How To Introduce Your Trans Friend

Cis people, we apparently need a guide for how to introduce our trans friends/relatives/acquaintances. I’m going to do my best here to put some guidelines together. I welcome suggestions, too.

The first thing to know: this guide comes in two parts. One part deals with people who knew/knew of the person before transition began and is either meeting them again or meeting them for the first time. The other part deals with people who meet the trans person after transition has begun/after they have come out as transgender to you.

Part I: How to introduce your trans friend to people who knew them/knew of them pre-transition

Do make sure you know your friend’s preferred identifiers (name, pronouns) before introductions begin.

Do not wait until everyone is standing in the ‘introduction circle’ to bring up the topic of transition.

Do check with your trans friend for comfort level pre-introductions: does your friend want to be introduced as a brand-new person (and is this possible)? How would your friend like to be introduced? What kinds of things is your friend comfortable with other people knowing about them/her/him?

When appropriate (after ascertaining your friend’s comfort level), do tell your relatives, non-trans friends (the people to whom you’re introducing your trans friend) ahead of time that your friend is transgender. Say something like, “Aaron is transgender and uses the name Abigail now,” or “The person you have known as Eva has transitioned and has changed his name to Jim.”

Do make sure your trans friend knows if you are not comfortable doing this sort of introduction. It is much better to know what kind of situation we’re walking into than to go in unaware and be met with potentially unsafe/unkind reactions.

This is the crux of the matter. Those who know someone as one gender and are either re-meeting them as another gender or are meeting them for the first time as a gender other than the one they expected may have unexpected and unsafe, volatile reactions to the trans person in the moment. This is not the fault of the trans person. It is the fault of many things, including poor education (biology, sexual health, religion), poor indoctrination, and systematic issues such as transphobia and misogyny. Not everyone will react volatilely, but the risk is high enough that if there is the option to curb that risk for our trans friends, then we should. This is one way we can put our cisgender privilege in service of our transgender siblings.

Also, those for whom this friend is their first trans person may have many questions about transgender issues. That’s perfectly normal. If you don’t feel equipped or comfortable answering them, you can refer them to various resources (That Transgender Chick on Facebook, Laverne Cox on Tumblr, the transgender FAQ on GLAAD‘s website, the transgender search tag on BelieveOutLoud , etc.).

Part II: How to introduce your trans friend to people who’ve never met them before/haven’t known of them pre-transition

Just introduce them by their chosen/preferred name. No one in this scenario needs to know that your friend is transgender unless your friend chooses for anyone else to know.

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Gender, Sex, and Genitals

Cis people, we have work to do. I’m calling you in with me to do this work of dismantling the systems that hold us all down, and I want us to do this by starting with educating one another.

Today, let’s talk about gender, sex, and genitals–what they are and what they aren’t. I know a lot of us are confused, because we’ve been taught by our binary-loving system that gender and sex and genitals are all the same things. We’ve been taught that genitals come in exactly two forms–either penis or vagina–and that sex and gender necessarily follow that format, as well.

We’re wrong. We’ve been taught wrong.

Don’t panic.

We can fix this.

Let’s start with genitals. This probably seems both the most and least confusing all at once–because of course it’s always penis or vagina, right? Except no. Intersex people exist. And some intersex people have genitals that aren’t clearly ‘penis’ or ‘vagina’. (This is not the case for all intersex people.) And even when a person’s outer genitals look a certain way, their inner anatomy may not match. Or their chromosomes may not match. Their hormones may not match. So–even our genitalia doesn’t fall on a strict binary.

Okay, so what about sex, then? Isn’t sex a biological thing? Yes, and no. Mostly, we assign sex based on genitals. We ‘sex’ people and animals based on what we observe their outward genitals to be. So this can only be as biological as our constructed categories. That is: we’ve made some categories to describe what we’ve observed. And what we’ve observed is that biology–genitalia–doesn’t follow a strict binary. It follows a continuum. So sex can’t be a strict binary, either. If we are going to insist that sex be assigned based upon genitalia, then we must allow that sex exist as a continuum, as well–and recognize that it is a category we’ve made up to describe something we’ve observed.

Moving on to gender, then. Gender has two parts: identity and expression.

Gender identity is a person’s inward self-definition. You can try this yourself, at home, on the bus, or wherever you’re reading: I am ________. A woman? A trans man? Non-binary? Agender? Genderfluid? All of these, and many others, are valid answers here. This is completely detached from anything else about a person–what genitals a person possesses, what sex/gender a person was assigned at birth, etc.

Gender expression is a person’s outer presentation of self. This could include clothing, hair style, make-up or lack thereof, shaving or not, handbags or briefcases or none at all, bow ties or hair ties, or just about any other thing one might use to outwardly indicate a sense of self. Gender expression may or may not hinge upon one’s self-defined gender identity, one’s sex, and/or one’s genitalia. For example, I am a cisgender (identifying as the gender I was assigned at birth) cissex (identifying as the sex I was assigned at birth) woman who often presents in a feminine manner, but who often presented quite masculinely in my undergrad days. I’ve always self-identified female regardless of how I’ve expressed.

Figuring out that these things are all actually separate things is huge. Realizing how much of our lives exist on continuums as opposed to in strict binaries is amazing.

If we start here, educating one another with this information, we can begin to set ourselves and our transgender siblings free.

Lila Perry is a Girl. Deal With It.

CW: I’m discussing the continuing harassment of Lila Perry, a transgender girl in Missouri–my current home state. She has been using the girls’ locker room and bathrooms since school started this year, and many students (many of them female) have walked out in protest. In this post, I am addressing TERF (trans-exclusive radical feminist) comments regarding this issue. I’m putting the rest of this post below a cut so that trans people do not need to read this and be triggered. Cis people, I am a cis person talking to you. Please do read this post.

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Conversations and Styles on Social Justice and Identity

I talk with different people in different ways about gender, race, orientations, <insert social justice/identity item here>. These differences show up the most to me in conversations about transgender issues, perhaps because these things affect my life with Eren so much more than any others do.

Well, that’s not quite right. It’s more that people perceive that these issues affect us so much more, and so more people talk with us–or at least me–about them than about any other issue.

We are pretty far outside what society considers to be “the norm” for some parts of it. Though we’re white and married and educated, she’s transgender and bi-lesbian, and I’m cisgender (considered ‘the norm’) and bi/pansexual and sapiosexual, and we’re polyamorous. (And no, I do not mistake ‘cis’ for ‘normal’–society keeps trying to say that’s how things are, but that’s no more true than saying the sun is more normal than the moon, or a tabby cat more normal than a tuxedo cat, or me being more normal than my wife.)

Anyway, the point is, I talk with different people about Eren being transgender differently.

Eren and I have both opened ourselves up to questions about transgender issues. Some of these questions are basic respect things–the “what are your pronouns?” variety. Some of them are curiosity that borders on the too-personal for many transgender persons and significant others (the “what’s it like to be partnered/married to a transgender person?” variety). Some of them are definitely too personal (the “what are your/her/his/their genitals like?” variety). That last set should never ever ever be asked of a transgender individual. If she/he/they offer up the information, that’s one thing, but just asking? It’s no one’s business. Nevertheless, Eren and I have encountered the questions, and we’ve done our best to answer them.

In the first category of people, I have utmost patience. These people are a) genuinely curious and b) genuinely trying to learn and c) genuinely trying to be respectful. This group tends to ask all the questions, but usually as a means of understanding, learning, growing. There’s not a lot of “ew that’s gross” or judgment or squick coming out of this group. It’s mostly that this group of people has grown up with a culture that has taught them only one way of seeing the world and hasn’t given them a way out. And yet, when given the chance, they are there and ready to try to learn. So I have patience with them. I had to learn, too, because I didn’t come out of the womb understanding transgender issues, and I too was born into a system that perpetuates injustice and inequality in order to give power to the few.

In the second category of people, I’m firmer. These people I’ve usually talked with several times about an issue–such as Eren’s correct pronouns–and they’re still ‘not getting it.’ Absent a cognitive difficulty, I will begin to encounter these people more firmly. I may interrupt speech to say “she” or “her” when they misgender her. I may wait until they finish before saying, “She thinks that is a good idea,” or “Eren’s pronouns are she and her.” This is still patience, but more direct.

This category often bleeds over into a third category of people, whom I will be very direct with. I will say, “You have done this multiple times, and it is not okay. You know her pronouns, use them.” Or I will say, “We have been over this many times.” There comes a point when patience only coddles privilege, and only directness will get attention. This part is often hardest for me, because I have been taught that women should be soft and indirect (or at least indirect). This part also often receives the most blowback. People in this category usually do not like being addressed so directly, but often only understand the direct communication.

I just walk away from the fourth category of people. These people either will never hear or will only hear when those against whom they’ve fought have disappeared. Either way, my words have no effect on them. I cannot change hearts and minds set in stone. Also, this becomes a protective measure–because those who are so convinced against transgender people cause harm to Eren and me. Their words wound us, particularly when they supposedly come from a place of love and support. There is no love and support in telling a person she is not real, unnatural, or any other degrading thing. There is no love and support in telling a person she will go to hell for being herself. And so, walking away both serves to leave an unproductive argument and to protect us.

I’d like to say there’s a fifth category of people, those who’ve found me again after I’ve walked away. I think this can happen, though it’s yet to happen to me. I have witnessed such turnarounds–my mom’s change of mind and heart on sexual orientation being one–but they’re very few, I think. I do know that my mom has been one of our biggest supporters, and that likely wouldn’t be the case had she not already made such a huge turnaround re: orientation years before. The possibility is there.

In the end, there’s no one way to talk with people about these things. A lot depends on context, on history, on conversational content, and on what each person can individually take. This is how I do it.

Content Warning: “Trans Jokes” Aren’t Funny, and Other ‘Micro’agressions

I’m going to be talking about some things I encountered on social media this week from two family members–one on each side of my family, both of whom I looked up to greatly as a child, one of whom supposedly supports my wife and I a great deal. Both of these things involve transgender people. I’ll be posting the images of what was posted, in order to deconstruct these things.

This is me, a cisgender person, talking to other cisgender people, about the things we’re doing to hurt transgender people. We need to stop.

I’m putting the rest below a cut, so that those who already have to deal with these aggressions on a daily basis (trans folks) do not need to be subjected to it one more time just so I can get my point out to other cisgender folks.

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8/9/14 – 8/9/15

I remember where I was when I heard that Mike Brown had been shot and killed by officer Darren Wilson.

I remember where I was when they announced no indictment for former officer Wilson in killing Mike Brown.

I remember watching from afar–when I couldn’t be there in person–the teargassing of my city, of my fellow residents. I remember hearing the government representatives tell us that if we didn’t behave, of course we deserved tanks in our streets–as if anger is not an appropriate response to hundreds of years of systemic oppression. As if peaceful angry protesters are the same as people rioting over nothing. As if it didn’t take exorbitant measures to get national attention to a problem that has been killing people for hundreds of years.

A lot has happened in the last year. Much of it has been good, though it would be a mistake to claim a past-tense (as that article headline does): that the protests worked, as if they’re over and done, as if racism is solved, as if police brutality is solved.

Yes, Ferguson’s courts and municipalities are seeing an overhaul. Yes, there’s more money for police body cams, and yes Obama is embracing talk about race.

But:

A CBS/New York Times poll published at the end of July found 58% of white people thought police were no more likely to use deadly force against black people than against white people – the same figure recorded shortly after Brown’s death in Ferguson. It also found 51% of white people thought the criminal justice system either treated black people fairly or was even biased in their favour – a fall of only two percentage points since 2013.

A Pew poll published at the end of April found the proportion of white Americans reporting a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the police to treat black and white people equally had actually risen slightly since 2009, while falling among black Americans. And while the share of white Americans with very little confidence in the police applying equal treatment rose slightly as well, it jumped sharply by 12 points among black people to a level approaching half of all respondents.

This, despite that people of color keep dying in police ‘care’. Thanks to #SandySpeaks and #SayHerName, Sandra Bland may be the most recently ‘famous’ of these deaths:

The possibilities are these: Bland died from an untreated head injury after State Trooper Brian Encinia bashed her head against the pavement and police staged her suicide; Bland died from an epileptic seizure (recall that Encinia’s response to Bland telling him she had epilepsy was “Good”) and police staged her suicide; Bland was killed or died in some other way in police custody and her sucide was staged; or Bland indeed took her own life, after she informed police of previous suicide attempts and they utterly failed to prevent another while she was in their care.

There is no version of events where police are not culpable for Sandra Bland’s death.

As well, systemic racism is itself alive and well. This is evident not only in the deaths at Mother Emanuel AME, where Dylann Roof murdered 9 people of color simply for existing as people of color, but also in the number of transgender women of color (and transgender people of color in general) who are murdered and have been murdered this year. Even mixed-race families aren’t immune to police harassment and brutality, to systemic racism just as they drive from their home to visit family.

Black men –

Black Men Killed by cops
From: http://images.dailykos.com/images/118810/large/Black_Men_Killed_by_cop.JPG?1417792621

and black women –

Black women killed by cops
From: http://www.onebillionrising.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/11119135_10152922664669226_5906757496662627872_n.png

keep being killed by cops. Cops keep killing them. They’re more likely to die by police violence than white people, despite being a smaller portion of the population.

In a one-year-later interview posted on MotherJones, @Nettaaaaaaaa (Johnetta Elzie) points out that Rome wasn’t built in a day:

JE: The police are still killing people. Six people died Wednesday. But I think it is so unfair that people expect leaps and bounds to happen in just 365 days. Nothing in the Civil Rights Movement was accomplished in a day. The Civil Rights Movement spanned 10 years. So, for people to expect so much out of one year is really, really wild to me. And that question kind of shows me how far removed people are from this. Proximity matters. So, if you are an onlooker, and you’re just looking for progress and improvements and things like that, then that’s a different conversation to have with someone else who’s not so invested. But for some people, this is their life. They’ve been harmed by the police. They’ve seen their family and friends harmed by the police. And this is emotional work to be doing. So in this one year, I feel like we have accomplished much. But there is still a lot to do because police are still protected by their unions, by the institution of policing in general. And still have been killing people at higher rates than even last year, for example. July was literally the deadliest month of 2015. And that’s a problem.

It is a problem. Things are different, and in some ways better–but also in some ways worse. We’ve woken up the slumbering beast. We’ve lit the match and touched it to the kindling. We cannot now ignore, no matter how much we may want to, that racism exists and is systemic and pervasive. We cannot ignore that it kills. And we cannot ignore that we still have work to do.

Coming Out is Forever

My wife and I had a conversation the other day revolving around her transition. She mentioned that she’d written a journal wherein she realizes she’ll be coming out forever–a feeling which I as a bi/pan person can understand, since I’m also always coming out. In our discussion, and in her journal, she brushed on the pressures of ‘fitting in,’ of ‘passing‘ as cisgender.

I paused the conversation there, because I wanted to check in with her. I wanted to make sure she wasn’t trying to conform to something that wasn’t her, that she wasn’t trying to fit into a mold with an ever-changing, ever-moving target of cisgender ‘femininity’ just because it has ‘cisgender’ attached to it. I wanted to make sure she felt free to be herself.

And I wanted to mention an article I’d read: The Null HypotheCis. This article points out that our society tends to treat ‘cisgender/cissexual’ as the null, the standard, the thing against which we test.

After all, surely if we’re going to risk so much, put so much at stake, in such a monumental “decision”, we should approach it carefully, and make sure to be certain, right? Shouldn’t we be looking for proof that we’re trans before gambling our whole lives on that being the case?

Well, maybe… if proof of being trans was even really something possible, beyond the simple proof of subjectively experiencing your identity and gender as such. But more importantly: we never ask ourselves for “proof” that we’re cis.

And yet–identifying as cisgender is (as the article points out) every bit as much of a subjective thing as is identifying as transgender. (And perhaps that’s part of the discomfort of transgender identities–that such persons make us call our cis selves into question, make us think about how subjective our identities really are.) I brought it up to her because I know how easy it is to buy into that narrative of the societally structured null hypothesis, that ‘straight’ is null and LGB is the question.

As a bisexual woman married to someone who didn’t come out of the closet as MtF until well after we were married, I lived with ‘heterosexual couple privilege’ for years. And I still do, in some ways, since we’re still in the very beginning stages of Eren coming out at work and making legal marker changes.

And yet–both Eren and I live with stigma every day. Both of us are eternally coming out. And sometimes, it’s exhausting and hard and emotionally draining. Sometimes people expect us to be the educational battering rams to knock down their uneducated peers’ views.

But worse? Bisexual people experience higher rates of depression and suicidal ideation than lesbian and gay folks, and transgender people have an even higher suicide rate. In a world where we’re constantly either erased or that it will kill you for existing, is it any wonder that our two groups experience such high rates of depression and suicide? No, it isn’t.

Eren and I worry more about her external safety and my internal safety. We worry about someone ‘finding out’ she’s transgender and deciding to hurt or kill her for that. A world that makes a punchline out of her existence means her existence is in itself dangerous and a challenge to the system. We worry about my internal safety as I am currently the one teetering most precariously on that depression slope. We worry that in 49 states (including ours), ‘trans panic’ is still a ‘defense’ for killing a transgender person.

So what can we do? We can recognize that transmisogyny hurts all of us:

Transmisogyny not only names the oppression trans women face as both trans people and as women, but it is also an enormously valuable concept for understanding what motivates violence in a patriarchal culture. It is both a specific descriptor and a larger framework for understanding much more about how gender works in our society. In fact, I would argue that the simultaneous hatred of both transness and femininity — transmisogyny — is at the root of much, perhaps even most, of the anti-queer violence in our world.

Let me be very clear: I in no way wish to take away from the specificity of the term transmisogyny and the experience of the world, unique to trans women and nonbinary transfeminine people, that it describes. I am emphatically not arguing that people who are not trans women or otherwise transfeminine directly experience transmisogyny. Rather, I believe that transmisogyny is such a strong (and often subconscious) influencer of attackers’ thoughts and actions that it underlies many of the ways in which people of all genders are disciplined and punished over perceived gender and sexual transgressions.

In other words, while transmisogyny is primarily aimed at trans women and transfeminine people, and it is experienced solely by them in ways that should be discussed without mention of other groups, its prevalence in the world is so widespread that it also happens to “spill over” into violence against others.

Combining this with The Null HypotheCis idea, we can see why so many people are threatened by transgressions against boundaries thought to be objective but actually subjective. And we can see that these shouldn’t actually be seen as threats but as freedoms for all of us, ways to break the bonds that those ‘objective’ boundaries have held us in. If we can break free from a reliance on supposedly objective understandings of gender and turn our gazes to subjective understandings, perhaps we can break free of the violence against queer people of all stripes–particularly transgender women of color–and perhaps we can begin to see visibility and a reduction in suicide rates amongst bi and trans groups.

And maybe–maybe then, coming out won’t be quite so exhausting.