Do you know what the word transgender actually means? Let me give you the medical T (tip) on this. While exact numbers are unknown, roughly 700,000 or one out of every 330 Americans identify as transgender. This term is used for a person whose gender is different from their sex.
Do you know the difference between gender and sex? Let me break that down, too. Sex is assigned to you at birth – male, female or intersex (if you have a variation of both parts) based on your anatomy (genitalia). Gender is how a person expresses themselves – masculine, feminine or androgynous. You can think of gender as how the person feels on the inside.
With transgender people, there’s a mismatch – the sex doesn’t match the gender – hence transgender. A transgender person can be a transwoman (assigned sex is male, but gender is female) or a transman (assigned sex is female but the gender is male). Now that you know what the term means, let’s discuss what you should never ask a transgender person. My patients complain about these questions all the time!
1. Do I refer to you as he, she, it, or they? Pronouns are super important to the trans community. Use “he” when referring to a transman. Use “she” when referring to a transwoman (unless they’ve asked you to do otherwise). If that’s too hard, then here’s an easier way to adjust: Just call everyone by their preferred name. Bingo!
2. Did you have the operation? Having the “op” – also known as “top” or “bottom” surgery – doesn’t make you transgender. Still not sure what’s going on? Let me be more specific: “top” surgery is any surgery that occurs above the waist, such as breast augmentation, mastectomy or facial feminization surgeries. Bottom surgery is any surgery that occurs below the waist, such as hysterectomy or genital reassignment surgery.
Lots of my patients opt not to have surgery. That’s their business – not yours, and you shouldn’t be asking about it. Also, there’s not just one operation, and the process isn’t the same for everyone
3. How do you have sex? There are many ways to have sex. Sex is not just a “key in lock” situation. Hopefully you have figured this out. (If not, read some of Dr. Jess’ blogs to learn more!) Don’t assume a transwoman wouldn’t want to use her penis (if she has one) or a transman wouldn’t want to use his vagina (if he has one). For general purposes, sex is something that’s done between two consenting adults in private. What goes on between those two is their business. Mind yours!
4. When did you become transgender? People don’t just wake up and decide to become transgender. Thanks to science, we know that kids as early as six years old can identify as transgender. Trans people are born that way. Geez!
5. Which bathroom do you use? If law permits (and it disturbs me that this isn’t the case everywhere), trans people use the bathroom of the gender that they identify with. The bathroom situation is so annoying for my trans peeps. Think about it. Why would a boy want to use the girl’s restroom?
6. Are you sure you aren’t just super gay? Let’s talk about sexual orientation here. Sexual orientation reflects who a person is attracted to – same sex, opposite sex or both! You can’t assume whom a transgender person is attracted to. Some can be what we consider “straight,” gay/lesbian, bisexual, pansexual or more. If a transman is attracted to women, he is considered straight. If a transwoman is attracted to women, she is considered a lesbian. If a transman is attracted to both men and women, then he is bisexual.
7. What’s your real name? For some reason, people are obsessed with the birth name of transgender people. To be blunt, this just isn’t something that you need to know – or that you should ever ask. That name was from their past, when they were being forced to take an identity that didn’t fit them. If a guy introduces himself as Seth, he’s Seth. End of discussion!
8. Are you a drag queen? Contrary to popular belief, transgender people are not like RuPaul – a drag queen. Drag queens (or kings) dress up like women or men for various reasons, but their gender identity usually matches what they were assigned at birth.
9. You must be a transvestite. Another faux pas! A transvestite is someone that dresses up in the gendered clothes of the opposite sex for pleasure. Statistically, they are usually straight men.
10. Are you going to “change your mind”? Transitioning is tough. Trans people need allies. If they are “coming out” to you as trans, it’s not likely that they are thinking about changing their minds at that time. Be supportive – don’t question them, and certainly don’t try to talk them out of it.
If you’re not transgender it’s natural to be curious and have questions, but remember that your curiosity is never more important than the comfort, privacy and even the safety of your transgender friends and family members. Have a question you’d love to know the answer to but aren’t sure if it’s okay to ask a transgender person? Tweet it to @Astroglide. I’d also love to hear from our transgender readers -- which questions are you tired of answering?
Images are for illustrative purposes only.