Trans 101

I bring you pretty much every question I’ve ever been asked:

    What pronoun do you prefer?

    What name do you go by?

    How do you identify?

    Are you a transgender?

    What’s a transgender?

    What’s a transsexual?

    What’s a transfag?

    What’s genderqueer?

    When did you know?

    How did you know?

    Do you know that transgendered person?

    What about this other transgendered person?

    How do your parents feel?

    Are you out at work?

    Have you done anything with your chest?

    Have you had the surgery?

    When are you having the surgery?

    What do you need in order to have the surgery?

    Are you on hormones?

    When did you start hormones?

    What do the hormones do?

    Do they change your bone structure?

    Do they make you horny?

    Does testosterone turn you into an asshole?

    Are you angry all the time now?

    Why do you have to change sex to challenge gender roles?

    Why do you have to buy into the gender binary?

    Why can’t you just be a woman?

    Why can’t you just be a masculine woman?

    Why can’t you just be a dyke?

    Why can’t you just be who you are?

    Why do you have to mutilate yourself?

    Why do you hate women so much?

    Why do you hate your body so much?

    Why do you hate yourself so much?

    If you’re not a lesbian, why would you want to be a man?

    What gender were you born with?

    So you used to be a woman?

    So you’re really a woman?

    So you think you’re a man?

    Don’t you know you’ll never function sexually as a man?

    Don’t you know you’ll never be accepted as a man?

    Don’t you know you’ll never be a man?

    So do you have to live as a woman for a certain amount of time before you can take the hormones?

    When did you decide you were a woman?

    Don’t you know you’ll never really be a woman?

    Is it because you had an eating disorder?

    Aren’t you gonna get fat?

    And bald?

    What do you look like?

    Aren’t they dangerous?

    What bathroom do you use?

    How do you go to the bathroom?

    Can you use a urinal?

    Can they give you a penis?

    Can you get a fake penis?

    Do you have a penis?

    If so, how?

    Is it circumcised?

    What do you have down there?

    Can I see?

    Can I touch it?

    Don’t you know how dangerous it is?

    Are you scared?

    Do you like boys or girls?

    Are they straight?

    Are they gay?

    If they have sex with you, they’re bisexual, right?

    When you say you’re, “queer,” what does that mean?

    Did you sleep with men before?

    What was that like?

    What do you tell people?

    How do you date?

    Has that been difficult?

    How do you have sex?

    Can you have an orgasm?

    Who’s gonna have sex with you?

    What woman would have sex with you?

    What gay man would have sex with you?

    When people are attracted to you, does that creep you out?

    What if I said I found you very attractive?

    Are you a boy or a girl?

    Are you a man or a woman?

    Ma’am?

    Sir?

    What are you?

    What the fuck are you?


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38 comments for “Trans 101

  1. February 6, 2006 at 1:04 am

    Sigh.

    Sigh again.

    I was going to pick out which question I found most offensive, but I have to give up-it’s too difficult.

  2. February 6, 2006 at 1:52 am

    Jeanne took the words out of my mouth. Hell, I think that takes the cake for in your face offensive.

  3. February 6, 2006 at 3:27 am

    …so, did you forget to type the answers, or what?

    Just kidding. You know, I don’t get people. I’m reluctant to ask strangers how to get to the bus stop, for crying out loud.

  4. February 6, 2006 at 6:31 am

    Maybe I’m just slow this morning, but some of those questions don’t seem necessarily offensive. Tiresome to respond to, yeah, and maybe out of line if asked by a stranger on the street, but some of them seem genuine. Every LGBT group I’ve ever been to starts with people introducing themselves and mentioning what pronoun they prefer. And questions about hormones and surgery and the effects and requirements thereof definitely don’t seem out of line in some contexts, when they’re well-meant.

    Asking, “what the fuck are you,” on the other hand, is only acceptable at a costume party. (Riding right past the part where we discuss the degree to which life is a costume party, and whether an increased resemblance thereto would be more or less interesting and desirable for all involved, as that’s a longer comment.)

  5. Meredith
    February 6, 2006 at 8:11 am

    …Wow. Just wow. I don’t even know what to say. I would never presume to ask someone questions like that.

  6. February 6, 2006 at 8:34 am

    It’s interesting how so many of those questions weren’t really questions–just judgements in disguise.

  7. three martini breakfast
    February 6, 2006 at 10:02 am

    So is there a “Trans 101” – type post somewhere that someone could point me to? I agree that these questions are offensive and judgmental; however, I also think VCG has a point. Some of us have never (at least knowingly) been around transpeople, and we don’t have the words to participate in a discussion. I honestly don’t know what basic terminology is correct and what is offensive (ie, I’ve picked up that references to “biological” sex are at least sometimes considered offensive, but I don’t know what would be a better way to put it.)

    Of course, sometimes the answer is simply that I have no business asking the question – I do get that these questions are rude and intrusive, and if relative strangers feel comfortable asking them that’s pretty horrifying. But there’s a difference, I think, between asking a rude question of an individual and wanting information about a community. The lack of knowledge in society, and the fact that knowledge seems difficult to access because of the relative scarcity of trans communities (not to mention fear of being an asshole who asks rude questions), can stifle good-faith discussion in forums like this – I’m not likely to try to join in conversations if I can’t even be sure that my basic vocabulary is acceptable.

  8. February 6, 2006 at 10:25 am

    What’s for dinner?

  9. February 6, 2006 at 11:01 am

    TMB:
    Wikipedia’s entry on Trangender
    Transsexual vs. Transgender (read the entire thread)

    If you have an LJ account, the transgender comm might be a good place to get your questions answered. You can also try searching it via google to see if you can find related posts.

    The internet is a wonderful tool, and one that doesn’t mind if you ask it embarassing questions. GLBT communities are a good place to look (and often have FAQs that answer the introductory type questions). If you have channels like Discovery, sometimes you can find really simplistic primers on trans issues, too.

  10. February 6, 2006 at 11:03 am

    tmb –

    for the very most basic Trans101-type stuff, i happen to like this one: http://www.deadletters.biz/studentbasics.html

    and if you’re contemplating a specific term or word (or have a chunk of free time for reading) there’s always the glossary over at TS RoadMap: http://www.tsroadmap.com/start/tgterms.html

    here’s a short and sweet mini-glossary with notes about certain words: http://www.survivorproject.org/basic.html
    it’s been a while since i’ve hunted around for them, but there are a lot of good ones out there. those are a couple that i appreciate.

  11. Carrie
    February 6, 2006 at 11:10 am

    I’ve been lurking for a bit and am attempting to be brave enough to comment! :o)

    I think that expecting members of a group to educate us, us being members not of that group, re-inforces power inequities. We are more powerful than you because we DON’T have to know about you and who you are/what group you belong to. On the other hand, Piny is expected to know pretty much everything about non-trans people…

  12. February 6, 2006 at 11:16 am

    Hmmm. I think some of the questions fall into the “seeking to understand” category.

  13. Sally
    February 6, 2006 at 11:23 am

    I guess. But they also display a healthy dose of entitlement. There’s a presumption that the person being asked has no right to privacy, just because the person doing the asking is curious.

  14. Dianne
    February 6, 2006 at 11:42 am

    piny: Some of the questions struck me as obnoxious, some as clueless, and a few as possibly reasonable in the right context. Then again I have Asperger’s syndrome so what do I know about the appropriateness of any given social interaction? Is there any way to express curiosity about transgenderism and about your experience in particular without being obnoxious or clueless? Is the ability to take “none of your business” for an answer a mitigating factor if one asks an obnoxious question?

  15. Kage
    February 6, 2006 at 11:43 am

    Sure the answers to some of these questions might be interesting, educational even. But they’re still rude.

    The first one re: pronoun preference seems fair enough, but honestly, it’s usually pretty obvious what gender a person identifies with. (in my experience). “What name do you go by” is a bit of a dig, how about “What’s your name?”

    The questions of what various terms mean can be found out for oneself, with a little research.

    The rest of the questions are simply offensive.

    My favourite is : “If you’re not a lesbian, why would you want to be a man?” One day they’ll see the light, that sexuality is not fixed to gender.

    It’s an odd trait, but some think they can ask the most personal questions of someone just because they’re curious. I’m gay, so have encountered such people – on a much lower level. Most people don’t find me all that interesting anymore…

  16. srl
    February 6, 2006 at 11:43 am

    Yes, absolutely.

    I haven’t even been *asked* half of those questions, because people I interact with are mostly Nice Polite Liberals. In a lot of cases, they probably don’t ask because they think they know how I’d answer them, but most of the time I suspect they’re utterly wrong. I’m a genderqueer, and I don’t carry around with me the “standard” “born in the wrong body” narrative that doctors have encouraged trannies to adopt in order to get medical intervention. (Which isn’t to say that some people don’t feel that way; it’s just not me.)

    Internalized transphobia means, among other things, carrying those questions around in your head, waiting for someone else to ask them (because you know on some level that they want to and are just too polite). Ugh.

  17. three martini breakfast
    February 6, 2006 at 12:05 pm

    Tekanji and bex*, thanks for the info – I will definitely take a look at those. Carrie, I see where you’re coming from about an inherent power imbalance in expecting piny, et al. to “educate” “us,” but I also think “we” have a duty to educate our own damn selves somehow, and that can’t be done without asking questions. (I don’t mean to imply in any way that the questions cited in the original post are appropriate.)

  18. piny
    February 6, 2006 at 12:09 pm

    Maybe I’m just slow this morning, but some of those questions don’t seem necessarily offensive. Tiresome to respond to, yeah, and maybe out of line if asked by a stranger on the street, but some of them seem genuine. Every LGBT group I’ve ever been to starts with people introducing themselves and mentioning what pronoun they prefer. And questions about hormones and surgery and the effects and requirements thereof definitely don’t seem out of line in some contexts, when they’re well-meant.

    I didn’t mean to imply that all the questions were offensive. Some of them are necessary; some are intrusive or expected in different situations. I’m trying to parse my understanding of which questions are and are not offensive in which contexts, and this is a preliminary exercise of sorts.

    In what context do you think questions about “hormones and surgery and the effects and requirements thereof” would not be offensive? I’m asking honestly, not rhetorically.

  19. piny
    February 6, 2006 at 12:12 pm

    And some of them are none of the above. These three, for example, have been asked of me by people who heard “transgender” or “transsexual” and assumed I was an mtf.

    So do you have to live as a woman for a certain amount of time before you can take the hormones?

    When did you decide you were a woman?

    Don’t you know you’ll never really be a woman?

  20. Carrie
    February 6, 2006 at 12:15 pm

    I also think “we” have a duty to educate our own damn selves somehow, and that can’t be done without asking questions.

    We do have a duty to educate ourselves. But expecting someone who may or may not be willing to do that IS reinforcing a power imbalance.

    Especially when googling “transgender” gives you “The Transgender Guide,” The National Transgender Advocacy Coalition,” “Transgender Forum,” etc.

    We do need to know somehow, but expecting to be told instead of doing a little work isn’t the way to do it.

  21. piny
    February 6, 2006 at 12:23 pm

    Tekanji and bex*, thanks for the info – I will definitely take a look at those. Carrie, I see where you’re coming from about an inherent power imbalance in expecting piny, et al. to “educate” “us,” but I also think “we” have a duty to educate our own damn selves somehow, and that can’t be done without asking questions. (I don’t mean to imply in any way that the questions cited in the original post are appropriate.)

    I do know what it’s like to feel ignorant and not have any resources close at hand. It’s not like the High Council of the Mangina Oversoul sends us a brochure and instructional video set. We have to do all of this work ourselves when we start figuring out what we are. I found all of the primary resources I have at my disposal the old-fashioned way: I went online and searched for them. I went to the bookstore and looked on the tail-end of the Gay and Lesbian section. I did ask some questions of transpeople–and continue to ask questions like, “How much time off will I need for surgery?”–but only after I’d found communities set up to answer them. I spent a lot of time lurking and listening, and a lot of time before that completely confused.

  22. February 6, 2006 at 12:24 pm

    I think there’s a good parallel here to the question, “Do you have men?” that so many of us get when we self-identify as feminists.

    There are constructive questions that one asks when one is genuinely interested in another person, or wants to know more about their life and belief systems. And then there are questions that people ask when they’re too lazy/uncaring to go out and learn the stuff themselves; when they’re freak-show curious; or when they’ve already developed their own ideas and are asking questions as a way to get their opinions across. Like Rox pointed out, a lot of these questions fall into the first category of genuine interest. But a lot fall into the other categories too, and as feminists this is something that we’re probably familiar with (although certainly not to the same extent).

  23. piny
    February 6, 2006 at 12:29 pm

    I think there’s a good parallel here to the question, “Do you have men?” that so many of us get when we self-identify as feminists.

    Hee. Yeah, that would be really intrusive.

  24. February 6, 2006 at 12:43 pm

    Ha. Ok, that was supposed to read “Do you hate men.” Ooops…

  25. Andrew
    February 6, 2006 at 12:47 pm

    Sorry, but I’d like to add another one:
    When you were asked,

    Don’t you know you’ll never really be a woman?

    did you respond with “Duh, that’s the point”?

    I gather that it’s not what you mean by the most intrusive questions, but “Which pronoun do you prefer” or some equivalent has been recommended in every trans-etiquette primer I’ve seen. I guess it must get wearing though.

  26. zuzu
    February 6, 2006 at 1:05 pm

    In what context do you think questions about “hormones and surgery and the effects and requirements thereof” would not be offensive? I’m asking honestly, not rhetorically.

    I suppose if you’d announced that you were taking hormones and/or having surgery. But that’s about it.

    Ha. Ok, that was supposed to read “Do you hate men.” Ooops…

    I was just about to ask whether they meant that in the Biblical sense.

  27. Thomas
    February 6, 2006 at 2:16 pm

    Context can make a huge difference. “Can I touch it?” in a supermarket checkout line is inappropriate bordering on disturbing the peace, while at a play party it is simply good manners.

  28. A
    February 6, 2006 at 2:40 pm

    There is a difference between having the opportunity to educate, and being expected to educate. So much of the “but how will I ever know any different if I don’t ask?” attitude is, to me, a reflection of privilege around an idea of ‘normalcy’. No one (at least in my social circle) expects to be able to ask most people what their genitals look like, how they work, etc, much less feel an answer is owed to them, as I have had a great number of people make plain to me. Some days, I choose to attempt to educate, but most days, I just want the luxury to be able to live my life. I’d imagine this is not true just for trans folk, but basically everyone.

  29. KnifeGhost
    February 6, 2006 at 4:04 pm

    It’s hard to pick, but my favourite is

    When people are attracted to you, does that creep you out?

    Can you just imagine the mindset required to ask that question? “He (or she, shit, *brief moment of social panic*) is is a *cough* ‘transsexual’, which is obviously gross. Anyone attracted to *cough* ‘transsexuals’ is therefore a pervert. It’s creepy when perverts are attected to you. Therefore….”

  30. Tanooki Joe
    February 6, 2006 at 4:13 pm

    I think there’s a good parallel here to the question, “Do you have men?” that so many of us get when we self-identify as feminists.

    Is that akin to having crabs?

  31. February 6, 2006 at 5:23 pm

    In what context do you think questions about “hormones and surgery and the effects and requirements thereof” would not be offensive? I’m asking honestly, not rhetorically.

    Well, if your friends are asking, I think it’d be okay. I’m assuming, of course, that you mentioned it to them at some point in the past, and that they are asking in a friendly way.

  32. kate
    February 6, 2006 at 11:53 pm

    The world is full of idiots who will observe little, absorb less and figure out nothing on their own. They follow the crowd, have others think for them and never have an original thought flow through their brains.

    They will always be there. nothing will change them, just the context and the direction of their stupidity. Some of those questions fall wthin that rank, and the appropriate would be to just forget them and go on.

    Some more truly inquisitve questions I guess are people trying to understand the issue better, although the context within which they are asked is important to consider. I can’t imagine discussing anyone’s sexuality with them unless I had a close relationship with them. Otherwise its just downright rude and intrusive and meant to slander.

  33. February 7, 2006 at 9:56 am

    Ive had many conversations with many people about really intimate things. I would never hesitate to ask the most personal questions of people. Id also answer any kind of personal question.
    Mostly Ive found that people respond well to questions asked when they are asked non-judgementally and guinely for knowledge. Most people are happy to talk about themselves.
    Of course, sometimes my lack of knowledge about a subject can cause me to ask unitentionally insensitive questions, but a willingness on both sides to be understanding and apologize can bridge that kind of gap.
    I would also like to point out that you can take all the “Trans 101” courses in the world but that doesnt have anything to do with understanding or getting to know piny as a human being. Or any trans. Information does not let us understand piny’s experience as a transgender person, only by asking questions could we find out.
    I would ask the same kind of questions (as a stranger) about hormones and effects if that was the topic of conversation or the conversation had lead there – same as I would if I were talking to a woman undergoing post-hysterectamy hormone therapy.
    My son in one of our sex-talks wanted to know the difference between transgender and transsexual people and I didn’t know (I called my sister to ask). I would love to get to the point where all of it was clear to me and easily available to anyone, but we’re not there yet as a society. Until then, questions, both rude and polite, loaded with pre-conceived notions and judegments are going to come along, and most of the time will come from a well-intentioned place.

  34. piny
    February 7, 2006 at 12:49 pm

    I would never hesitate to ask the most personal questions of people. Id also answer any kind of personal question.

    How do you orgasm? What do your genitalia look like? What do you do in bed? With whom? How? What does it feel like?

    People didn’t ask me questions like that until I transitioned. No one asks me questions like that now until they find out that I am transsexual. You may in fact have no personal need for privacy, but that would make you exceptional. I doubt very much that people assume that you have no need for privacy.

    I would also like to point out that you can take all the “Trans 101″ courses in the world but that doesnt have anything to do with understanding or getting to know piny as a human being. Or any trans. Information does not let us understand piny’s experience as a transgender person, only by asking questions could we find out.

    This transsexual–and all of the transpeople who have gone to great effort to create those Trans 101 lists and portals precisely so that they don’t have to answer every question every time it’s asked–beg to differ. No one may come to know me as an individual by googling “transgender.” Understanding “transgender” as an individual concept will not necessarily give you an in-depth understanding of an individual transperson’s life and identity. However, that first step will allow the next conversation you have with me to be between two people rather than a seeker and a “trans.” How individualized do you think my, “this is what genderqueer means,” spiel is? How much individuality do you think I attribute to the people who ask me the worst of the questions above?

    Until then, questions, both rude and polite, loaded with pre-conceived notions and judegments are going to come along, and most of the time will come from a well-intentioned place.

    There’s an old saying about the road to Hell being paved with good intentions. I understand that many of the people asking these questions–even some of the horrible ones–really do want to learn. I understand that most people do not hate me, but merely misunderstand me. I understand that they don’t believe that they’re violating my privacy. That doesn’t matter. Good intentions are worthless without any understanding of the effect of your actions, or any examination of your perspective. If you cannot show basic respect to other human beings because their lives are unfamiliar, your questions won’t do anyone any good. How can you understand my love life if you don’t see me as fully human? How can you understand what this feels like? Any answer I give is gibberish if it isn’t received in the spirit of respect.

  35. piny
    February 7, 2006 at 12:51 pm

    Argh.

    Understanding “transgender” as an individual concept will not necessarily give you an in-depth understanding of an individual transperson’s life and identity.

    should read:

    Understanding “transgender” as an abstract concept will not necessarily give you an in-depth understanding of an individual transperson’s life and identity.

  36. February 7, 2006 at 5:30 pm

    I’ve asked some of them, but query ftms have special licence. “Does T turn you into an asshole?” was an urgent and vital matter the day I asked it – if the answer had been “Yes” I would have been straight off to the online pharmacy. And I once asked a trans guy what cup size he was, but that was in the context of a back-and-forth about what we both used for binding.

    I’ve been asked the pronoun question, which is standard for all queer folks everywhere as far as I can tell, plus “So does that mean you like women?” (A friend who was present when that one was asked had my back in the most amusing way by pretending the questioner had meant it as a come-on.)

    Mind you, I’m still at the stage where the questions are more interesting than intrusive, so they mostly go into my ear, come out of my mouth as an answer and don’t even register on my brain.

  37. February 7, 2006 at 9:00 pm

    In what context do you think questions about “hormones and surgery and the effects and requirements thereof” would not be offensive? I’m asking honestly, not rhetorically. ■ piny

    Well, here, for instance (the University of Colorado’s trans student group). That’s really the context I’m imagining (some of) those questions in. Even when I’m just talking to my FTM friends about their transitions; the effects of hormones, what it takes to get them, how far along they are in the process—all these things are important to them, and thus, to me.

    Even in a broader context, if someone asks me what’s entailed in transition or the effects of hormone therapy or whatnot because they’re actually interested, I’m definitely not going to be offended. At worst, I might be tired of delivering The Speech, but even that’s pretty rare. It would be pretty if our world were such that fluid gender and sexuality had near-universal acceptance; it would be nice if people were more educated about… well, lots of stuff. But discussions like this will still happen. Staking out your own gender / sexuality / identity seems to unavoidably involve conveying it to others in some way.

    I totally, totally think that those ways should be more subtle and playful and fun. But I think part of getting to that point is smiling when people try to engage your identity (regardless of whether or not it’s fairly [hetero]normative), even if their methods are clumsy.

    I think there’s a good parallel here to the question, “Do you have men?” that so many of us get when we self-identify as feminists. ■ Jill

    “Yes,” goes the appropriate response, best delivered with downcast eyes and a slight choke, “But the doctors are really very hopeful. With modern treatments, I should be able to make a full recovery.”

    (Come to think, that totally works as a response to the question Jill meant to type. It just has very, very different connotations. On the plus side, the asker will probably leave with some speed.)

  38. piny
    February 8, 2006 at 2:42 am

    Well, here, for instance (the University of Colorado’s trans student group). That’s really the context I’m imagining (some of) those questions in. Even when I’m just talking to my FTM friends about their transitions; the effects of hormones, what it takes to get them, how far along they are in the process—all these things are important to them, and thus, to me.

    If I offer to answer questions, or enter some community set up to answer questions–say, the ftm group on livejournal, or an LGBT panel discussion–I have no problem answering questions. If I’m speaking to my friends, people with whom I have some intimate connection already, I have no problem with intimate conversations. They ask about my circumstances for the same reason, and in the same way, that I ask about theirs. None of the questions as collected here were asked in either of those contexts. We’re talking near (or complete) strangers in casual conversation, mostly, and always–always–non-transpeople.

    Even in a broader context, if someone asks me what’s entailed in transition or the effects of hormone therapy or whatnot because they’re actually interested, I’m definitely not going to be offended. At worst, I might be tired of delivering The Speech, but even that’s pretty rare. It would be pretty if our world were such that fluid gender and sexuality had near-universal acceptance; it would be nice if people were more educated about… well, lots of stuff. But discussions like this will still happen. Staking out your own gender / sexuality / identity seems to unavoidably involve conveying it to others in some way.

    The ignorance doesn’t bother me in and of itself. The imposition on my privacy bothers me. The assumed intimacy bothers me. More than that, there’s an immediate switch that happens whenever I come out: I cease to be a person talking to a person. Any aspect of my personality or life not connected with transition ceases to be of any interest at all, and the inquiry becomes completely one-sided. By “staking out” my gender identity, I lose everything that makes me an individual within it. My interactions with this person are pretty much reduced to “The Speech.”

    And it is a level of intimacy that is considered extremely rude when a transsexual isn’t the target. If I saw someone using an inhaler, I wouldn’t start in with, “Hey, do you have asthma? What’s that like? Is it painful? Do you ever get scared you’re going to die? Is it hard to be dependent on medication like that? What does it do? Have you ever lost your inhaler? Have you always had asthma?” If I met someone in a wheelchair, I wouldn’t start in with, “How do you go to the bathroom? How do you have sex? Can you have sex?” …and so on. I understand that plenty of people have no problem asking those questions, but I wouldn’t expect the inquiree to respond with anything but scorn. I doubt that many of the people asking me whether the hormones make me want to have sex all the time would disagree.

    I totally, totally think that those ways should be more subtle and playful and fun. But I think part of getting to that point is smiling when people try to engage your identity (regardless of whether or not it’s fairly [hetero]normative), even if their methods are clumsy.

    This comes up a lot on this blog whenever feminists complain about not wanting to educate people who come asking questions about man-hating. Personally, I’m with ginmar. There’s nothing wrong with being “subtle and playful and fun,” if you’re in the mood, but “That’s a rude question,” is educational in its own way. I understand that you aren’t offended, and I very much appreciate that willingness to explain–I do tend to educate rather than tell people to fuck off, myself. But I don’t think the dynamic is a necessarily a constructive one, particularly if it isn’t examined.

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