So, here I am falling into another terrible blogger cliche, and using the age-old internet crutch: the list article. There are all kinds of wonderful lists about things you shouldn’t say to trans people. Like this one from Matt Kailey at Tranifesto, and this one from Justin Cascio at One in Six Trans Men. But those are general, all purpose, “these are the things that make you look like a total asshole” lists…this is an area that I don’t think has been covered very much. While the medical part of transition can go on for years and years (depending on hormones, surgical choices, etc), there comes a point relatively quickly where the rest of transition is essentially complete. For me, that point really hit when my name change occurred. I was already living full-time at that point, and it really marked the point where the bulk of the “journey” portion of transition was over. When that point hits, it’s time to think about how you approach certain conversational topics with your trans friend(s), as the reality of the situation is often rather different than it as a few months (or a year or two) before.For those of you who have been awesome enough to stick by a trans friend through transition, or who met a new friend during an early stage of transition, the evolution of conversation can be difficult once they reach what I tend to call “post-transition”. Sometimes things that really were supportive and helpful early on start to feel a little overwrought or repetitive as time goes on. So, with that in mind, here are 5 things you should definitely stop doing to your post-transition trans friends:
1. Stop introducing them as, or referring to them as your “trans*” friend. I know…when it’s early in transition, and we’re either not feeling terribly confident about our appearance or having difficulty “blending in”, it can feel necessary to give people a heads-up to avoid potential awkwardness. It’s still not exactly a great thing to do to even then, but I’ll give it a bit of a pass. But seriously, let go once things are settled down! I know it can feel like you’re embracing their identity and demonstrating your support by talking about (or introducing) them as your “totally awesome trans* friend,” but it’s kinda like introducing someone as your “totally awesome circumcised friend.” You’re sharing private information about our genitals to a stranger. Not everyone in the world needs to know that we’re trans, and it really should be our decision when and how we disclose it.
2. Stop asking about “how things are going with the whole [transition/hormone/etc] thing” every time you see us. Again, this is one of those things that I know you probably feel is being really supportive. But we reach a point where we get tired of talking about transition-related stuff every time we see friends. It starts to feel like it’s biggest thing our friends see about us (which I’m sure it actually isn’t, but still). Once someone is living full-time and on hormones, there’s usually not a ton of day-to-day (or even month-to- month) news. Do you really want to hear “well, I think my breasts grew like a millimeter or two, and I have like 3% less body hair” every time we talk?
3. Stop telling us how brave you think we are for transitioning every time you see us. Honestly, it’d be nice if people would give this up after the initial “coming out” conversation. Once again, I KNOW this meant to convey support, but I’ll be perfectly honest…I don’t generally think of myself as brave. I think of myself as doing what I had to do to survive, and I’ve had other trans people echo this sentiment. I understand that from the outside, you might see it as a very brave act. I think it’s a perfectly fine (and often encouraging) sentiment to express right after someone comes out. But when it happens half a dozen (or more) times, it starts to feel like (for me at least) like I’m battling something like cancer. In any case, it’s definitely not something you need to declare every time you see us.
4. Stop commenting about “how far we’ve come along.” And definitely stop giving them a serious appraising look every time you see them. This is especially the case if you’re saying things like “Gosh, you look just like a real girl!” I know that personally, this makes me feel like I’m being examined and scrutinized, which is absolutely panic-inducing. Plus, it has a subtle hint to it that you previously thought they looked badly (or at least worse than they do now). It’s much better to let us point out the changes we’re excited about (if there are any) than to suggest that you were examining them looking for the changes that might have occurred.
5. Stop asking us what the “next step” is in our transition. This is one of those things that I think people say in order to demonstrate that they’re interested in this big thing going on in our lives. But for a lot of us, once the metaphorical dust has settled (i.e. we’re living full-time, our names are changed, etc), it’s just kind of…life. We might not be taking any more “steps” at all, or any other steps might be a long way off. In either case, it can make us feel a bit like “crikey, isn’t this enough?”. The early stages of social and medical transition are a whirlwind of change and process, and once we get through, we’re often burned out on thinking/talking about the process itself. Again, let US broach this subject if there is, indeed, a next step coming up for us.
So you’re saying “Shit, I’m so used to talking about the gender/transition stuff…now what do I talk about?” If you have a brain fart about what else to say/do in place of the above, try one of the following:
1. Tell them they look amazing (without qualifiers). By this I mean not “You look amazing for someone born a man!” or “You look so good for a trans woman!” and so on. Just give a sincere, unqualified compliment (i.e. “Wow, you look fantastic!” or “Gosh, your hair is gorgeous!”). It’s a nice little boost to our confidence without reminders that you’re thinking about our gender identity.
2. Ask them about something new or exciting in their lives not related to transition. Did your friend start a new job recently? Meet a new partner? Get a new cat? Finish a degree? Take a Hawaiian vacation? Take up the art of blind-folded flower arranging? They’re your friend, so hopefully you know about SOMETHING in their lives other than the fact that they’ve been going through transition. Everyone loves the chance to gush about the new thing they’re excited about, and it’s a reminder that you see them as a whole person.
3. Give them a genuine, unhesitating gesture of affection. Hugs are good, if you’re the hugging sort. Gentle shoulder touch, friendly punch-in-the-arm, air kisses, or intricate secret-society handshake are also options if they’re the sort of thing you and your friend are comfortable with. I definitely don’t advocate UNWANTED affection of any kind (seriously, they’re your friend…you should know what kinds of friendly affection they find acceptable/unacceptable). The genuine, unhesitating part is important! Even the best, most accepting of allies/friends can get a little weird/uncomfortable about how physical interactions with their trans friends work post-transition, and we can definitely sense that hesitation (or at least I can). Unhesitating affection signals a degree of acceptance that isn’t always easy to express through words.
Final note: This is not the sort of list that is meant to AT ALL belittle or insult the allies of trans people, so please don’t take it the wrong way and send me hate mail. Allies deserve a bajillion thank-yous for standing by us, and there’s zero implication here that doing any of these five things makes you a bad person…it’s just an opportunity to point out some things that can help make better allies (and friends).