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June 19, 2012 / Jarek Steele

The Care and Feeding of a Transgender Person

Last night I turned on my tv.  I waited for the customary 10-20 seconds before my mess of electronics caught up with my desires and started displaying the current program on the channel whomever watched it last left it.  Comedy Central.

Shouted (or so it seemed because the sound was turned up) into my living room was this:

Person one –  “Just because he was with a tranny doesn’t make him gay.  You were with a tranny.” [canned laughter]

Person two (a woman) – “Yeah, I think he waited ’til she had her dick cut off before he banged her, so it doesn’t count.”

It went downhill from there resulting in Danny Devito’s character making a quip about gay marriage that was so tired and overused, I’m too bored to repeat it.

Then I turned the channel, muted the tv and logged into Facebook, where there was a discussion about trans people, comparing us to people with weight problems.

Then I gave up and started looking at funny cartoon pictures instead.

And before you tell me that the whole point of the show is to be “edgy” and “controversial,” and the characters are supposed to be self-centered and ridiculous – I’m not new to the genre.  I get it.  I just think if the conversation went something like this…

Person one “Just because he was with a n*gg#r doesn’t make him a race traitor.  You were with a n*gg#r.” [canned laughter]

Person two – “Yeah, I think he waited ’til she stopped swinging from trees before he banged her so it doesn’t count.”

… there would be all sorts of shared photos from George Takei on Facebook about how ignorant it was.  Humor only works when it’s aimed upward – not at a group of people who are already marginalized.

So here are a set of guidelines you – or the willfully ignorant friends you wish would stop talking before they embarrass themselves – can use.

1.  If a person makes an effort to present themselves as one gender, and you “clock” them as not being native to that gender – use the pronoun they’re going for.  Or ask if you’re not sure.  

This is not what I mean:

When I was in the hospital a while back, the staff put me in a room by myself because they couldn’t figure out who else to room me with.  The night nurse checked on me frequently, and once as I emerged from a narcotic haze she asked me what I wanted to be called, “He, She or It.”

2. The word “tranny” should only be used when referring to what your uncle Rex calls the transmission of his pickup truck.

And before you call me on being a snobbish, classist pig – I actually have an Uncle Rex.  I haven’t talked to him in some time, but I assure you he has a pickup truck, and most assuredly has uttered the word “tranny” to refer to its transmission – as in “Well, the tranny on this thing is shot.”

Also, yes, I know that some trans folks use the word tranny to describe themselves.  If you are not trans, you don’t get to do that.

3. Just because you, your relative or your best friend is gay, lesbian or bisexual – you (and they) are not automatically trans-friendly.  Heck, even if you are trans, you aren’t automatically trans-friendly.

Which is the same as saying that even though I have friends and relatives who are black does not make me innocent of racism.  Also, your proximity to gender nonconformity does not give you license to make stupid jokes about trans people, our bodies or our sex lives.  It doesn’t make you look more “in the know.”  It just makes you look ignorant and self involved.

4. Just because you go to or perform in drag shows, you aren’t automatically trans friendly.

Trans is NOT drag.  It’s also not a fetish.

Drag is performance.  Trans is not.  Trans people may opt to perform in drag shows, however if that person lives offstage in a gender variant way, it’s not the same thing.

5. It doesn’t matter how gender-variant positive or pro-body image you or your friends are, your swimming party, sleepover, lingerie party or whatever other festivity requiring public disrobing aren’t going to be fun for your trans friend if they are the only trans person there.

Just as a point of reference – trans is galaxies different than weight – it is a different gender.   Would you be comfortable being the only woman in a bathing suit at an all-male party -even if all the men were loving and body positive?

And by the way, if your solution is for your trans friend to stay clothed, now your transman friend has to explain to EVERYONE at the party why wearing a bikini top  or bra isn’t on his list of fun activities – and neither is baring his female mammary glands.  See?  Not fun.

What is fun?  Inviting 20 gender variant people to a sex toy party and let the drinks flow.

6. There is no “Sex Change Surgery”

Gender reassignment takes many, many years, hormones, therapy, possibly surgery, possibly not.  It’s also largely not covered by insurance.  And even after all that – the rest of your life is spent managing it and your mental health around it.

Those for whom it’s necessary to have surgery will have done TONS of research about it.  If you’re curious, research it with them.  There would be nothing better than to have a good friend at your side through your journey watching out for the latest breakthroughs.

7. Don’t assume your trans friend is always ok with being trans.

This is a sticky subject.  Part of the Harry Benjamin Standards of Care require that you be sure.  Absolutely SURE. That you have “gender dysphoria” before proceeding onward into your odyssey.  Trans folks so rarely are allowed to look back and say, “well crap this is hard,” without a chorus of “ooh, well see?! I told you you would regret it!”

Yes, I’m happy with my beard, my hairy chest, my deeper voice.  But I also mourn being my sister’s sister, my son’s mom, my mom’s daughter.  It’s complicated, frequently funny, sometimes painful and endlessly fascinating.  Just be patient.

8. There is a world of difference between the Female to Male transperson and the Male to Female transperson.

I love my sisters in gender rebellion, but we are not the same group.  We have unique challenges, perspectives and goals.  In fact, even within these groups, the challenges, perspectives and goals are different from person to person.  So even if you have a handle on one form of gender nonconformity, you might not have a handle on the rest.

Do your homework for both.

9. Do your best to make the switch, but don’t beat yourself up if you struggle.

I never made my son stop calling me mom.  Yes, it was awkward throughout the years, but we figured it out (and still continue to).  Some part of me will always be a sister to my sisters.  It took me (and probably your loved one) years to understand who I am and the implications of it.  You’ve had about a second and a half.  Try to make the switch.  Remember the pronoun, the name etc., but don’t stop talking to your loved one if you mess up.  Losing you hurts way more than having 10 conversations about why I don’t want to go to the bridal shower & would rather have been invited to the bachelor party.

10. Don’t make EVERY interaction be about trans stuff.

Chances are, you made friends with this person because you had other things in common.  You still do.  Continue to go to concerts, movies, book clubs, bars or whatever it was you did before.  That person didn’t die.  They just got way more interesting.

All of this is to say that trans people are people with moms and dads and sisters and kids and friends and jobs and quirks and annoying habits and bad tempers and ridiculous senses of humor.  So, you know, human.

Don’t be a jerk.  Treat us that way.



Leave a Comment
  1. Raven (Liz Rice-Sosne) / Jun 19 2012 6:30 pm

    Thank you for an excellent piece!

  2. Lisa Ragsdale / Jun 19 2012 6:52 pm

    This is one of the best descriptions of being transsexual I have ever read. As well it provides so much information to those who just don’t have a clue.

  3. Melissa / Jun 19 2012 7:25 pm

    This is awesome, and should be shared everyfreakingwhere. I’d love to see some recommended books with positive portrayals, whether fiction or nonfiction.

  4. Lisa Ragsdale / Jun 19 2012 8:18 pm

    I can give you two nonfiction titles: 1) True Selves: Understanding Transsexualism by Mildred L Brown & Chloe Ann Rounsley (very comprehensive and 2) “The Uninvited Dilemma: a Question of Gender” by Kim Elizabeth Stuart (c)1991 (since this book is over 20 years old, you may have a harder time finding it, but try Amazon or a used book store. True Selves should be easier to find.

  5. kriskleindienst / Jun 20 2012 12:07 am

    Reblogged this on kriskleindienst and commented:
    This is the most succinct, heart-felt, cogent, to-the-point explanations of American trans-reality I have ever read. It is a handy manifesto that needs to be a little chapbook you can just pull out and read from whenever the occasion arises. Feel free to commit it to memory. Share it with someone who just doesn’t get it. Maybe that’s you. A little bit. Maybe not. Maybe now you will “get it.” Or at least think about wanting to get it the next time you turn on the tv and see the world through a transperson’s eyes. Because how can you not after reading this?
    In the interest of full disclosure, Jarek is my partner. No, we are not married because in our state, that can’t happen. And we haven’t wanted to go somewhere else. We want to be recognized on our home turf. So for now and probably for most of our relationship, we will not be legally married. Because the laws that proclaim you man or woman vary greatly from state to state, but one thing does not vary: the absolute blatant ignorance with which state officials respond to various trans-based requests and inquiries.
    There is one part of this experience that Jay doesn’t talk about here: the Significant Other. Or, as they say in the vernacular, Significant Other, Friends,, Family and Allies, or SOFFA.If I am going to be a piece of living room furniture, I prefer to think of myself as a love seat.
    Anyway, my part of this story requires a real blog. That will come, whenever I get as brave as Jay. There are lots of us couches out there. And many of us have paid dearly for the privilege of loving our transperson. Of course, we are not likely to be targets in the same ways that our transloveobjects are. But when you prick us, we bleed, too. So. Please read Jay’s piece. Please share it widely.
    The life you save may be closer than you think.

  6. Jane Wilson / Sep 13 2015 12:51 am

    Reblogged this on Jane Wilson.

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