How to Talk Trans: An Introduction

devarah's picture

As a very out and open HIV+ transwoman, I'm often approached by well-intentioned people at conferences and other events who tell me about how they support the transgender community, but that they don't exactly know how to interact with the trans people in their life and/or in their work.  They want to be able to ask them about their lives and their gender history, yet they're often unaware of how to do that in a way that is culturally sensitive to the needs of the trans community.  These questions nearly always arise from a place of curiosity and good intention, yet they're also ones which, when asked in the wrong way, can really alienate a trans person or make them feel uncomfortable.

While it's certainly understandable to have these questions and curiosities about a trans person's gender history or identity, the way you broach the topic is critical to helping the trans person feel comfortable.  Especially for people who do not identify as transgender, the story of how someone became who they are today is unique and interesting, but unless the trans person you're talking to is exceptionally open about their own history or you are a close friend to that person, most of these types of questions are simply inappropriate to ask in general conversation.

I think that the key to understanding how to talk to trans people is to remember the Golden Rule - to treat others as you would like to be treated.  Expand that idea to include the types of questions you would feel comfortable answering about your own body, your own gender identity or history, and your own sexuality into that idea, and you've got a good starting point for gauging whether your query is an appropriate one.

Over the next few months, I'll be writing a series of blogs about how to best interact, support, and just plain talk to the trans community.  I know that the subject is very complicated, as many people are uncomfortable talking about such sensitive issues as sexuality and gender identity, however I feel very strongly that only through open dialogue and discussion can minds be challenged and changed for the better.  I know I won't be able to cover everything, nor can I go into every detail of the intricacies of what it means to be a true ally of the trans community.  However, my hope in writing these pieces is to help those who want to increase their own cultural competency around trans issues, especially those affecting and impacting the HIV+ trans community.

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lovinglife101's picture

Devarah,

It will be very interesting to read your blog and your experiences. I definitely could use some tips on things not to say and things to NEVER say as well as things I should say or ask. You are right, most people's intent is not to harm, it is usually out of curiosity and lack of education. I am sure I have made many mistakes.

I was invited to an all girls party when I was introduced to this woman she said, "Oh, you are the straight girl". I was taken back a little, I had never had someone call me out on my sexuality. To top it off whom ever she might have been talking to got it wrong, I am not 'straight' and never have been - I identify bi-sexual. But that is a whole other story.

I know her intend was probably not to harm but it shocked me. I would never say "oh, you are the lesbian, or you are the dyke".

I think we all, including me, could learn some valuable.

Thanks!

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lovinglife101's picture

lessons! I left out a word. Love you!

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