How To Talk About Trans People

I ran into a family member I don’t see so often a while ago, and with the best of intentions, he stumbled over how to talk about me, my transness, and my transition. It got me thinking about how few people are familiar with how to talk about transgender people. These are people who aren’t trying to be malicious or unfair, but haven’t encountered an opportunity to educate themselves on trans vocab; so here’s a quick lesson.

Gender (not gender identity): I’m starting here because it’s one that really gets to me. Why should cisgender people be allowed to have a gender but I’m only allowed a gender identity? Adding ‘identity’ as a qualifying word is a form of othering trans and GNC people – it’s a way of keeping us separate from everyone else.

Pronouns (not preferred pronouns): for exactly the same reasons as above. I don’t prefer they or he pronouns – they/them and he/his are my pronouns, full stop. It’s not a preference – it’s me asking you for a basic level of respect.

Different gender(s) (not opposite gender): the phrase “opposite gender” stems from a binarist view that there are exactly two genders, which excludes non-binary and gender non-conforming folk. I could likely write a 2000 word essay discussing why it’s usually unnecessary to separate people by gender in any form, but in the case that you really must do so, “different gender” can be used instead.

Menstrual hygiene/products (not feminine hygiene/products): not all women menstruate and some people who aren’t women do. Using terms like “feminine hygiene”, “women’s health”, or “feminine products” (to name a few), not only excludes Assigned Female At Birth (AFAB) trans people who menstruate, it alienates trans women and cis women who don’t menstruate for any reason.

They (not he/she, s/he, he or she etc.): the problem with phrases like “he/she” etc., is again that it excludes people who fall outside of the binary. It’s uncomfortable for non-binary people to feel othered so often by society and phrases like that are a rude reminder that we are not treated or recognised in the same way. It’s actually kind of affirming to run into things, especially official or administrative documents, that use “they” instead of “he/she”. (And there’s another 2000 word essay in there about how it’s sort of pretty sad that I get excited about this kind of inclusive language.)

Before they transitioned (not when he was a she or vice versa): and in the same vein, don’t say when (chosen name) was (birth name)”. Please. I don’t care if the person you’re talking to knows the trans person’s birth name or assigned sex. It’s rude. Unless you have express permission from the person to refer to them by their birth name, just don’t do it. And literally never use the wrong pronouns, even to discuss things they did before their transition. And if the story or discussion isn’t even relevant to their transition or trans identity, you can actually just leave it out. The only time when you should use different pronouns or a birth name for a trans person is if they ask you to, for example if they are not yet “out” to certain people, where it’s about their safety.

On a final note, if you’re ever unsure about how to talk to or about a trans person in your life, ask them. If you approach them in a polite and genuine way, they’ll probably be happy to clear any confusion or explain anything you’re not sure of. These are some basic ground rules to be more trans inclusive in everyday speech and writing, so it’s certainly not exhaustive. But I’d like to think it’s a good start.


Fuck Yoga

Sorry, yoga fans – yoga isn’t the amazing medical miracle that will cure me of anxiety. My medication is.

I can’t remember living without mental illness. I was officially diagnosed with anxiety and depression when I was 19, and in October 2015 I started on SSRIs as treatment, along with regular(ish) counseling sessions offered through my uni for free. As soon as the meds kicked in I noticed that I not only felt more energetic, awake, and not-suicidal, but also that they were treating the anxiety as well. I could make a phone call to people other than my mother. I could approach strangers and ask to pat their dogs. Stammering was a thing of the past. That’s not to say it’s a miracle pill; there were and still are issues with my anxiety. But my medication helped.

You know what didn’t help? The people (with no mental illness or medical training) who would, upon discovering that I had anxiety, recommend three things: yoga, meditation, and a diet change. Now, from a counselor or therapist or psychologist I would listen, consider what they recommended, do my own research on their suggestions and maybe try them out.

But when someone who hardly knows me tells me to do something (keeping in mind I am incredibly stubborn and find it hard to do what I’m told by people I actually like) such as yoga or meditation to cure my ills I want to scream. These are almost always people who’ve never actually suffered from any kind of anxiety or mood disorder, and aren’t trained to give advice on them. They think that me and my mental health team don’t know enough about my particular circumstances and unique experience to work out what will help for me. It’s irritating, ignorant, and kinda disrespectful to suggest to me that I try jogging as if I haven’t already tried physical activity and reported the outcome to a doctor. As if I haven’t made actual plans, constructed to-do lists, made endless appointments, to deal with my illness. Like getting out of bed at sunrise to do yoga and drink a smoothie is going to suddenly stop the anxiety attacks that come daily when I’m in a depressive episode. Or as if meditating every night before bed is going to stop me from having vivid and unsettling nightmares that wake me up in a puddle of sweat. Or perhaps clean eating will stop me from pulling my hair out strand by strand at four in the morning.

Not only is this ignorant of the actual medical advice I’m following, it feels disrespectful. Suggesting to me that I eat healthier, especially when I’m in a bad headspace, actually doesn’t help. When I feel like that, I’m lucky if I’m eating at all. I don’t need someone commenting on how three hashbrowns dipped in tomato sauce isn’t a good meal. I need someone to tell me they’re glad I’m trying. Telling me to exercise definitely doesn’t help, either. All you really tell me when you say “have you tried signing up for the gym?” is that you think I’m physically unhealthy – it usually makes me wonder if I look fat. I already have issues with my body image, and I don’t need more self-esteem problems from a well-meaning but clueless suggestion.

The idea that these ‘natural’ treatments could be more effective than taking the medication that offsets the chemical imbalance in my brain is laughable, to say the least. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking medications for mental illness. My brain doesn’t produce enough serotonin; my medication supplements it. It’s been over a year and a half since I started on Sertraline, and both my counselor and my GP have told me more than once that I’ve improved immensely. There are a lot of ways to treat mental illness. And there’s a reason that yoga isn’t at the top of that list.

I Fell Off My Name

Aside from being a nice song by American indie band Faded Paper Figures, ‘I Fell Off My Name’ is an accurate descriptor of the last six to twelve months of my life.

I spent a very long time thinking about my name. Why it worked; why it didn’t. What would fit better or what wouldn’t fit at all.oleander-32779_1280

It’s strange that we just make noises and people recognise them as being ‘theirs’. And that some noises belong to more people than others. Language in general is strange. Names are tricky.

I have to respect my parents for naming six children. I couldn’t do that. It took me a year to name myself. And who knows me better than me?

I’m twenty-one now, and only just becoming the someone I wanted to be when I was four. Coming out as non-binary helped hugely, but something was still bothering me, and it took me a while to work out that it was my birth name. It felt uncomfortably feminine on me. It took me even longer to find a name that I 1) liked enough to hear every day for the rest of my life; 2) felt like it could realistically be me, and 3) that my friends thought suited me.

I chose Oleander (Oli for short) because, after so much thinking I never want to think again, I kept landing back on lists of floral and plant based names. I’ve always liked flowers. I’m getting a floral tattoo soon. My phone and laptop backgrounds are floral prints. My favourite items of clothing usually have a floral print on them. I used to (and sometimes still do) steal pretty flowers from strangers’ gardens so that I can look at them for longer. And unlike Rose or Lavender or Fleur or Pansy, Oleander didn’t have the distinctly feminine feel associated with most plants; at least not for me.

I started using it quietly. I asked my partner to call me Oli. About a week after this, while ordering coffee, the barista asked my name, and having practiced what I was going to say in my head about four hundred times, half-shouted ‘OLI!’. She said, ‘okay…’ and avoided eye contact with me for the rest of the transaction. When she finished my coffee and called out ‘Oli!’ I felt that pure rush of gender euphoria which is still exciting and new to me.

I’m an impatient person. I told my close friends the week after that; a couple of my siblings a few days later. I sent my parents a letter so I wouldn’t break down and cry when I told them.

I’m still becoming Oli, but I know now that I’m on the right path. Whenever someone says Oli my brain goes ‘!!! that’s me!!!”. With every passing day I feel more real, valid, and happy with who I am becoming.