#LoveWon but We Have a #LongRoadAhead

I’m pretty sure you’ve heard that yesterday, the United States Supreme Freaking Court decided that gay people can get married in every state, and that states have to recognize all marriages performed in other states (not just heterosexual marriages, as was universally the case before).  Yay!

BUT. Obergefell v. Hodges  is not the final frontier for gay rights.

Far from it– yesterday’s decision is only the beginning.  First, there will be continued fights over the definition of parentage in states that seek to deny LGBT folks the right to foster, adopt, or second-parent a spouse’s kid(s).  (That fabulous op-ed linked below is by a former professor of mine, Doug Nejaime.)

There’s also the issue of what happens in the 29 states where it is legal for an employer to discriminate based on sexual orientation (32 states allow discrimination based on transgender status).  If a LGB employee in one of those states gets married, they’ll have to list that person as their spouse on their tax return if they file jointly. Employers can see that.  They’ll probably list their spouse on their employment documentation, too.  Employers will also see that.  If the employer is anti-gay, that could unwillingly out the employee and put them at risk of losing their job.

What if the person wants their spouse on their company health insurance?  Employers will definitely see that.  Hell, they might even be able to get away with denying the employee or their spouse benefits based on Hobby Lobby  and RFRA (ugh, SCOTUS).

Or how about the 33 states where it is legal for a landlord to refuse housing to LGBT people?  Obergefell  might have given us marriage, but we still have big things to worry about.

Add to all these problems the specific battles trans folk fight, like bathroom access, medical coverage, and protection from violence and abuse, the picture starts to look a lot less rosy.

I’m not trying to say we, as a nation, should not be celebrating yesterday’s win.  We DEFINITELY SHOULD.

But we need to remember that the fight continues for many of us who are poor, or live in a state that is not on the West Coast or in New England, or are not white, or are not male, or are not cisgender, or are incarcerated, or are a minor with conservative parents that want to send us to gay conversion therapy, or any number of other intersectionalities that marriage does not help.  And please, if you are gay or lesbian and yesterday’s ruling solved all your problems, please, please, please keep fighting for the rest of us.  We are going to need you.


Love is a Verb

Today is Fathers’ Day, which is always a bittersweet day for me. On the one hand, as I get older, more of my peers become fathers and I get to watch them grow and learn as they teach a little person how to be a human.  I am happy to say that the friends I have that are fathers all seem to be doing a pretty good job.

The sad part is that I do not celebrate my own father on this day.  He and I have not had much of a relationship for a long time– probably 10 years now or so.  After my parents divorced, my dad found a community in an evangelical congregation in Texas, and he has become progressively more religious ever since.  It is to the point where you cannot even have a conversation with him– every fourth sentence is a non-sequitur about God or Jesus, such that it is more like talking to God’s automated phone service more than another human.  Every conversation ends with “I’m praying for you.”

I came out to dad as a lesbian back when I was 17 years old.  He’s even met a few people I have dated. But he never, ever would discuss it, never asked about how my love life was, or if I was happy. His strategy was just ignore.

So our communications have been reduced to a bi-annual “I love you. I’m praying for you.” email for the last few years.  A few weeks ago, the email came, same as always, except this time noting that he and his wife were now back in Texas, after a brief stint in Hawaii.

I had been wondering whether I would tell him I am trans.  His email caught me in a capricious mood, so I decided to tell him.  I explained what I was doing, why I was doing it, and I asked him to please refer to me as “Bennett” and use he/him pronouns.  I also included a recent photo, so he had some context.

The response was: “I hope you don’t care if I still call you Annie. I love you. Dad.”  And he included a photo of me in a dress, when I was about 3 years old.

I waited about 15 minutes before responding to him.  I told him that his email completely ignored everything important about what I had told him.  I told him that if you love somebody, you respect them.  Love is a verb.  By completely ignoring what I’d said, he was not being respectful, or loving.  I told him he could call me Bennett, or he was free to not call at all.

Being a father, or a parent generally, should be about love as a verb.  The words mean nothing if you don’t acting in a loving, respectful way.  Your kids aren’t going to turn out to be everything you want them to be.  They’re individuals.  But you love them anyway, because they’re yours.

Happy Fathers Day too all you dads (and the caregivers that have to be moms and dads both) and remember to be most excellent to each other.

Things You Probably Shouldn’t Say to a Trans Guy When He’s #Passing

Greetings fair Readers! A friend of mine sent me a Buzzfeed article written by a transgender guy about things people say to him that he takes issue with.  I read it and laughed, but had a different take some of the comments than he did.  So I thought I would write my own version of this list, and invite you Readers to comment.

But first, a story: I was at the tattoo shop the other day getting a “XX” on my lower left hip.  The shop I went to is a great place in East Hollywood where I got my barbell tattoo done.

The XX has several meanings– (1) my chromosomes are xx, I’m a xx boy, (2) XX is a target for my weekly injections (xx marks the spot!), (3) XX is the rune symbol “inguz,” which symbolizes male sexuality and creation.

So I am getting my XX tattoo and the artist never asks why or what it means.  He’s a nice guy, softspoken, calls me “bro.”  Somehow, during conversation, the subject of Catilyn Jenner comes up.  The tattoo artist turns to me and says “What do you think about that, Bro?”

I was at a crossroads– do I out myself? Do I stay quiet? I weighed the options, and seeing as how we were almost done at the shop, I figured it wasn’t worth the time or energy to get into it.  So, I simply said “I think it’s pretty amazing and brave of her to be who she is.”  And he paused for a moment, then said “Yeah, I guess it is pretty brave.”

The person I brought along with me on this adventure pulls out her cell phone and texts me “#passing.”  Indeed! #passing!

So now that I’m #passing, I have noticed more of the comments that the Buzzfeed transman discussed.  These are the few that happen most frequently to me.  If you meet a trans guy (or if you’re talking to me), think before you say any of the following:

1. “Wow! You’d never know you’re trans!” I am certain that I am guilty of having at least thought  this before, if not actually said it, before and since transitioning. It’s hard for me not to think this sometimes when I meet another trans person who #passes really well.

But in reality, what this implies is that the trans person is somehow trying to “fool” or “play a trick” on everyone, and if they’re passing, then they have succeeded. It also overemphasizes the physical aspects of transitioning as a way of validating someone’s trans identity.

All trans people are not able/willing/desiring to #pass, and we need to get over our obsession with this being a measure of true transness.

2. “But, who are you going to date?” Um, people?  I generally prefer to date humans.  Seriously though, what does this question mean? I am a queer person, who dates other queer people of all manner of stripes.

I generally try to date people that are attracted to me, want to hang out with me, and that I feel the same way about– isn’t that how anyone finds someone to date?

3. “What was your real name?” We talked about this.  If I want you to know, I’ll tell you.

4. “You’ve got a _______ _______ than me!” This could be “better beard,” “bigger arms,” deeper voice”, etc.

The part of that sentence that you’re not saying is “… and I’m a real dude, not some fake dude!” It’s insulting, and it makes it seem like all the hard work that I have put into shaping myself has been to create a costume, rather than it being me realizing my potential.

Us dudes comes in all shapes and sizes and origin stories.

5. “So what do you do when you have sex?” If you would not walk up to the cashier at the grocery store and ask them this question, then don’t ask me.

6. “What was wrong with being a butch lesbian?” Well, the word lesbian is one you only apply to women, first of all, a group to which I have never really considered myself to belong.

This isn’t about being butch or femme, it’s about so much more.  I can be femme even in my new more male body, just like I could be butch in my more female version of my body. Being a butch lesbian still makes you a woman, which I am not.

7. “If you sleep with men, doesn’t that just make you a straight woman?” Nope.  If you can’t figure out why this isn’t true, then I have taught you nothing. 🙂

Next post: things you can ask….

Rachel Dolezal is Not Like Me.

Unless you are living on another planet (or perhaps studying for the California Bar Exam), you’ve likely heard the story of Rachel Dolezal, the NAACP officer and college professor from Eastern Washington who, for the last decade, has apparently pretended to be an African-American woman when she is, in fact, white.

Dolezal has not only represented herself as a woman of color, but she’s based her professional career on this fact as well, even being paid to speak on the topic of race and her experience as a minority woman.

I am not even going to speculate here as to why she did what she did– I’m not a psychologist, which is what I truly think she needs. I guess I can understand why someone who was seeking attention somehow might think that pretending to be a minority would instantly give her a soapbox to speak on, but even this is hard to swallow.

What Dolezal did was selfish. She exercised her white privilege to decide to be a woman of color, and then took jobs at an institution of higher learning and the nation’s most well-known advocacy groups dedicated to advancing the rights of African-Americans. You know, jobs that probably otherwise would have gone to actual people of color.

In the aftermath of the Dolezal reveal, some people have been comparing her to Caitlyn Jenner. After all, if Caitlyn can be born into a different body and decide to transition as a way of expressing her true identity, then can’t a white woman decide that her true identity is that of a person of color, and then change her outside to reflect that reality?

The answer to that question is no.

1. First, trans people are still a persecuted minority.  Yes, African-Americans are too in many ways, but in many places in this country trans people have no legal protection at all. Some places are even still trying to create special laws just for trans people, like trying to tell us which bathrooms we can and can’t use.  Trans people can be fired, evicted, and any number of other terrible things just because they’re trans, which is something that our laws forbid when it comes to race (at least on paper).   Trans people also have a high incidence of suicide, because being trans is stressful and challenging and very much demonized in many places.  No one would pretend to be trans if they were not trans.

2. Rachel Dolezal is not expressing her “true self,” the way transgender people are. Transgender people aren’t “pretending” anything– if nothing else, they’re attempting to be their most authentic selves. I’m not pretending to be a trans man, I AM a trans man.  Drag performers “pretend” to be another gender.

3. Dolezal’s costume is one that she can take off or put back on as she pleases, whenever it gives her the greatest benefit. When you’re trans, you’re trans when it’s easy and when it’s hard and there is no way to switch this up.

4. The world needs people to be allies and sympathizes, not imitators and appropriators. Both racial and sexual minorities need folks who passionately identify with our struggle to sit right where they are and say “I don’t think this is okay and neither should you” to all the other non-minorities in the room. Pretending to be one of us destroys credibility and distracts from the conversations that need to happen instead.

Deadnaming: We Need to Respect Trans People’s Choices

I saw a really great blog post today about ‘deadnaming” and how the media covers transgender issues, particularly coming out stories like that of Caitlyn Jenner.

I have to be honest, before I read that article, I had no idea what “deadnaming” was. Not that I hadn’t experienced it before– I experience this all the time. I just didn’t know there was a word for it, other than “people not using the name you asked them to use.” I guess deadnaming is a bit more concise.

I won’t speak for all trans people everywhere, only myself here, when I say this: I understand that it takes a while to change the name and identity you  pair with that name in your head. I don’t expect anyone to get it 100% right all the time, especially in the beginning.

However, there comes a point where a lack of ability to get it right begins to look like the person not trying, or not caring, or not respecting your right to define yourself.  I’m not sure where the line is, but I know when I feel like someone has crossed it.  I’m sorry that doesn’t sound particularly helpful for those of you wondering if you’ve crossed the line, and I’m sorry. I guess all I can ask is that you do your honest, very best.

That being said, there are few things that are more annoying than people who either don’t care to get it right, or insist that somehow they can choose to continue to talk about you as they wish and you just have to get over it. An example of the latter:

I came out to my father a few weeks ago.  He sent me his usual “I love you and I’m praying for you” email that I get about once every six months, and I responded by asking how he was, what he was up to, and a bunch of other pleasant questions that I knew he wouldn’t answer. I also told him that there was a lot going on with me, and I told him I am trans. I also sent him a recent picture so he would have a visual clue.  I also told him about my name change.

I was prepared to have him respond badly. I was also prepared for him to ignore me altogether. His recent religious fanaticism has left him with a well-developed ability to stick his head in the sand and ignore things that are inconvenient, so I knew it was a possibility that he would never acknowledge what I said.

Instead, he emailed back one sentence: “I hope I can still call you Annie.” For good measure he attached a childhood photo of me in a dress (which must be one of only a handful of such photos that exist, because I did NOT wear dresses as a kid).

I went through a few drafts with my friends before responding, but I told him that his response was incredibly hurtful because it ignored everything that I said in my previous email. Love is not just an emotion, it’s a verb. If you say you love me, then respect me. What you said showed neither love nor respect– rather it told me that you value your own comfort more than whether I can be myself. I ended the email with:

“You are free to call me Bennett, or you’re free to not call me at all.”

You see, I realized that in that instance, it was not about adjustment, or a slip up, or even just ignorance.  What my dad was telling me, in so many words, was that I did not get to control my own story, rather he had the power to veto something I said about myself.

When she came out publicly two weeks ago,Caitlyn Jenner said “Call me Caitlyn.” The title of her piece said it all– she was taking charge of her identity, her statement a command, not a request. We must respect that, and realize that continuing to use her old name does not make her oppressors more powerful, it makes her seem invincible because she is Caitlyn no matter what anyone else says.

So. Call me Bennett.

Legally Me: The Struggle of Officially Redefining Yourself

FullSizeRender (3)About two weeks ago, the State of California, through a LA Superior Court judge, granted my legal name and gender change. I was very emotional when I finally got my hands on the certified copy of the court order. This was what I had been waiting for.

I filed my petition for a name and gender change back in February. I would have done it sooner, but the filing fee in LA Superior Court is $435, and I was still catching up on bills and debts following my graduation from law school and the following 5 months without income.

So I filed in February. All the websites I had read on the subject of filing a name and gender change made it clear that the petition would take about 6 weeks to process and grant. The state would have to clear my paperwork, and then run a criminal background check to make sure I wasn’t changing my name and gender to run away from any parole duties or anything like that. So I filed my papers and paid my fee.

The nice clerk at the name change calendar took my paperwork and stepped away from her desk to look at a series of calendar pages that were posted on the wall. I got an uneasy feeling when she skipped over March, April, May, and June, and walked all the way over to the end of the year. She made a mark on a page, and then walked back.

“December 12th” she said. My mouth fell open. I’m not even sure if I made a sound, but all I could think inside was “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

I must have had some obvious reaction because she looked at me and said “Sorry, the judge that hears these petitions can only do one day a week. After you wait the required time for the criminal check, December is the next available time on her calendar.” I asked her if it was possible to try another court, maybe one not so busy. She told me that CA law requires you file such a petition in your home court. I was suddenly actually sad I didn’t live in Orange County anymore– I happened to be, she told me, at the busiest court in the State of California.

I was crushed. I also filled with dread, thinking about how hard the next 10 months would be still walking around with a female ID and everything else. I already was growing a beard and had my voice drop an octave–I couldn’t imagine how difficult it would be to explain that my ID was me after a further 10 months of testosterone!

I went back to my office and told my supervising partner what happened. “That’s absurd. You cannot go another 10 months with the wrong documents. You need this changed now, before you spend too much more time building a professional reputation under the wrong identity.” He suggested we file a motion to accelerate my hearing date in the court ex parte (meaning, you go in on your own without being scheduled by the court).

“You write the motion and draft a declaration for you and one for me. I’ll be your attorney. We will go fight this.” he said.

I did everything he asked, and compiled all my documentation of my transition– my coming out letter to my office, my diagnosis, my therapist letter, my doctor’s affidavit, and proof that I passed a criminal background check before joining the Bar. We went in the following Thursday and the judge agreed to accelerate my date to May.

I was ecstatic. Still, it was 3 months away, but 3 was much better than 10. And the whole time I kept thinking to myself: this is so screwed up.

What would I have done if I wasn’t a lawyer? I mean, I understand legal crap, and I could barely fill out all the paperwork for the petition. I can’t imagine how a non-lawyer would manage. And a non-lawyer wouldn’t even know that you can go in ex parte and ask the court to do something.

The law for name and gender changes in CA definitely does not reflect the needs of the community that process is designed to serve. People who are changing their name and gender are transitioning, usually. Not all trans people take hormones or have surgery. But many do. It’s only been 4 months since I filed my petition and I already look much different– fuller beard, bigger build, deeper voice. After 10 months I would have been some giant, beardy dude with an ID that said “Anna.”

I had already begun to receive push back from people about my ID not being me– bouncers, cashiers at the grocery store, the TSA… but people not wanting to serve me was one thing. I couldn’t imagine the safety hazard that comes from having an ID and a physical presentation that do not match. Especially for people like trans women, who are already often subject to high levels of harassment, violence, and even murder.

The legal process of transitioning does not in any way line up with the physical process of transitioning in other ways, too.

For example, up until a year ago, trans people changing their names and genders had to publish a notice in a public news paper for 6 weeks announcing to the whole world what they were changing their name/gender to and from. I had a friend who transitioned 20 years ago, and published his notice in a Korean-language only news paper, out of fear that his employer would learn his plans to transition. It finally dawned on the legislature that maybe making trans people put their business out in public was a safety hazard, and so thankfully that requirement did not apply to me. Still– are you kidding me?

Another example is the requirement that a doctor testify that you have “transitioned” at the time of your petition. I actually had my petition delayed two weeks because my doctor originally wrote that I was “transitioning,” rather than saying I had “transitioned.” This made total sense to me– after all, how can I have already transitioned if I haven’t changed my name and gender marker? The judge took issue with the “-ing” instead of “-ed” and actually made me get a new declaration from my doctor.

This requirement is completely ignorant of many facts about being trans, like
even if one has the financial resources to physically transition, this can take years. I mean, I will be going through major surgeries and such for the next few years at least. And I will be on testosterone for the rest of my life. Surely the legislature cannot assume that one will go through allllllll of that before having an ID that conforms to their gender expression? It also places a huge emphasis on the medical aspects of transition, where many trans people don’t go through medical procedures at all. Or the fact that a name and gender change is part of the transition,thus it cannot already be done before the petition is granted.

Luckily, my doctor didn’t have a problem re-writing mine, but he could have easily refused to do so because what the court wanted was technically not accurate.

So finally, after much hassle, I got my paper. I was filled with joy. Filled with relief. Filled with frustration at how hard it was to get there. And honestly, a bit filled with dread about the next 6 months of bureaucracy and updating my identity everywhere else.

I am sure this is not the end of my struggle to legally become myself. I decided to volunteer with some legal aid students to run a hotline where other people struggling with the process can contact attorneys for help, so I can put what I have learned to work helping others.

Dating While Trans

Following my last post, some folks have asked how I navigate dating as a trans person. I have thought a lot about how to respond in a thoughtful way, while still maintaining some control over just how much, with whom, and when I share such thoughts. This article captures a lot of what my experience has been thus far.

My solution is to say this–
1. remember, gender identity and sexual orientation are separate from one another, so trans folks could be interested in any array of partners; not all of us were “gay” before we identified as trans;
2. technology has generally benefitted trans folks who are dating, because it allows you to put yourself out there from the beginning, which saves time and some awkwardness at the very least;
3. technology still has a way to go before trans folks will be fully served by it; this article explains that better than I can;
4. I have learned that I need to give people more credit when it comes to their open-mindedness about who they date;
5. communication is everything.

I’m Here and I’m (Still) Queer!

I was walking my dogs this morning in DTLA, and as I crossed an intersection, a downloadsuper cute lesbian couple passed me going in the opposite direction. They were holding hands, happy, smiling, and laughing. I made eye contact with one of them and smiled. It was the “hey, I’m a lesbian, too” knowing smile, which I have given thousands of times over the years. It was the look of “hey we’re part of the same club” that you give to others who are also different like you.

And you know what? Neither one of them even gave me a second thought. No return smile, no nod of the head, no recognition of the traits we share as LGBT people. And then I realized, yet again, that no one can tell I am queer anymore. Before transition, I realized this was likely to happen, but I couldn’t have fully understood how much it would bother me until it did.

First, I know that some of you dear readers still live in places in this world where using the word “queer” is considered an insult or a slur. I am sorry for that. I have had many long conversations with folks like you (even folks that themselves fit under the queer umbrella) who just feel uneasy when they hear the word queer. For the purposes of this article then you can just pretend I’m saying “gay” and it will be okay. We can have another discussion about the awesomeness of the word queer later.

So yes, I identify as queer, and have since I was a teenager. Pre-transition, I suppose the world might have labeled me a lesbian. I never used that word to describe myself, however, because it never really fit. I was female-born, but since I never really identified as a woman, the word lesbian, which by definition is a female-loving-female, never felt right.

Plus, I have never been exclusively interested in women. I have had my moments of being interested in men, too, but not to the point where I felt bi-sexual was really appropriate either. Bisexual (like homosexual and heterosexual) also sounds so clinical to me. So for me, queer was it. It was devoid of gender implications, but conveyed the idea that I was something other than heterosexual. I like that.

Pre-transition, it was very clear that I was the sort of person who was attracted to women. The last time anyone asked me if I had a boyfriend was in 1999. There is a certain comfort that comes with being the kind of person that people identify as queer right off the bat– I always felt like I fit in at queer events (dance parties, pride celebrations, rallies, etc.) without having to explain my sexuality to anyone. I wore it on my sleeve and that worked just fine for me.

I was a member of the lesbian community for 17 years (WOW THAT MAKES ME FEEL OLD) and it is a huge part of my story. I have seen all the movies, know the singer-songwriters, the inside jokes, the secret handshake, etc. There was actually a time in my life, when I lived in Seattle, that I actually had only lesbian friends. Though it was full of drama, it was also an amazing community that I still miss from time to time.

And now that I pass as male, all that appears to be lost– at least to the outside world. There’s no way for me to walk around looking like I do and to still have the outside world know that inside my head is a brain that was socialized queer for more than half my life. I’m not sure yet what, if anything, I can or need to do to feel at peace with this. Transitioning has brought its progress, its gains. But not without its losses.

Welcome to a New World– How Society Treats You When You “Pass” and Other Oddities

Skimming Facebook this morning, I saw several friends posted a link to a BRILLIANT piece Jon Stewart did on the Caitlyn Jenner reveal. If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to watch. I won’t repeat any of Jon’s commentary here, except to say that he rightly points out that, now that Caitlyn Jenner is presenting as female, she will be treated as a typical female (not in a good way) by the media covering her story. His presentation of this phenomenon is amazing. WATCH IT.

It got mehey-girl thinking about all the ways that my ability to “pass” as male has changed how people treat me. I am white, educated, and grew up middle class. I stand a little over 5’7″ and am in shape (though it is strange to go from being a “tall-ish, but big” female to a “short-ish, but strong-for-his-size” dude). In just the few short months that I have been in this phase of my transition, where I am overwhelmingly read and treated as a straight (SO F*CKING WEIRD. I HAVE NEVER BEEN STRAIGHT BEFORE), white male, I have noticed a pretty big change in how people allow me to move around in this world.

It turns out, male privilege is a thing. And now I have it. And that is totally, totally weird. I feel guilty about having it, but also realize that now that I have it, I have some enhanced ability to call it out and work to undo it. And so I shall. Here are some of the best examples of that privilege at work.

1. I am never afraid to leave my house alone. I am generally not the type of person who worries too much about my surroundings when I’m by myself. I am physically not really the type to be picked on, I usually have dogs with me, and I have lived in some sketchy places before (just ask my mom), so I’m used to that. But now that the world sees me as a man, I am comfortable by myself in most situations. I was walking around in a hoodie and sweatpants, with my headphones in the other day. I must have been looking particularly surly, because an older woman saw me and actually crossed the street to get away from me. Seriously– I have gone from “potential target” to “potential aggressor.”

2. I can exist in public without being a subject of commentary or criticism based on my appearance. I’m allowed to dress how I want, walk how I want, I don’t have to shave, smile, or engage in conversation if I don’t want to, and no one has anything to say about it. This is a stark contrast from the days when strangers on the street would comment on my outfits, or tell me to “smile more,” or catcall me.

3. I’m allowed to have body hair. This is a tough one for me. I never was really big on body hair before– my Nordic genes include the blessing of mostly-blonde fuzz, so I could be relaxed about shaving my legs and such without much issue. But I always felt pressured still to keep everything in check, for the most part. Now, I totally have the freedom to be as hairy as I want. I am still trying to make peace with this– after looking at yourself for 31 years with one standard in mind, looking down at hairy legs, hairy arm pits, and increasingly-hairy everything else has taken a lot of getting used to. Still not sure how I feel about facial hair, but it helps me pass, so it stays for now. Had I made similar decisions pre-transition I would have been labeled a “hippie dyke” or worse. Ridiculous.

4. I can eat and drink whatever I want and no one tries to make me feel bad about it. You know, because men are allowed more leeway when it comes to being in shape, or indulging. I’m not expected to “keep my figure,” and in fact, when I do comment about being on a diet or watching what I eat, other men respond with comments meant to make me feel bad or less-than because I don’t want a giant cheeseburger and large fries and Hooters wings and tons of beer all the time.

5. I have less sexual liability. I could literally sleep with as many people as I want to– male or female– and get zero push-back. In fact, I might even get props from other dudes. When I talk about sex, no one (except my doctor) reminds me to “be safe” or “be smart.” I am not judged negatively for talking openly about sex, or sexual partners.

6. I am not subject to “soft sexism.” Being asked to grab someone their coffee or to help clean up after a meeting/gathering/party no longer exists.

I am sure that this list will grow with time– after all, it’s only been a few months that I am in this position, and most people I interact with regularly know me as a trans person. More experiences with folks who don’t know will surely only expand upon the privilege I’m afforded. Meanwhile, folks like Caitlyn Jenner lose much of their individuality and become another “thing to be discussed” by virtue of their transition to female.

Our culture is very strange. Let’s work on that.

How to Talk about Transgender People

I have seen lots (and I mean101 LOTS) of positive outpouring of support for Caitlyn Jenner after her big reveal yesterday. This is heartening and gives me so much hope for the future for trans folk in this country, and eventually the World.

We can’t just talk about trans issues and trans people. We have to talk about the way we talk about trans issues and trans people. The ACLU did an excellent piece today that highlights why we shouldn’t let the conversation stop with discussing how fabulous Jenner looks, without also discussing how hard it is for 99% of trans people to ever attain that level of care.

I’m here to address how the words we choose when talking about trans people affects the tone of conversations and impacts the way trans people are seen by non-trans people (also called cisgender people).

Here are some tips about what to say, what not to say, and things to think about when you’re having a conversation about, or with, a trans person.


This article does an awesome job of explaining relevant terms like sex, gender, transgender, transsexual, cisgender, sexual reassignment surgery, etc.

Friendly Tips for Interacting With Trans People

  • Don’t assume a transgender person’s sexual orientation
    Gender identity is not the same as sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is who we are attracted to. Gender identity is about our own personal sense of being male or female. There are straight and gay trans people just like there are straight and gay cisgender people.
  • Don’t guess if someone is transgender just by looking
    Transgender people all look different. They may or may not appear “visibly trans.” You should assume there may be transgender people at any gathering. If you meet someone and you are generally not sure what their gender identity is, you can respectfully ask them “What is your preferred gender pronoun?” See below.
  • Don’t assume someone is a he or she – listen first
    If you’re not sure which pronoun to use, listen to people who know that person well. If you need to ask the person what they prefer, start with yourself. “Hi, I’m Joe and I prefer the pronoun he or him. What about you?” If you accidentally use the wrong pronoun, apologize with sincerity and move on.
  • Don’t ask what their “real name” is
    For some transgender people, being associated with their birth name is a source of anxiety. Respect the name they currently use. If you know the person’s birth name, don’t share it without his or her permission. Likewise, don’t share photos of someone before his or her transition without permission, and don’t ask to see any photos either.
  • Don’t assume everyone knows
    Be careful about outing someone. Knowing a transgender person’s status is personal. It is up to them to share it.
  • Don’t ask about a transgender person’s genitals, surgical status, or sex life
    You wouldn’t ask a non-transgender person about these issues, it’s just as inappropriate to ask a transgender person about these things.
  • Don’t offer backhanded compliments or “helpful” tips:
    • “I would never have known you were transgender. You look so pretty.”
    • “You look like a real woman.”
    • “She’s so gorgeous, I would never have guessed she was transgender.”
    • “He’s so hot, I’d date him even though he’s transgender.”
    • “You’d pass so much better if you wore less/more make-up, had a better wig, etc.”
    • “Have you considered a voice coach?”

Thanks for listening, friends! Be most excellent to each other.