Hello trans people? Here's how to talk to a non-trans person.
Don't. Or do it with a huge level of cynicism.
You will never make us understand. You say things like "gender and
orientation aren't the same thing" and we don't understand. We're still
stuck on the idea that "men and men, and women are women".
This is because you've read Pat Califia, Michel Foucalt, Susan Sontag, and
Erica Jong. Maybe you have a Masters in Queer Studies and wrote your
thesis on something like "A Hagiography of Ontological Semantics in 18th
Century Metaphysical Gender Identities".
We have no idea what you're talking about.
What do you mean that sexual identity is different that sexual expression?
Being transgender and being transsexual aren't the same thing?
I think any attempt at explanation or education is doomed from the start.
We smile and nod politely, then go back to wondering if you have a penis.
If you are reading this and you are not trans... this means that you will
NEVER win an argument about gender with a trans person.
So don't even try. They know more and have thought more about the topic
than you ever will. Give up now.
If I was trans and wanted to have a discussion with a non-trans person, I
think I would start with:
"You know I'm trans, right?"
There it is, right on the table. The non-trans person will smile and nod
and say, "Oh, sure. Right. I knew all along."
In reality, they probably had no clue. But my little formulation above
lets the non-trans person in on a Big Secret, and lets them know that it's
not a Big Secret at all... that the trans person is still their friend,
and the two of them are having a friendly discussion about something that
both of them already knew.
In reality, the head of the non-trans person is exploding, and they have a
million questions. They probably feel stupid, like they should have known.
They should have seen the signs. Didn't you mention having a partner? That
should have been a dead giveaway! And then last summer when you went on a
bike ride! Don't transmen love to ride motorcycles? Or is that just
lesbians? And I think I saw a penis in their jeans!
Shit. Now we're thinking about your genitalia. Because people suck.
It's human nature. If a woman tells me that she had breast reduction
surgery, I HAVE to look down at her breasts. If I'm polite, I will grit my
teeth and struggle to maintain eye contact. But at the first opportunity,
I want to look down and decide for myself... how big are they now?
How big do you think they were? I wonder what that must have felt like.
If you were a straight man and said you were shot in the groin, I would
start wondering if anything got blown off. People in wheelchairs are asked
if they have any sensation "below the waist" but we all know what the
questioner is asking. Human beings are sexual creatures, and we want to
know about other people's junk. Even if we're too polite to talk about it,
that's what we're wondering.
Maybe after coming out as trans, you should follow it up with something
like, "But I still have a penis." Because unspoken or not, that's what
we're thinking. But then, we'll be wondering why you haven't had surgery
yet, so that's not a good solution, either. So please ignore any advice
I’m giving here.
To be charitable, non-trans people aren't really nosy... they don't really
care if you are sexually active or not. They're just trying to make
conversation, and if they've never talked to a trans person before, they
pretty much only have two questions: are you a man or a woman? And do you
have a dick. That's the complete extent of everything they've thought
about the topic, and after those two questions are covered, they are
Maybe you could throw the non-trans person a bone and say, "Could you
tell?" Because that's probably their next thought. Because you know that
none of this has to do with YOU. To a non-trans person your coming out,
your transitioning, your identity has everything to do with THEM. How you
will affect their workplace, their family, their kids. Unless you are a
close friend or relative to them, they don't really care. You are just an
anecdote to them... a little story they can share with their husband of
wife later. "Guess who I ran into today? And guess what I found out?"
I'm being deliberately flip here. I apologize if I'm trying to be funny
and failing horribly. I can imagine what it's like to be gossiped about...
to have your history and process of self-acceptance turned into an
anecdote. But gay men are bitchy. But unless you are coming out to
an easily-offended religious fundamentalist, I think to most
listeners, the fact you are trans is about as interesting as if you told
them you were Mormon, or into bingo, or have an artificial leg.
If they are religious, they will react as if you just told them you were a
Satanist or a shoplifter. But to everyone else, it's a personality quirk and
People don't care. And in return, I think most transpeople don't care what
people think either. That's a fallacy of the majority: for example,
straight people think that Proposition 8 was about the gay community
asking for acceptance. Nothing could be further from the truth. As long as
I get complete legal rights as a gay man, I couldn't care less what the
nosy neighbor down the block thinks of me.
I think one of the hallmarks of a civilized society is that we all have
strong opinions, but people don't really care what everyone else thinks,
and long as everyone acts with mutual respect and boundaries.
At least that's what I think... if that's ok.