There are some questions that come up again and again if you are trans. A few of those questions are terrible, but most of them are well-intentioned. I’m lucky to have a supportive community around me, so I thought I’d write down my most common answers to help ease your stress about getting it right, and ease my stress about answering the same questions over and over.
These answers are very much my own. I am not attempting to speak for anyone else. If you don’t know how to relate to another trans person, you should talk to them!
If you are interested in queer art more than queer answers, check out my novel: Riding SideSaddle*. It’s totally about transition, and totally not-at-all about transition. It’s about bodies and identities that won’t stay put. I think you might enjoy it.
I heard you shouldn’t ask trans people questions…
You should relate to trans people the same way you relate to other people. Some questions are appropriate, and some aren’t. You already know how to filter what’s appropriate: you do it every day, in millions of different situations. My transness doesn’t change the calculation at all. If we’re really close and talk about everything, you can ask me anything! If we’re not, you can’t.
What should I call you?
Or Mia, if you’re into brevity.
What pronouns should I use?
She, her, and hers.
Or they, if you’re into ambiguity.
How do I refer to you in the past?
See above. My name is Miriam, and I use she/her pronouns. That name and those pronouns can be used for any time period, because they refer to me, not my age or presentation-at-the-time.
If you went by “Johnny” as a child, but now you go by “John”, and maybe you used your middle name for a few years in High School, I don’t need to adjust for the exact time period I’m talking about — I can just use your name. Your name is John. Remember when John was a kid?
Unless my dead name is specifically relevant to the conversation (it usually isn’t), there is no need to use it or mention it. Even if you are quoting someone in the past, it won’t ruin the story to use my current name — it will just make things more clear. Who are you talking about? Miriam. Oh, I know her. She’s right here.
You are probably paraphrasing already, because your memory isn’t that good. What’s one more editorial adjustment going to hurt?
If my dead name is relevant, just make sure you aren’t outing me. You might not notice, but even when people are well-meaning, they treat me differently once I’ve been outed.* If they’re not well meaning, I could be in real danger.
I’m very public, and usually happy to be out, but not in every situation, and not when I’m outed by someone else.
* See Julia Serano’s concept of “ungendering” trans people — seaking out any physical/habitual traits that might “prove” their “real” gender. I can’t find a good link…
But I have fond/terrible memories of E—
Those are memories of me, and my name is Miriam. I was not a different person then. I haven’t transtioned lives, I’ve only transitioned what you call me.
When I say “I’m transitioning” I mostly mean “I’m teaching you to see me”.
What if I get your name or pronoun wrong?
If you slip up, you may feel nervous or upset with yourself. I’m not thinking about you — I’m feeling guilty, sad, and worried about what’s going to happen next.
- Best case scenario, you correct yourself and move on.
- Hopefully you’ll slip the correct name/pronoun into the conversation asap.
- You can apologize later, but I’d rather you just get it right the next time. The sooner the better.
- Please don’t make a big fuss about it, especially in a group setting.
Pronouns can be hard if you’ve never had to think about them before. Most people use them without even noticing. Pronouns are instinct, and if you’re not paying attention to them, you’ll get them wrong without even realizing it.
So it’s time for everyone to start practicing. Make an effort to notice every pronoun you ever use. It takes some work, but it’s worth the effort. Once you are paying attention, it’s much easier to adjust from one situation to the next.
Should I update my old blog post or website that mentions you?
Probably. I’d love for you to update my name anywhere you can. I’m not scouring the interwebs to find every instance, but I might ask you to update my name if I see it. Not because any mention of my past, but because it’s confusing to refer to a person by a name they don’t use.
What about this old photo I have?
If you have a headshot of me before I started transtion, please replace it with a recent headshot. You can find one on my about page.
If you have a photo of us together, or me in some specific context (like at a conference), leave it up. I don’t love old pictures of me, but who does? That was me, and I’m not interested in losing all proof of my existence before 2015. It’s a trade-off I’m happy to live with.
Many trans people will want to remove all old photos, and they have very good reasons for it. If you know someone else transitioning, don’t assume my answer is true for them — ask!
Can I be a helpful friend/ally?
- If you hear someone misgender or deadname me in person, use my correct name and pronouns as soon as you can. It will help them remember without making a fuss, and it will help me relax.
- Again, if I’m around, try not to make a big fuss. You can pull them aside later if you have to.
- If you see an old site/post that needs updating, feel free to contact the author and point them here.
- If we’re in a group with people I’m not out to, or you aren’t sure, don’t out me.
If you’ve known me for a long time, you might have a hard time updating your perception of me. You might think other people see the same thing you do. They don’t. Most people I meet never question my gender. Learn to see me like those people.
You should also feel free to share this post, or point people to it, if you find it helpful. I posted it on the internet for anyone to read.
What trans terms should I use, and where can I learn more?
If you are interested in the specific meanings and political debates around trans terminology, I recommend starting with Julia Serano’s extensive writing on the topic. I recommend everything Julia has written, especially her first book: Whipping Girl. You can also read Jennifer Boylan, Kate Bornstein, and Janet Mock, to list a few popular ones. Books and articles by cis people, about transgender people, should be taken with salt or avoided entirely.
I call myself trans, transgender, or a trans woman. I’m also gender-queer, non-binary, and a bunch of other good words. I’m transsexual, but that one feels like a medical term — similar to using “females” when you mean women. You can probably just call me a woman.
Some people like to differentiate between “sex” and “gender” — as though one is biology and the other is identity. Don’t bother. Biology and identity are deeply intertwined, and neither of them is binary. There is only gender, and it is always a rough approximation of a million different factors: social, biological, and experienced.
Sex is something else entirely, and I recommend it, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Stay safe, kids.