among trans women. If we focus on transition, we don’t actually get to talk about those things.”
What are some other things, that you should NOT say? Glad you asked.
- You look just like a REAL man/woman. They are a real man or woman. Including this adjective, shows how you actually feel about them and it is hurtful. It also plays into the idea, that people have to “pass,” if they are trans. There is no one look, or “right” way to be trans, and furthermore, they don’t have to fit neatly into any kind of box to make YOU comfortable.
- What’s your real name? Their real name is whatever they told you it was. Their old name, or commonly referred to as their dead name, is called that for a reason. That name is gone, doesn’t apply, no longer exists. There’s no need for you to inquire about it.
- But, like, how do you have sex? This is one of the most ridiculous questions I’ve heard, because unless you think that folks who are trans, have genitalia outside of known human anatomy, you already know the answer.
- It’s too hard to remember your new pronouns, can I just keep calling you “she” or “he?” No. If you can remember nicknames, remember the name of the new item your favorite brand released and have referred to P. Diddy as Puffy, Puff Daddy, Diddy and Sean Combs – you can remember someone’s new pronouns.
- I respect your choice. It isn’t a choice. This statement is invalidating af, and you know it.
- What did your parents say? Unfortunately, a lot of parents don’t respond in a loving and caring way, oftentimes, even ostracizing their child. Because of that, there’s a very real chance, that asking this question, will bring up a traumatic experience. Skip this question.
- Are you gay? Heavy sigh. A person who is trans, can be straight, gay, or any other orientation that exists. Why? Because their gender identity has nothing to do with their sexual orientation.
Now, for some do’s:
- Do ask what their pronouns are. Never assume.
- Apologize, if you slip-up and misgender them, and then go on with the conversation. This next part goes in the “don’ts” section, but don’t make a big deal about it.
- Ask if there is any way that you can support them.
- Set a tone with your family, friends, associates, etc, that lets them know that you only allow support, and will not tolerate hate.
- Read up on issues that affect the trans community. If the person is also Black or a POC, read up on issues that affect Black or POC trans communities. Listen to them.
- Treat them as you normally would, because they’re a normal person. They’re the same person you always knew, just with a new name and possibly an updated look.
Being able to live fully and freely, as your true self, is a wonderful thing – which becomes even better, when the people around you are considerate and give you unyielding support.
Being able to provide that support, comes with an acceptance of the conditioning you probably have, the dismantling of transphobic thoughts and ideas and knowledge.
As they say, “when you know better, you do better.” Make it a point, to do better today.
When JanayB isn’t posting memes, scrolling through “wokebook” posts, ordering food and otherwise being your typical millennial, you can find her here destroying white tears and basking in her unapologetic blackness. Get in touch with her at JanayBsays@gmail.com.