I had an experience at work not long ago that will stay with me for some time.
A regular at the welcome center that I work at (a regular according to him; I’m usually to busy to recognize faces) approached me. And while I don’t think he meant any harm in retrospect, he asked me a lot of questions that were kind of creepy and made me feel uncomfortable. So uncomfortable, in fact, that I spent a few minutes when I got home that day shrieking in frustration into my pillow when I was sure no one was around.
So, to help circumvent such awkward moments for transgender and cisgender folks alike, I’d like to highlight a few problem areas in the exchange I had in hopes that people will understand why these particular topics are bothersome to us and hopefully avoid them in the future.
Most transgender folks don’t like being reminded that they are transgender
The issue started with the gentleman correctly assumed that I was transgender because I apparently looked like his sister (telling a woman she looks like your sister is troublesome as well, but a different issue altogether) and she was transgender as well.
Now, I’m an exception to the rule in this case; I typically don’t mind if people ask if I’m trans or not because I see it as an opportunity to educate and inform them about any questions they may have. However, calling attention to it can cause a lot of trans-people to feel singled out and targeted. Bare in mind, ours is a community that has spent the bulk of our time in the mainstream consciousness ducking a lot of hate people that have issues with us. So when someone points out that we’re transgender, our first thoughts tend to be a panicked flurry of, “oh god, does this person have a problem with me? Are they fetishizing me? What do they want?”
Usually, it’s best to just treat them like a human first and let them come out to you once they feel comfortable around you. Remember: nobody likes to be outed against their will.
Don’t ask us for our “real name”
He then proceeded to take note of my nametag and asked me if that was my ‘real name’ and what it was. Being at work, this was the point where I had to bite back on my anger and inform him that I didn’t feel comfortable divulging that kind of info.
The fact of the matter is that the names we use, whether we change them or not, ARE REAL. They’re the names we use to interact with others and that they use in turn. They’re as real as they would ever need to be. Suggesting that our chosen names are aren’t real is a good way unintentionally delegitimize us and our identity. If we change our given names, there’s probably a good reason why we don’t want you knowing them.
Don’t call too much attention to our bodies
One of the things that most often marks me as a trans-woman in public – and the thing that this gentleman keyed on – is my height (6’4″ in flats). This wasn’t too objectionable as many people are quite fond of my height. However, it was when he got to asking me about HRT and surgery that things got a little strange.
As I said, transgender people typically dislike being reminded that they are transgender. And a good way to remind us is to ask us personal details about our bodies. It’s actually really hard to talk about things like Gender Affirmation Surgery or Hormone Replacement without feeling like someone is fetishizing or judging us (our dating profiles are often clogged with messages akin to, “Dick or no dick.”). So, once again, let us be the ones to come to you first instead of just asking us if our boobs are real (seriously, not even cisgender women like that).
But even if this guy was a perfect gentleman about all the above, it wouldn’t have mattered because he broke the number one rule…
Don’t ask people personal questions when they’re on the clock
I’ve noticed that this is a problem that mostly plagues the men that enter my business rather than the women; girls will often wait until I’m out shopping or walking in the park to ask questions and make passes at me (yes, I’ve been flirted with by women as often as – if not more often then men *blush*). And it’s not like I don’t enjoy the compliments, the attention, or the chance to inform people because I do. It’s just that timing and situation makes all of the difference.
So, I’m going to spell this out to everyone as plainly as possible: Regardless of whether a person is trans, cis, or otherwise, DON’T GET PERSONAL WHILE WE ARE WORKING. We can actually get in a lot of trouble for discussing personal lives on the job. Plus, our responses are very limited due to the level decorum we’re forced to maintain. Waiting until we’re working to ask personal questions or make passes at us has the effect, whether you intend it or not, of making you seem opportunistic and cowardly by forcing us to speak to you in a time and place where we can’t tell you off without being punished for it.
In short, don’t treat us like women, men, or something off the binary; just treat us like people.