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  1. Green Tri Girl
    Green Tri Girl March 1, 2008 at 3:50 pm |

    This is only tangentially related, but I’ve had some trans etiquette issues come up in my life lately. I don’t want to put the transperson in question on the spot because I’m in a position of relative authority, but I don’t want to be an ignorant jerk, either. Does anyone know of a good, basic trans issues blog, along the lines of Feminism 101?

  2. harlemjd
    harlemjd March 1, 2008 at 5:33 pm |

    The Marilyn / Norma Jean comparison made me want to scream. (I know she’s not the one making it. People just ask stupid, intrusive questions about lots of things and I don’t have her patience for bad manners.) There’s a difference between knowing something and having a right to know. I may know a lot about the sex lives of certain friends, for example, because they are comfortable sharing, or wanted advice, or whatever. That doesn’t give me the right to similar information from other friends who don’t want to share. It CERTAINLY doesn’t give me the right to ask for similar information from random strangers.

    Why do so many people think that their curiosity exempts them from basic politeness? Especially in this internet age when they can go look shit up for themselves?

  3. Sharon
    Sharon March 1, 2008 at 6:04 pm |

    Oh gosh to lose her boyfriend like that! I lived in a Marine Corp town for years and all of my roommates were Marines, including the gay ones. Gay/bicurious men abound in the Marine corp. Bill Clinton really needed to put teeth into gay rights in the military and he didn’t.

  4. Kate
    Kate March 1, 2008 at 6:39 pm |

    Look at the flip side, there are many transgender persons who started life identified as female. Take a look at a real man; Jamison Green

  5. tayari
    tayari March 1, 2008 at 6:54 pm |

    I was really enjoying the clip until she said “guys like soft and flowing hair…” I am black and have only recent recovered from the Imus flap….

  6. Ghigau
    Ghigau March 1, 2008 at 7:11 pm |

    “Are you a man or a woman?” Don’t ever ask a human being this question.

    When I was twelve years old, I got a really short haircut. I remember walking my dog down the sidewalk when a group of three elderly women called to me from a front porch:

    “Hey! Are you a boy or a girl?”

    Sixteen years later, I’m still incredibly self-conscious about my (lack of) femininity. It’s the only reason I wear makeup and earrings – even when I’m out fishing on a river in the middle of nowhere.

    In other words, OMG WORD.

  7. jamesPi
    jamesPi March 1, 2008 at 7:35 pm |

    One thing I’ve always wondered about is at what point do most trans people feel the need to, for lack of a better word, reveal it? (only in relation to dating/hookups) If you are a transwomen and you meet a guy, go on a few dates or just a one night hookup, do you feel the need to tell him about it or just let him discover it? (if he doesn’t know, that does happen). Sorry for the basic question.

  8. L-K
    L-K March 1, 2008 at 7:38 pm |

    I was really enjoying the clip until she said “guys like soft and flowing hair…” I am black and have only recent recovered from the Imus flap…

    Yes, I took note of that particular section for that reason and other reasons, too (such as my growing muscularity, lack of softness, lack of overall “femininity”). I also said to myself, “but, I love guys with long and silky hair and ‘feminine’ features, so this means what?”

    But in spite of that particular section (yes, I know it was all sarcastic humor), I overall enjoyed it. She’s pretty awesome. I hope she does a follow up soon.

  9. Kelsey Jarboe
    Kelsey Jarboe March 1, 2008 at 7:40 pm |

    Oh. Man.

    I love this woman. So much.

  10. ol cranky
    ol cranky March 1, 2008 at 8:29 pm |

    Sorry, but I’m now a little fixated on the idea of “trans” porn. I look at Calpernia Addams and I see a woman; every other trans woman I’ve met has also been a woman – so I don’t rightly understand what trans porn is or would be. Maybe I have a general misunderstanding or lack of knowledge about porn itself but if I were to see a woman (or women) getting it on with a guy (or guys), it’s pretty much just porn (guys getting it on with each other doesn’t happen in plain old porn; girls getting it on with each other happens in all kinds of porn, except that targeted at gay men). Does it really matter whether the person getting it on was born with different tender bits than he or she has in the film? If not, why label it as “trans porn”? (if so, why does it matter when the purpose of the porn is to focus on the tender bits in front of you?)

  11. jayinchicago
    jayinchicago March 1, 2008 at 8:58 pm |

    You might want to emphasize that one of the competitors is trans as in FTM.

  12. Tired
    Tired March 1, 2008 at 9:12 pm |

    Here’s a free tip: Don’t ask a person you think might be a transsexual Anything About Their Past Life. Not unless you have been invited to do so.

    I don’t get the sort of stuff Calpernia talks about, not any more. But when I was going to grad school soon after my transition, I got it quite a lot. If it was from someone who I considered a friend (this was back before the WWW was in wide use), I was patient. If it was someone who I thought was satisfying a purient curiosity or was just a fucking weirdo, I brushed them off.

    My job in life is not to educate others about my anatomy, my medical history or my sexuality. These days, anyone who is marginally smarter than Chimpy McFlightsuit has access to a computer, even if they have to go to the public library, and they can do the research for themselves.

    So, if you haven’t figured this out, let me spell it out for you: You treat transsexuals like any other person. You treat transsexuals the way you would want to be treated.

  13. denelian
    denelian March 1, 2008 at 9:23 pm |

    i do have to say this…

    rule 13 (i think) was “i think of you as a woman”, and Ms. Addams says you can’t say that.

    but, there is a transwoman i know, who has been trying to get into my pants for YEARS. i tell her, over and over, that i’m STRAIGHT, and while she may be pre-op, she is still a WOMAN in my eyes.

    so, i think this is an okay time and way to break this rule? cuz this is the entire reason i won’t sleep with her – she is a her to me.

  14. annejumps
    annejumps March 1, 2008 at 9:23 pm |

    I watch Logo all the time and I’ve watched some of this. I like Calpernia; recognized her from a short that Logo shows a lot, where she’s at various acting auditions.

  15. sophonisba
    sophonisba March 1, 2008 at 10:16 pm |

    tend to “surprise” their dates at the moment of having sex, a la the Crying Game

    Besides, it’s explicit in the movie that she thought he already knew, and that he met her at a bar frequented by trans women and transvestites, and that he was deeply in denial about a lot of things. She never tried to surprise him. So even The Crying Game doesn’t exactly have a ‘Crying Game moment’ to support the myth.

  16. hyrax
    hyrax March 1, 2008 at 11:32 pm |

    Holly, I thought you were beautiful (at the Deluxe in Seattle) but don’t usually say things like that to people I don’t know unless there’s a pretty good reason to (hookup, special occasion, feeling sassy), plus I try not to come off as creepily exoticising.

    I liked Calpernia’s questions a lot; the ones I struggle with more are how to refer to someone who is actively in transition, or how to refer to them in the past if you knew them both before and after transition. I want to respect the identity and name someone uses and don’t always know what to do with my own storyline (NEVER mentioning having known them pre-transition seems worse). Sometimes I can just ask the person what they’re comfortable with, sometimes I have to apologize for having done the wrong thing, sometimes I don’t know what’s best.

  17. Calpernia
    Calpernia March 2, 2008 at 1:35 am |

    Wow, thank you so much for the great article! I had a lot of fun making the show, and I’m really enjoying the process of getting it out there and hearing people’s reactions. I’m naturally a cut-up with a dark sense of humor, so it has not been easy for me to have to be so serious for so many years. Reality TV is all about fantasy and fun, but with this show we managed to mix in some really cool points about trans dating, relationships, family and romance.

    I was really enjoying the clip until she said “guys like soft and flowing hair…” I am black and have only recent recovered from the Imus flap…

    Now don’t be silly! I was just making that all up as I went along, and in my experience guys do like soft, flowing hair. I didn’t say they don’t like other kinds of hair, too, though. I might say I like egg sandwiches, but that doesn’t mean that’s the only kind of sandwich I like. But also in my experience, African heritage people can have soft, flowing (curly) hair as well. My African surfer boyfriend (when I first moved to LA) had the softest curly hair… I used to work my fingers deep into it and massage his scalp, it put him into a coma of bliss in two seconds flat. That only lasted for a summer, though… sigh! =)

  18. foibey
    foibey March 2, 2008 at 6:25 am |

    A while ago in a pub:

    Flake: “Wow, you’re tits are fabulous”
    My Good Self: “Why thank you, they’re mine, and they’re tits, and that would tend to make them fabulous.”
    F: “No really though, they’re amazing.”
    MGS: “I’m always grateful for good reviews, yes.”
    F: “Can I see them?”
    MGS: “Um, well, we’re in a pub”
    F: “I mean did you get surgery or… well… where do you fit them?”

    It occurs to me that I’m not wearing a bra, and my boobs droop a bit and that would mean there’s no obvious place to hide breastforms and they’re sagging too much to look surgery enhanced, so this person isn’t actually complimenting me on my fabulous tits, but simply wants to know where I bought them. Which is nice.

  19. SnowdropExplodes
    SnowdropExplodes March 2, 2008 at 7:34 am |


    Remember that Calpernia is talking about the questions that people ask within 20 minutes of knowing her, or at least, 20 minutes of knowing that she’s TS.

    I have a TS friend whom I knew before her operation and after (she’d been in her true gender for years already before I knew her). We met online and so we’d had many conversations before I met her face-to-face. From these conversations, I knew that she had a lot of anxiety about how well she passed, and how people saw her. So both “I think of you as a woman” and “I would never have guessed” were actually highly appropriate in that situation. She had, in fact, asked for my absolute and honest appraisal of her appearance on those grounds, before we met.

    But, as I say, I’d known her for months, and known that she was TS for months; I was a trusted friend, with whom she’d shared her emotional anxiety about these things. That’s a long way different from just assuming I have a right to make such comments.

    However, I second Holly’s remark about continually pestering your friend about sexual relations.

  20. Astraea
    Astraea March 2, 2008 at 10:18 am |

    Calpernia Addams is the coolest name ever.

    The video was hilarious. My favorite part: “I’m hating you with a burning, white hot, destructive hatred…”

    I wish I could get Logo, but I might have to buy the show and check it out.

    Sort of Trans 101 question… How can cisgender people be good allies to the trans community?

  21. Mandolin
    Mandolin March 2, 2008 at 10:35 am |

    Here’s a free tip: Don’t ask a person you think might be a transsexual Anything About Their Past Life. Not unless you have been invited to do so…

    So, if you haven’t figured this out, let me spell it out for you: You treat transsexuals like any other person. You treat transsexuals the way you would want to be treated.

    I think the first tip here is more useful than the second. Values of privacy vary greatly from person to person and community to community, and being in the “extremely open” range of both person and community, it’s very clear to me that “treat others as you would like to be treated” is not a good guideline for me. I imagine this applies to others as well.

    It’s a small point, but I’ve noticed this guideline bandied about in a couple trans 101 and race 101 threads, and I always feel like it assumes a universal standard of privacy and thus has a lot of potential for misfiring.

  22. Mandolin
    Mandolin March 2, 2008 at 11:23 am |

    The weird thing is that some people use this rule in most circumstances — for instance, assuming that people they meet probably won’t welcome uninvited questions about their sex life, even if there are plenty of people out there would wouldn’t mind. But then they apply different rules for trans people, who get asked about details of sex all the time, as if the fact of being trans is a signal that says “I’m fine with those sorts of questions!” It’s almost as if people put trans folks in the same category as someone who’s walking around wearing stilts — of course you’d assume that it’s ok to say “hey, what’s up with the stilts?”

    Absolutely. I do get all that.

    It’s just the phrasing I usually see that makes me anxious. “Treat others as you want to be treated” only goes so far. ;-)

    Moving horizontally on the subject axis, I watched the Tila Tequila reality dating show. As someone who is bisexual, it was really bizarre and fascinating to see how the people on the show (and presumably the producers) constructed bisexuality, down to Tila frequently announcing “I’m A bisexual” which grated on my nerves every time she did it. She also did a lot of “I like men because they’re so (masculine stereotype), but also women because they’re so (feminine streotype).” Guh. And her bisexuality was treated like a punchline, in a lot of ways.

    I’m glad this show sounds like it’s shaping up to be more sophisticated, from your assessment.

  23. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne March 2, 2008 at 1:18 pm |

    I assume it’s also because you’re not attracted to her — not because you’ve made some kind of oath or personal rule that you won’t ever sleep with someone who identifies as a woman, or who’s a woman in your eyes.

    I have to say, it’s my personal rule not to sleep with someone who identifies as a woman or who’s a woman in my eyes, because I’m straight. I’m really not particularly attracted to women, so a woman or someone who appears to be a woman who was hitting on me would not be someone I would sleep with. For me, transmen yes, transwomen no. ;-)

    Sorry, just felt that needed to be said.

    Oh, and what sophonisba said about The Crying Game — a guy who goes to a bar full of drag queens, transpeople, and gay men who thinks he’s going home with a biological woman has some serious blind spots.

    IIRC, in Britain the movie was extremely controversial because it had a sympathetic IRA member as a hero. The whole trans angle was really not a big deal. Given what gay male friends of mine have told me about meeting guys from Europe and having trouble figuring out if they were gay or straight, I suspect that the bar in the film was instantly recognizable to people in/from Britain as a gay bar, but not as much to Americans, which is why it was such a “shock” to us that Dil was a biological man.

  24. Danakitty
    Danakitty March 2, 2008 at 4:17 pm |

    Hilarious! Great clip.

    However, I was wondering, as a journalist, I often end up asking people uncomfortable questions (questions I wouldn’t ask a friend or stranger). For example, I asked a wonderful woman named Carissa Phelps about being prostituted on the streets for the purpose of an article about youth homelessness.

    It’s not comfortable, for me, or for her, but it’s important so that awareness can be brought to the general public about homelessness.

    So what do you do in the case of, say, a hypothetical personal journey-type article about a transsexual? Are there appropriate ways of asking about the past without being insulting? Are there taboo questions that are okay in the case of a reporter interview? (Assume the reporter is sensitive and intelligent and is more trying to evoke quotable material rather than push buttons)

  25. ol cranky
    ol cranky March 2, 2008 at 9:21 pm |


    Thank you so much for explaining trans porn. I was starting to think that people may have thought I was a troll instead being the oblivious idiot I am.

  26. jayinchicago
    jayinchicago March 2, 2008 at 11:12 pm |

    For me, transmen yes, transwomen no. ;-)

    i think you mean this the other way around.

  27. Thomas, TSID
    Thomas, TSID March 2, 2008 at 11:40 pm |

    Jay, I think you misunderstood Mnemosyne.

    Holly, I was going to write to make Mnemosyne’s point, actually, and then when I checked back in I saw I wasn’t the only one to have that view. I think having a sex partner who identified as male, whatever the biology, would mess with my head.

  28. Calpernia
    Calpernia March 3, 2008 at 4:51 am |

    I do hope everyone saw that, despite it all, I’ve kept a sense of humor, ha ha. That was all just my own personal feelings about my own personal experiences. And there’s an exception to every rule… in the right circumstances, I’m glad to answer any of those questions. I just felt like letting off some steam and being honest about my feelings, whether they are “right” or not.

  29. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne March 3, 2008 at 8:08 pm |

    i think you mean this the other way around.

    Possibly — I was under the impression that a transman was a person who was transitioning from female to male, and a transwoman was a person who was transitioning from male to female. If I have it flip-flopped, I apologize. I was trying to say that I would not date a person who identified as a woman even if they were still biologically male.

  30. ol cranky
    ol cranky March 3, 2008 at 10:22 pm |


    I think we all found it pretty humorous even when the bits of anger bled through. I have to admit, I was gasping in shock at some of the questions people ask. I’m one of those people with such poor impulse control that I have been known to blurt out terribly inappropriate questions (because something catches my attention and I get so curious I fixate on it) and even I have the sense not to ask most of those questions.

    -PS/liquor and pop-tarts? I think I have a crush.

  31. jayinchicago
    jayinchicago March 4, 2008 at 1:33 am |

    Ah, I did misunderstand that! Sorry!

  32. Marissa
    Marissa March 4, 2008 at 2:22 am |


    That was an awesome video!
    “in the right circumstances, I’m glad to answer any of those questions. I just felt like letting off some steam and being honest about my feelings, whether they are “right” or not.”
    You have every right to demand to be treated like a human being, and that is EXACTLY what you did in your video, which is why I loved it. Amazing concept really, don’t treat people different from yourself as educational tools and exotic objects. I really wonder about the state of the world sometimes…

  33. Barb
    Barb March 8, 2008 at 5:16 pm |

    How does one address a trans person? Whatever comes to mind. It isn’t rocket science 101. Most of us will clue you in if the address is wrong. Some take exception.
    What kind of questions are permissible? Be nice and ask politely. The response will be to answer the question or “That’s personal, I rather not answer that question.” And again, some take exception and get rude, walk away, or tell the one asking to “drop dead”.
    Definite no no is to cop a feel or touch without an invite. The surprise could be a resounding slap to the face for thinking she or he is public property.

    Ms. Calpernia Addams and Ms. Andrea James are two of the nicest and sweetest ladies one could ever possibly wish to converse with. From the bottom of my heart, I thank these ladies for being on the Frontlines day in and day out. I’m positive their names will be written down in the history books for their untiring efforts to raise the knowledge of and about transgender above the stigma as a mental illness. Of course both of them being beautiful ladies doesn’t hurt.

  34. 08 Pride Post #21: Sunday morning — in church with Calpernia « virgotext

    […] Holly at Feministe has a wonderful post with an overview of the show and why it worked, Addams’ tragic backstory, and her scathing Bad Questions to Ask a Transsexual. (Read the comments too.) […]

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