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Allies of Trans* People: Questions, Comments and Language

by @AMusicalSilence

⚠Trigger warning - offensive and possible dysphoria-inducing language

Hello hello smiley

Thought I'd throw together a bit of a list for our wonderful allies, of things which are and are not generally appropriate to ask or say to somebody who comes out to you as trans. Please do add your own comments, thoughts or corrections!

yes Do ask 

"How can I best support you?"

"Is there anything that makes you uncomfortable that I should avoid talking about or doing with you?" For example, I struggled massively with hugs from friends before I had a good binder, so some people might prefer not to be touched in certain ways, or could find some topics of conversation difficult.

"What would you like me to call you?"

"What pronouns do you use?"

"Would you please correct me if I slip up?" This is quite a good one to ask because a lot of people feel awkward and uncomfortable about correcting people, so it could be comforting to know that you genuinely want to get it right and wouldn't be irritated or defensive if we were to correct you.

"Would you like me to correct people if I notice them misgendering you or using the wrong name?"

"If somebody asks me about your identity, what should I say?" 

"Would you like all this information to remain confidential? Is there anybody you would like me to tell for you?" Of course, outing should be avoided but if there is anyone they'd like you to tell, discuss with them what should be said to avoid any misunderstandings. Obviously you don't have to ask if they want you to tell anyone, but say you're a teen and they visit your house regularly, it might be easier and more comfortable if you explain to your parents.

no Don't ask

"When did you decide to be trans?" Around the same age you decided to be cis.

"How do you know you're trans?" 

"What awful thing happened to you that caused you to be trans?"  

"Why are you doing this?" 

"Have you had the surgery?"

"(When) Are you going to have surgery?"

There are numerous surgeries a trans person may choose to undergo, some will want a couple, others won't want any, and some may want to but cannot afford to - that doesn't make their identity any less valid. Additionally, these are extremely personal and invasive questions and not really something you need to know the answer to unless you're intimately involved or likely to be taking care of the individual during their recovery.

"Are you pleased with the results? Can I see?" Of course this will be different for everyone and depend on how close you are with the individual, but how many times have to had people come up to you and say "So, are you pleased with how your ***** turned out since puberty? Can I see before and after pics?"

"So which bathroom do you use?"

"Does everything work? / Aren't you afraid it won't work?" (referring to SRS/GCS)

"How do you have sex?" How do you have sex? No, wait, actually you can keep that to yourself thanks!

"Do you still masturbate?" Firstly, not everybody is sexual, secondly... why is this question important to you?

"Are you sure? Aren't you worried you'll change your mind?" Chances are, whoever's coming out to you has spent a hell of a long time thinking about all of this, worrying about the possibility that it may be a phase and how people would react if that were the case. They'll probably be telling you this because they've found the confidence that this is who they are. If you're honestly concerned and feel like you need to say anything, it'd be better to say "I will support you no matter what."

"Are you pleased with your decision?" This is something I keep getting asked and it always baffles me. Am I pleased with my decision to transition? Well, obviously I'm relieved - it's a necessity for me.   

"Have you noticed any changes?" (Referring to HRT) Some people may of course appreciate your interest or care, but it's another very personal question which I'd suggest avoiding unless they bring it up themselves.

yes Do say

"Thank you for trusting me enough to tell me"

"I don't really understand, but I want to support you as best I can - are there any particular resources you would reccommend?"

"This doesn't change how much I care about you"

no Don't say

"I support you, but I'm going to keep calling you..." 

"I support you, but I think you're making the wrong decision."

"I support you, but I think it's all a massive fad."

"I support you, but..." As soon as you add "but" to that statement, it basically translates to "I don't support you." The same goes for if you tell one trans person you support them, and then invalidate the identity of another trans person.

"Why don't you just be gay instead? It's be so much easier." Unfortunately, friend, it doesn't quite work like that. Sexuality is about who you sleep with, gender identity is about who you sleep as.

"Cool, where do you perform?" Hmm. Switch off Ru Paul for a moment, grab a cuppa, we need to take things back to basics...

"I don't believe you" 

"You're just confused"

"You're just attention seeking" 

"It's too hard switching pronouns, I'll just stick with these ones" Really? I mean, it's understandable that it'd take a while to get used to, but I'll bet you switch pronouns for somebodys dog once the owner tells you you'd got it wrong... Why not pay that same respect to a human being?

"Sure but I'll always see you as..." Cool, well I guess I'll always see you as a *ahem* 

"Oh... :( but you're such a pretty/handsome girl/guy" That's certainly one way to give their dysphoria a boost!

"You don't look trans" 

"You look good for a trans person"

"OMG I'd never have guessed"

"You pass SO well"

"You look so convincing"

"You look like a real man/woman"

"I think you're attractive even though you're transgender"

This kind of comment, although maybe intended as a complement, is very insensitive - they may give the impression that trans people all look a certain way, that it's unusual for trans people to be attractive, or that they're trying to trick people into believing that they're cis, making out that being trans is negative.

"What's your real name? No, like your real name, the one you got when you were born" A persons real name is whatever they tell you it is. I don't know about you but I can't think of a single good reason why you would need to know their birth name.

"You would pass better if you just ____" Oh deary deary me... Sure you may be trying to help, but people will present in the way they feel most comfortable. Unless they specifically ask your advice, they probably have no desire to know what other people think.

"Oh, I know a guy who's into that - I'll give him your number" Oh GOD NO. Stop. We are not here to have our bodies - the things that cause many of us the most distress - fetishised and objectified by you. 


"Transgenders / A transgender" Transgender is an adjective - you wouldn't look at a basketball team and say "Look at that group of talls!" or at a black person and say "Look! A black" - leaving person/man/woman off the end can feel very dehumanising.

"Transgendered" Again, transgender is an adjective, and it's not something that happened to us - it's just how we are. 

"Crossdresser" Completely different from being trans - people who crossdress still identify as their assigned gender (unless of course they're also trans) and so do not experience the dysphoria that transgender people do. Crossdressing is generally something done for pleasure.

"Transvestite" Synonymous with crossdresser, though this term is outdated. Both terms are offensive and inapplicable to transgender people.

"Drag Queen/King" Similar to crossdressers, these are people who perform as the opposite sex for pleasure - they do not experience gender dysphoria (again, unless they also happen to be trans)

"Tr*nny" No thank you. Some trans people might use the word themselves, to reclaim it, and if you're particularly close to somebody who is trans you might use it with them in a banterous way... But to many it remains extremely offensive and shouldn't be used. Similarly, "Chick with a ****", "shemale", "he-she" (etc.) should not be used in any circumstances.

"Sex-change" This is an insensitive and outdated term. If for any reason you do have to discuss surgery, this kind of surgery should be referred to as sexual reassignment surgery (SRS) or gender conformation surgery (GCS), otherwise you can refer to somebody simply as having transitioned - there's rarely the need to talk about the medical side.

More on terms here

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