NOTE: These were compiled directly from followers on my Instagram. If these do not resonate with you and you are comfortable being asked these things, that’s great!
But I offer a soft reminder that just because you are comfortable answering these questions does NOT mean that everyone else should also be.
Having the emotional space & grounding & energy to answer these questions is a privilege that not everyone holds. Though I personally am comfortable answering many of these, my comfort and personal privilege of energy & grounding does not mean that people should ask these questions, nor does it mean that all trans people must answer them!
For Things NOT to say to Queer People, visit this page.
And without further ado, Things NOT to say to Trans People:
“You don’t LOOK transgender!” or “I never would have known!”
‘Transgender’ is not a look; it is an identity. There is no one way to “look” transgender. The misconception that you will always be able to “tell” when a person is transgender is misguided at best and toxic at worst. Trans people don’t look a certain way. Trans people are just people.
“You pass so well!”
Many people perceive this to be a compliment, but it is backhanded. This is the same as saying: “You fit MY box of man/womanhood – yay!” This is not appropriate or kind. It says: it’s not okay to look transgender. Our identities & presentation are not about you or your opinion of us. This statement also perpetuates the belief that gender expression always equals gender identity which is false!
“What were you born as?”
You don’t need to know what gender anyone was assigned at birth to respect and interact with them! This is an unnecessary and invasive question.
Additionally, the wording of this question implies that trans people have changed gender when we come out, but in reality we have just affirmed our true gender. That is, I am a boy, and I have always been. I just haven’t always had the resources, courage, and language to declare so. So I was not “born a girl,” I was assigned female at birth.
“What’s your REAL name?”
The names we use are our ‘real.’ If you are a must know someone’s name for legal purposes, make that clear; e.g. “Because we must interact with your insurance company, I must ask you what your legal name is. I know this can be painful, so I apologize for this discomfort. If you’d like to write it down instead of speaking it, that’s totally fine.”
“What was your name before / birthname?”
For trans folks, names given at or before birth are called “deadnames.” Calling a trans person a deadname is called “deadnaming.” Don’t ask for or use anyone’s deadname. You don’t need to know their deadname in order to interact with them. Deadnames can often drag forth a great deal of trauma for trans folks and be very painful to even say aloud.
“You’re so attractive for a transgender person.” or “But why are you more attractive than me?? That’s so unfair!”
Trans people are not inherently less attractive than cis people. The belief that we are somehow lesser than cis people is not only inaccurate but very harmful and transphobic. Don’t add “for a trans person” to a compliment. If you feel the need to do so, ask yourself why. Most likely you’re working with some implicit bias against trans people. Unpack this!
“Did you get THE surgery?”
Asking a trans person if they’ve gotten “the surgery,” is the same as asking what their genitals look like which is strange, invasive, inappropriate, and irrelevant. Also, there is also no such thing as the surgery. There are at least 14 surgeries trans folks can get.
“Are you going to do the FULL / COMPLETE / WHOLE transition?”
There is no one way to transition. Everyone’s transition is different. Also, it is no secret to us trans folks that asking us if we’ll get the “full” transition is you asking us what’s in our pants. See next slide for why asking us what’s in our pants is not okay.
“What surgeries are you going to have?” or “Are you on / will you take hormones?” or “Do you still have a vagina/penis?” or any other question about our body parts and genitals.
These are all incredibly invasive, and irrelevant to most if not all interactions with someone. That is, if you don’t ask strangers to provide their medical history to you, you shouldn’t ask a trans person. If you don’t ask strangers what their penises or clitorises look like then you shouldn’t ask a trans person. If you do ask strangers this, you might want to reassess your priorities.
I believe this applies to romantic interactions as well. You don’t walk up to someone, pull their pants down, inspect their genitalia, and then fall in love with them. Usually you start by asking them if and where they’d like to go to dinner.
“When did you CHOOSE / DECIDE to be transgender?”
Being transgender is not something that anyone decided or chose. Someone can decide to come out. Someone can choose* to transition. But being transgender itself is an identity. No one has to do anything to be transgender. Nothing happened to make someone trans. Someone just is transgender.
*NOTE: Though there is volition in transition, for many trans folks, transitioning does not feel like a “choice.” Transition often feels necessary to live.
“This is so hard for ME.” or “I’m just so used to your deadname / other pronouns so it’s hard to change.”
Although none of this is about you, it is allowed to feel hard for you. That feeling is valid. Feelings are always valid. Actions because of those feelings are NOT always valid. That is, just because a task is hard does not mean you shouldn’t do it. You absolutely can, and should, do hard things – while recognizing that mistakes do happen. It’s how you deal with them that matters. Apologize & correct yourself. Remember that habit and history are not excuses. Habit and history can most certainly explain difficulty & reflex, but as time progresses, tolerance for mistakes decreases – and rightly so.
Read more at pinkmantaray.com/pronouns
“But you were such a pretty girl/handsome man!” or “Why are you destroying your man/womanhood?” or “You’re ruining your body.”
My transition is NOT to make others comfortable or happy, to fit into others’ standards of manhood, to be attractive in the eyes of others, to be beautiful in the eyes of others, or to garner approval of my beauty (bye, trolls). My transition IS for MY happiness, for MY congruence, for MY peace; for ME.
“Can I see a before picture?”
No one owes you photos of their journey to arrive in front of you today. Not only can this feel invasive and painful – many trans folks do not like looking at old pictures of themselves because this brings back trauma and dysphoria – but it also can be very reductive of our humanity. Trans folks’ journeys are often especially sensationalized through our images. But trans people are not just a shocking transformation. We are not girl-then-boy, or boy-then-girl. We have not changed genders; we have shifted our presentations to match our true gender. That is, we are people with rich stories and history. We are not a before-and-after. We are all a during and during.
“Well are you biologically female/male?”
First, our biology and anatomy is none of your business. It’s no secret to us then when folks ask us this, they’re truly asking what’s in our pants. Which is the same as asking us, “What do your genitals look like?” Which is weird, inappropriate, and irrelevant.
Second, keep in mind that biology is not actually binary as many of us were taught in grade school! Check out pinkmantaray.com/sex for a quick biology lesson. In summary, there are actually five main components of biological sex: chromosomes, hormones, hormone expression, internal genitalia, and external genitalia.
“The Bible says transgender people are an abomination.”
No, it does not. There is, quite literally, NO mention of transgender people in the Bible!
The bible does, however, say to love your neighbor as yourself over 100 times in 100 different verses (Romans 13:8-10, Leviticus 19:18, Mark 12:31, and many more.)
The bible also talks about compassion in 14+ versus, saying that we should “clothe [ourselves] with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience,” (Psalm 112:3-5). Nowhere does it say you should hate or discriminate against transgender people. If you are using the Bible to justify your hatred of trans people you are not only inaccurate but also disrespectful.
“God doesn’t love you.” or “You’re going to hell.”
Although I do not consider myself religious, I do NOT hate Christianity or religion. I hate when people use it to fuel or justify their hate.
I also believe Jesus existed. It seems clear that he was a very good person who effected radical change in the world.
And Jesus’s message was love. Was compassion. That is also clear. I absolutely aspire to practice and hold the values that Jesus did. Integrity, hope, forgiveness, peace-giving, generosity, compassion, and love. I wish these values (not Religion, necessarily) on everyone.
“You’re just going through a phase / confused.” or “Well it’s just trendy.”
Being LGBTQ+ is almost never a phase. People are not gay or trans or bi because ”it’s cool,” or “a trend.” Being LGBTQ+ in this world is often very difficult and many queer folks I know spent years trying desperately to be straight or cis to avoid the pain and discrimination we experience. We don’t come out because it’s trendy or we’re screwing around, we declare our identities as survival.
“You’re too masculine/feminine.” or “You’re too tall/short.” or “Your voice is too high/low.”
Our bodies are not for you to judge. No one’s bodies are. Let’s move away from this culture of body shaming, body judging, body-focusing. Remember that everyone – including trans people – is more than their body. Don’t reduce trans people to our bodies and how they look to you.
“Have you thought this through?”
Yes. Of course we have.
It is likely we’ve spent months if not years thinking this through, crying ourselves to sleep at night. Our transness is not a whim or an afterthought or a trend. It is not impulsive or poorly thought-through.
“Wait… aren’t you just gay?”
Gender identity is not the same as sexual orientation. For simplicity’s sake:
Gender identity = who you are,
Sexual orientation = to whom you are attracted.
Most often, when someone transitions, sexuality does not shift*. However, the label for the sexuality might change so that it reflects the person’s true gender identity. For example, I’ve always dated women. Before I transitioned, I called myself gay because I hadn’t realized I was transgender. Since coming out as a trans man, I call myself straight because I am not a woman attracted to women; I am a man attracted to women, and the word we use for that is straight.
*Sometimes sexuality does shift through transition, and often this is because people feel more comfortable expressing themselves and their true sexuality through finding authenticity in transition.
“So I can’t talk to trans people about anything???”
No. If not asking invasive and intensely personal questions to trans people means you cannot talk to us about anything, that is a you problem. You don’t walk to random strangers and ask them about their genitals or their medical history; you don’t question random cishet* strangers’ gender or sexuality. “When did you know you were cisgender? You’re straight, how did you tell your parents??” Because that’s rude and strange. You should have the same respect for trans folks.
A great first line with a trans person is always, “Hi, how are you?” just like with any other person you meet.
*cishet = cisgender + heterosexual (i.e. not queer)