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How To Respect A Transgender Person

Adapted from “How To Respect A Transsexual” by Anonymous, with additional nods to “A Really Awesome Trans Glossary” by erinhoudini, “Why Misgendering Is Bad” by Char and the GLAAD Media Reference Guide.

This page is about trans and non-binary people, i.e. people whose gender identity differs from the sex or gender they were assigned at birth, and for those whose gender expression differs from what is culturally expected of them. This identity may be binary (male or female) or non-binary (genderqueer, gender fluid, third gender, bigender, and others). The term gender, when used below, always means the gender the person identifies as.

Basic Stuff ~ Transition ~ Social Situations
The Nature of GenderTerminology ~ If I Just Came Out


Basic Stuff

  • Accept me as a full-fledged member of the gender I identify as.
  • Always use the language that corresponds to my gender identity, e.g. he/him, she/her, ze/hir, they/them etc., even if my body does not seem to match yet and even when talking about my past. If my gender identity is non-binary or ambiguous, it is more polite to use the gender neutral “they/them”, or to ask what my preferred pronouns are, than to misgender me by using the wrong pronouns.
  • If you are still adjusting, it’s normal to make mistakes. Don’t try to brush it off as inconsequential or become defensive when your error is pointed out. Simply apologize honestly for your mistake, and try to be more aware in the future.
  • If I don’t identify as female, never use female-marked words like girl, waitress, breasts, vagina, etc. to describe anything about me, and vice versa. Always use language that corresponds to my gender. For example, if I am a trans man, I am always a guy and never a girl. Don’t call me “female-bodied”, unless I use that term myself. If I identify as non-binary, try to avoid specifically gender marked words. If you are still concerned about misgendering, ask what would be most appropriate.
  • A trans man is a man. A trans woman is a woman.
  • Gender identity has nothing to do with sexual orientation. Whether I am attracted to men, women, both or neither is a totally separate thing from whether I am male or female. For example, if I am a trans woman who likes women, treat me no differently than any other lesbian woman.
  • Don’t expect me to conform to the stereotypes of my gender. I’ll wear whatever clothes I like and have whatever interests I have. Being masculine or feminine (i.e. having mannerisms or interests that are seen by society as stereotypical of one gender) has nothing to do with identifying as a certain gender. Butch trans people and feminine trans people exist across the gender spectrum, just like they do among non-trans people.
  • For almost all trans people, being trans is not a choice or a decision. It is a simple reality. The only “decision” is whether to accept my situation and fix it to live a healthier life, or deny it and suffer.
  • Never mention my “old name” or ever ask what it was. Instead of saying “back when you were Fred”, say “before you came out”, if you have to speak about it at all.
  • Don’t use my name in the 3rd person as if I was a person separate from myself, e.g. “Are you dressing as Lisa now?”
  • Every person’s journey and ways of relating to their experience and their body is unique. Just because you have encountered/seen a documentary on someone whose experience outwardly resemble mine, do not assume that what goes for them goes for me.
  • I am a person foremost. If you must use the word transgender (or trans), it’s better to use it as an adjective to describe a person, not as a noun onto itself, e.g. “trans people”, “trans folks”, “trans guy”, not “transgenders,” “a transgender” or “transgendered”.
  • When it comes down to it, the matter is very simple: My gender identity is worthy of respect. That’s all!
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Transition

  • Use the word “transition” to describe what changes I am going through or went though.
  • The changes I make to my body are not purely cosmetic, but rather reconstructive. Having a body I am comfortable with is vital to my health and in my social and physical interactions with other people.
  • Don’t openly talk about my genitals any more than you would for a non-trans person, unless I bring up the topic myself.
  • Don’t immediately assume that genital sexual reassignment surgery (SRS) is my priority. Every trans person is unique and chooses different steps during their transition, based on many factors. Not everyone wants, needs or gets SRS.
  • I am not my surgery. My choice to have surgery is a personal one, and does not confirm or negate my gender identity. It is not a standard by which my dedication to my gender identity is measured. Please respect the choices I make in regards to my own body, since I’m the one who has to live in it.
  • Please don’t gender my genitals for me. Many trans people suffer incredible anxiety (or dysphoria) in regards their bodies, and having gender ascribed to their bodies/genitals by someone without their consent can be viewed as violating.
  • If I am a trans man or non-binary person getting top surgery, then I am not “getting my breasts removed”, I am getting a chest reconstruction.
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Social Situations

  • Being transgender is a very personal matter. Treat it with respect.
  • I’m not here to shock anyone or get attention. I am not selfish. I’m just a person like anyone else, and I have a right to be healthy and live in my honest gender.
  • If I blend well (i.e. I “pass”) or if I am online, then don’t tell anyone I am trans without my permission. Just talk about me like any other person, according to my gender identity. No one likes a surprise “outing”, and this is in part for my own personal safety.
  • If I am visibly gender variant, non-binary or ambiguously gendered, please get my permission to educate your friends, e.g. about pronouns, etc. before meeting me in person. This is in part for my own personal safety.
  • Don’t introduce me as your “transgender” friend. Don’t ask me to explain my life story or my gender situation to people I just met.
  • Ask permission before taking a photo of me or before displaying old, pre-transition pictures of me.
  • Don’t call me whenever a documentary about a transgender person is on TV just because I am trans. I already know what being trans is about! Do it only if you already know I am genuinely interested in the subject.
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The Nature of Gender

  • Gender comes from the way our brain, mind and/or soul is configured, not from the body. Chromosomes, hormones, upbringing, etc. do not determine or change a person’s gender.
  • The only person who can know about their gender is themself. No external “clues” can prove or disprove somebody’s true inner gender. Some people knew it their entire lives. Some manage to deny it for a long time. Some always knew there was something different. Some did a lot of soul searching to figure out their proper gender identity and that this was a legitimate medical situation.
  • Don’t call a non-trans person a “real man/woman” or “completely male/female”. This denies a trans person their identity, implying that it is somehow not “real”.
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Terminology

  • This page deals with transgender and non-binary people.
  • The term “transgender” is an umbrella term that includes any and all gender variant people: transsexual people, cross-dressers, drag kings and queens, intersex, genderqueer and bigendered people, and many other types. Be careful when using it. For example, some transsexual people don’t like to be associated with cross-dressers.
  • The short form “trans” can mean either transsexual or transgender. On this page, we use it to mean transgender.
  • The term “tranny” is slang for transsexual or transgender, either as an adjective or noun. Many feel that it is offensive, on par with words like fag, dyke and nigger. As such, many feel that only trans people themselves can reclaim it and use it. In some cities, however, it only means cross-dresser and not transsexual. Use it with much caution, if at all.
  • The term “she-male” is vulgar and never appropriate. It is used by the pornography industry to objectify and fetishize pre-operative trans women.
  • Don’t call it cross-dressing if I am wearing clothes that match my gender. Cross-dressing is if I wear clothes of the opposite gender, e.g. a trans man wearing women’s clothing.
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If I Just Came Out

  • If I have just come out as my properly identified gender, you should use my new name and pronouns with me and with all (and only those people) who know about me, even (and especially!) with people who are still struggling to adjust to my correct gender. Be casual about it. Don’t make a big deal about it.
  • If I haven’t told everyone yet that I am trans, then don’t tell anyone. Outing me to people without my permission can not only cost me friends, family, my home and my job, but put me in physical danger. I will come out when I feel the time is appropriate, and not before.
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This post is a work in progress. If you know of any other information that should be included, please send it to me as an email, and I’ll review it for inclusion. Thanks! <3

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