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.

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Why I Don’t Care If You Knew Me In High School 

TLDR: I’ve changed.

I am now in my third and final year of a Creative Arts degree. Most of the time, I love it. When I don’t, it’s usually because of other people. Recently, it’s been because someone I knew in high school recognised me and said hello. I’ve spent the last three years distancing myself from high school and who I was then as much as I could, so to say it was a rude shock that she recognised me would be accurate.

I’ve deleted old accounts, old photos and posts, old memories, but I can’t delete people. And I can’t delete the version of myself that exists in those peoples’ minds. As a control freak, this is difficult to accept. But when I started having nightmares about my high school days, often featuring the girl who recognised me, I realised that I haven’t moved on. I’m still upset about my high school experience. 

At the time I wouldn’t have said I was unhappy. But remembering high school now is one of the most emotionally painful things I’ve ever done. Anyone who’s only known me for a year or two would be surprised to learn how feminine I was. I desperately wanted to prove, to myself as much as to others, that I could be normal. I literally ignored my sexuality for years because it was easier to not deal with it. It’s one of my biggest regrets. I can’t help but wonder if, had I come out as “lesbian” (although I now identify as pansexual most certainly not female) if I could have fast tracked the conclusion that I was trans. Because I had only been openly out for a few months, and actively participating in the queer community, when I learnt about gender fluidity, and was captured by it. It took so little to convince me that this was who I was, that I’m left wondering, “if only I had allowed this to happen sooner.” 

There’s no point wallowing in this. I wore dresses, grew my hair out, owned so many shoes, all in a desperate attempt to fit in, and I’m not going to get anything out of ruminating on it. Maybe it’s what’s left me addicted to shaving my head; maybe it’s why I’m so averse to the colour pink now; and it might be why I haven’t bought a new pair of shoes in nearly two years. But I’m so happy with who I am now, despite my flaws. They’re flaws that are actually mine, not ones forced upon me by a community who didn’t know how to accept me. 

The person I was in high school just doesn’t exist anymore. I killed her. But he’s so happy now. 

“Oh, so you’re trans now?” 

Yeah, for a long time now actually.

I’ve been trans for a long time. Just because I haven’t always been comfortable or open about it doesn’t change the fact that I am trans now and that I see my past experiences as trans experiences. The idea that any one person can police anyone’s presentation or identity is ludicrous at best, and usually pretty harmful. Especially when these sentiments are shared with people who you look up to, or even those you see as equals. The people we’re close to dictate how we think and feel, to an extent. So when someone starts policing someone else’s identity it gives the people around them the idea that this is OK, when it’s not.

I’m not trans “now”, like it’s something that just happened overnight. I’m not queer because I just decided to be one day. It’s way more complicated than that, and quite frankly, if you’re the kind of person to say “oh, she’s trans now”, I’m not likely to share much with you anyway. I make an actual effort to surround myself with people who at the very least sympathise with what I’ve been through. People who assume that being gay is as easy as flipping a switch in my mind usually aren’t high on my list. 

There are so many examples of language being cissexist. This is just one that was bothering me today. Because that question is only being asked now, since I’ve started making an effort to medically transition; as if coming out and being out before actively seeking medical advice meant I wasn’t trans enough. It’s a weird misunderstanding I’ve heard cis people having: they think “trans” stands for “transition”, “transitioning”, or “transitioned”. Which doesn’t really make sense, if you actually listen to trans people for more than the two minutes of average representation we tend to get in popular media. 

It’s weird and uncomfortable that cis people don’t necessarily see transgender people as valid until they’ve transitioned, how they see transitioning as the key to a trans person’s happiness. And sure, it does make a lot of trans people happy to transition in some way, but really transitioning is such a broad range of things, from changing your name, to dressing differently, to hormones or surgery, or even just dressing, speaking, and presenting exactly the same as one did before “coming out” because gender is a construct and presentation doesn’t have to align with societal norms. 

Anyway, that’s just what was bothering me this week. It’s been on my mind especially with my own medical transition approaching; I’ll be starting HRT within the month, and I feel like a kid waiting for Christmas. Except with uni assignments due and political arguments with myself going on in my head. 

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.