An advice column about sexuality, gender, dating and overall queerness
By Mollie Whuppie /// Staff Writer
“My friend recently told me that he’s trans. He seemed annoyed when I asked him if he’d gotten surgery yet. What did I do wrong? What should I say if a situation like this comes up in the future?”
– Confused Cis Person
Dear Confused Cis Person,
As Laverne Cox, star of Orange Is the New Black, once put it, “The preoccupation with transition and surgery objectifies trans people. And then we don’t get to really deal with the real, lived experiences.” I totally agree with her. Asking a trans person if they’ve had “the surgery” yet is kind of like asking a cis man if he’s circumcised or not. It’s a really personal topic and not something you need to know. It also reinforces the notion that all trans people need (and have access to) surgery. For many people, financial or medical constraints prevent them from getting surgery. Other people simply aren’t interested in surgery. Keep in mind, too, that there are many surgeries, and having had surgery doesn’t guarantee that a person has had the one you’re thinking of.
Regarding what to do in the future, I suggest trying to let the person who is disclosing guide the discussion. Remember that disclosure is a very trusting decision, so don’t derail the conversation by making it about anything other than what they want to share.
When asking questions to someone who just told you they’re transgender or queer, a good rule of thumb is to keep in mind two things: First, do you need to know the answer; Second, would you want someone to ask you that? That’s why I think that pragmatic questions like “What name and pronoun do you want me to use for you?” or “What do you want me to do if I hear someone misgender you?” are usually preferred over questions about hormones and surgery. Some people might want to talk about their medical transitions, but you shouldn’t assume that they do—or even are undergoing any. Additionally, just because someone is out to you about being trans does not mean that they are the spokesperson for all trans people.
One super important point that I cannot emphasize enough is that just because someone told you that they’re trans (or queer) does not mean that they want everybody to know. Outing a trans person is very inconsiderate, and could easily have a lot of unintended consequences. If they’re not out to their family, they could be kicked out and cut off. If they’re not out to other people, they could—at a minimum—be embarrassed. If word gets to their employer, they could lose their job, especially if they don’t live in a state that bans employment discrimination. There’s a huge threat of violence to trans people, and outing them in some sort of public setting puts them even more at risk. The moral of the story is: don’t do it. If someone trusts you enough to reveal a part of their identity to you, it’s your duty to make yourself worthy of their trust by respecting their privacy.
Mollie Whuppie & Friends