Miriam: A How-To Guide

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.

If you do have appropriate questions, I’d love to talk! Some questions are better in person, but I’m always hanging out on Twitter as well, and I have a nifty contact form if you need it.

What should I call you?

Miriam.

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.

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?

You can!

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.

18 ‘transition’ episodes

2019

2018

Rejecting Maleness @ Journal of Mennonite Writing

The Journal of Mennonite Writing asked me to submit for their queer issue. I don’t identify as Mennonite, but I did grow up in the church, so I asked my friends what to write about. They suggested the common question: In a world without rigid gender roles, would anyone need to be trans?

Chosen Family (Thank You)

Yesterday, I shared an article about my impending surgery, and a request for help – both social and financial – as I go through this. I was embarrassed to ask, and not sure what to expect, but your response has been swift and overwhelming. I can’t thank you enough, but I’ll keep trying.

Mia’s Medical Upgrade

Denver Health has started offering vaginoplasty in addition to their other trans medical services. While I’ve been on the waitlist for various surgeons around the country, Denver Health called me this week to give me a date: September 10, less than two months away.

Speaking of Pride @ Invisible City

| Denver, CO

Minimalist music with fragments of memoir

Speaking of PrideGLBT Community Center

| Denver, CO

Minimalist music with fragments of memoir

Speaking of Pride @ Denver Public Library

| Denver, CO

Minimalist music with fragments of memoir

2017

Sex, Love, & RomancePS I Love You

“I don’t have many guy friends, but my guitarist is one. Parting, I lean in for the cheek-kiss but he plants a good one right on my lips.”

(Mis)Gender

At the family vacation in Moab, everyone is doing their best. It’s not enough, and my day is peppered with the wrong name and pronouns. I hide in my room through dinner so they won’t see me crying.

Shifting Nouns @ Twined Fragments

“I’ve seen myself in the mirror. I find me… disorienting. What do they see that I don’t? Why aren’t they laughing at me?”

Mothers, Fathers, Husbands, Wives @ Twined Fragments

“Mother finds me at her wardrobe, in her pumps and pearls. What are you doing? Being a mommy. Are you, then? She clips on the earrings (they pinch!), reaches for her lipstick.”

Body & Gender Fragments

I wasn’t born in the wrong body. I was born, a body. Without my body, I don’t exist.

2016

Some Clarifications on Trans Language

There’s a lot of language that gets thrown around, but much of it comes loaded with over-simplified baggage and misconceptions. Here are a few that have been on my mind – from gender identity to biological sex, transition, passing, and visibility.

Miriam: A How-To Guide