Trans is not a Costume

Hello friends.  Happy October!

For those of you who don’t know me personally, or semi-well, let me tell you a little factoid about me: I LOVE OCTOBER.

October is a great month. All of the following contribute to why I think it’s the best month of the year:

  1. My birthday is in October. Duh.
  2. Halloween is in October.  I have a deep, long love for Halloween– it’s my favorite holiday pretty much since birth. I was also supposed to be born on Halloween. It is also just a great f*cking holiday because it involves costumes, over indulgence, pumpkin art, and parties.
  3. It is called October because under the original Roman calendar, it was the 8th month of the year (before July and August were added– thanks Ceasar boys!)

IMG_7064I love October because Halloween, and I love Halloween because costumes. I delight in planning and executing my costume each year and anyone who knows me can attest that I tend to have some pretty good ones.  So imagine how bummed I was when I stumbled upon this photo in my Facebook feed today.

UGH. SERIOUSLY? SERIOUSLY.

This is super not okay.  Really, it’s not. Dressing up as pre-transition or post-transition Caitlyn Jenner (not as Bruce, because it’s pretty rude to Dead Name people) is not okay.  Spirit Halloween store (where the photo was taken) cannot try to make this okay by calling it “Celebrating an American Icon.”  Caitlyn Jenner is not one of the founding fathers or Abraham Lincoln, or any other “American Icon” folks dress up as for Halloween.  She is a living breathing person. She is a person who has had the hefty job of coming out as transgender under the scrutiny of the free internet-reality tv-loving world.

Yes, she is brave. Yes, she could be considered a hero. But you know and I know that is not what this Halloween costume is about.  If that were true, we would have Amelia Earhart and Harriet Tubman costumes for sale to the mainstream public, too.  No, this is about us collectively mocking Caitlyn by empowering cisgender men to emulate her.  We, as Americans, are so threatened by Caitlyn’s transition and our collective masculinity is so fragile that we must bring her down a notch in order to put ourselves at ease.  We must remind ourselves that she’s really just a man in a dress, right? We definitely must make her un-sexy– she was getting to hot for comfort.

And maybe, just maybe, on some level, it makes those who choose to don that costume feel a little bit softer, a little bit sexier.  If we pretend we are making fun of her, then it’s okay to be feminine and pretty, and we can have our cake and eat it too. I get it– sometimes doing something different, something forbidden is hot. But you know what?  If that’s it, then just buy any other female-designed costume in Spirit and get your kicks.  Be a sexy nurse.  Be a Bunny.  Be Catwoman (boy you know you want to put on that jumpsuit).

Don’t pretend to be a real, live trans person who has gone to great lengths to become her true self and to not be exactly what you want her to be, which is just some guy in a dress.  She is a human– even if she doesn’t care personally, there are trans kids out there watching you.  They see you laughing at her. They internalize it.  It hurts them.  Bullying is deadly for trans kids.  Suicide is common.  This normalizes mocking and joking about trans people.  It normalizes cruel jokes.  This. Is. Not. Okay.

If you know anyone contemplating this choice, please educate them. We must do better, and if everyone who knows better speaks up, we will. Be excellent to each other.

Advertisements

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.

Vocabulary

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.