There’s things your curious kitten self is just craving to know about trans people. Delicious little nuggets of information your little brain is just salivating over. There are things about what’s in our pants, how we think, who we fuck, that could quite possibly keep you awake at night, the possibilities are so inconceivable and fantastic.
Well, my pet, I am an advocate of knowledge and learning, so I think your questions should be answered. (That is why I blog, after all.) However, let me remind you that your intent should come from a place that is genuine and seeks to honestly strengthen your understanding and alliance with trans people. Not because you want some real-life Maury Povich shit to go down in your living room.
So I’ve created a little checklist that you should think of when it comes time for you to cash in your omgtellmetellme chips for a sip from the transgender well of knowledge.
Deciding whether or not it is a appropriate to ask a trans person something is as easy as: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How.
Mix 6 parts your answers to these questions with 1 part common sense and you should get an accurate gauge of how appropriate it is to ask a trans person that burning question of yours.
…are you asking?
Is it your dear friend who came out to you last month? A transwoman in your book club who seems pretty open minded? Your transwoman friend who is a blogger and activist for trans rights? Or your transguy friend who barely acknowledges he is trans and just wants to be “one of the guys?” Are you about to ask a really interesting trans person you just met at a party? Your trans coworker?
Essentially who is this person to you, what are they all about, and how well do you know them?
…is that you are asking?
“Were you abused as a child?” is a very different question than “What is your favorite thing about being trans?” – two questions I have been asked. Have you ever been asked your question, and if so, how did it make you feel? Is what you’re asking actually any of your business?
…are you asking this question?
After amazing sex with a hot transperson? When your transfriend just got done lamenting about a breakup? At your kitchen table, over coffee and during a serious heart-to-heart? When you are drunk at a party?
Consider the emotional investment required in answering your question, and ask yourself if now is the right time. Plan for an appropriate time to ask questions on taboo or touchy subjects when the person you are asking is relaxed, emotionally sound, feels safe, etc.
…are you asking this question?
On a crowded bus? In the office at work? At dinner in front all of your friends? In the privacy of your living room? Underneath a tree at a park? Walking down a city street late at night with a couple strangers within earshot?
Consider the sensitivity of your question and who is around that might hear and make the transperson you are asking feel unsafe or uncomfortable or out them in front of others they don’t necessarily want to be out in front of.
…are you asking this?
Are you asking this you’ve scoured endlessly over the innards of the internet to find the answer to and just couldn’t come up with anything? Is this something that will genuinely make you a stronger ally, a more understanding friend or relative? Is this something that is just a personal curiosity you are dying to satisfy, and on that note, is it worth it to potentially make someone else uncomfortable to find out? My advice is to do your own homework as best as you can first and maybe discuss the question with other non-trans allies before you ask a trans person – who already has to explain a lot of stuff, all the time – to explain something to you.
…are you asking the question?
It might help to preface your question with a little positive encouragement and proof that you really thought about the trans person’s feelings. It softens the blow to a question that might be jarring, exhausting, negative or emotionally sensitive.
“Hey Sally, I really want to be a stronger trans ally. I have been doing some reading and I can’t seem to find a clear answer as to why some transgender women aren’t allowed in female spaces, like the Michigan Women’s Music Festival. I understand that you probably get asked questions all the time, but I feel the need to understand this concept better, so may I ask your opinion on the subject?” This is a lot different than “So why don’t they let transwomen into Michigan’s Women Festival?”
or “Hey Tom, I know I could never understand what it’s like to be in your shoes, but you are a really good friend and someone I care a lot about and I support you 100% but I read some things about negative effects of hormones and I began to worry about you. Have you heard anything about that, has your doctor said anything?”
This is a lot different than “So I hear hormones cause cancer, is that true?”
Now friends, it is time for one last lesson. When and if you should ask the motherload of all questions. The notorious BIG question…
HAVE YOU HAD
…dun, dun, dunnn!
Every trans person has been asked this. Show me a trans person who hasn’t and I swear to you I will wear a dress for one week.
Some trans people are asked this question in more appropriate contexts than others. Most recently, one coworker who I am out to blurted this lovely little gem out right in the office, in front of another coworker who I am not out to. Please, people, for the love of God, don’t be that person.
Before asking this question, consider that you are essentially implying that a trans person must describe their genitalia to you, simply for no other reason than because they are trans. Because you perceive them as different and you, sweet, naive reader, feel you have a right to know what is in their underwear right this very moment, even as they sit across the office from you.
When was the last time you, dear reader, had a friend, coworker, relative or stranger you just met ask you to describe exactly what your private parts are like?
Would you be shocked? Embarrassed? Ashamed? Angry? Would you tell them to go fuck themselves? Or would you calmly answer their question because it just feels like you somehow owe them, and society as a whole, an explanation?
In American society is common courtesy not to pry into one’s medical history unless you are their: legal guardian and they are a minor, a doctor or a potential sex partner. This is no exception. If you are the person’s dear friend or beloved relative, then you can probably navigate the waters. But for all you other fools, perhaps approach the transgender surgery question the same way you would approach a person with a disability (and geesh if you are clueless on that too here is a great article). Yes, a person with a disability obviously has a different body than you. Are you going to bluntly ask them about it? No, because that would make you a rude asshole.
And you’re not a rude asshole, dear reader, are you?
ps. I will just tell you right now so you can get some friggin’ sleep at night that a lot of trans people have not had “the surgery.” By the way, there are lots of surgeries transpeople can have. Facial feminization, breast augmentation, tracheal shave… but I know you are talking about “the surgery” so I will just tell you that it’s expensive, for one. A vaginaplasty for transwomen (in which the penis is inverted to create a vagina) is less expensive ($10-25,000) and less prone to complications, but still unattainable for a decent majority. A phalloplasty for transmen (a surgery to create a penis via skin graft or growth harvested from another part on the body and lengthen the urethra) is really expensive (around $100,000) and can easily be prone to complication and require multiple revision surgeries. Some phalloplasty surgeries can be successfully sexually effective, but there good amount that are not. Most transmen seek first and foremost “top surgery” – the removal of the breasts and masculinzation of the chest, but that is still a costly surgery ($5-10,000) that a lot of transguys can’t afford. These surgeries are rarely covered under insurance, and incur lots of other costs that include travel and time off work.