Nick*, one of our teen patients, will occasionally be taking over the blog to talk about gender identity, mental health, and more.
I get it: It can be easy to make mistakes when it comes to talking to or about a trans* friend who has recently come out to you.
It could be that you’re “new to the whole trans* thing” and having difficulty wrapping your head around it—and that’s completely fine. However, there are a few common questions and comments that your friend may find hurtful and rude, even though you don’t mean them that way. Most of them deal with subjects that can be incredibly personal, and potentially dysphoria inducing (Dysphoria is a nasty little friend that many of us trans* folk end up having to deal with whenever we have a greater than usual disconnect with our bodies; depending on the person and situation, it can feel like anything from a mild discomfort with a part of your body to having a full on panic attack about your appearance).
Here are a few things you should NOT say to a trans* friend, and why.
A quick note, beautiful readers: I use “transgender*” and “trans*” as they’re more inclusive terms than without the asterisk. The asterisk in the name is commonly used throughout the community to acknowledge non-binary people within the trans* community, whose identities are often delegitimized and erased. As someone with more than a few non-binary folks close to me, I prefer it in my writing.
1. “Are you going to get ‘The Surgery’?” / “Have you gotten ‘The Surgery’?”
This one is one of the most frequent questions that people who are transgender*, binary or not, can get after coming out. There’s a startlingly common misconception among cisgender people that the way to prove that we are transgender* and to complete our transitions is to get the magical “Surgery.” There are many things wrong with that idea: First, there are multiple different surgeries that a trans* person can go through in order to feel more comfortable in their bodies—there is no one surgery that constitutes or “finishes” a transition. Every trans* person goes through their own, individual transition, which may or may not involve surgeries, hormone therapy, legal gender marker and/or name changes, and more. You are NOT entitled to the intimate details of your friend’s body just because they’ve come out to you. All in all, this is an overall presumptuous statement that’s best to be avoided until your friend brings up the topic themselves.
2. “Oh my god, you look so much better than me!” / “Wow, you almost look like a real guy/girl.”
This is another common statement that trans* people hear from their cis friends. Even though this phrase is usually meant to be a compliment, it tends to come across as rather condescending and patronizing. These phrases give a pointed message to the trans* person in question: Just because they’re trans*, they are inherently less attractive than any cis person. It might sound like a compliment to you, but that’s now how it will sound to your trans* friend. No matter what you intend, this phrase will never come out in the way that you mean it. This is especially true in the case of the latter, even though it may only apply to binary trans* people. The idea that trans* folks aren’t “real” boys or girls simply because we are trans* is incredibly hurtful, and can even lead to violence in certain situations.
3. “Wait, if you like boys and you’re transgender, then why not just be a straight girl?” and its variations.
Let’s all say it together now: Gender identity has nothing to do with your sexual or romantic orientation (which, yes, are different things). Gender identity deals with whether you’re a girl, guy, or anything in between or outside. Sexual and romantic orientation deal with who you’re attracted to. By asking your friend this question, you are basically invalidating their gender simply because of who they love. Being cis doesn’t determine if you’re gay, straight, anything in between or neither. There are plenty of cis people who aren’t straight, and plenty of cis people who are. In the same way, there are lots of trans* people who are straight and lots of trans* people who aren’t. If someone is a trans* man who likes exclusively guys, they are a gay guy. That isn’t something to be argued with.
That’s all for today, beautiful readers. Take what you’ve learned here about proper etiquette when it comes to talking to trans* friends and go forth and be great! Next time, I’ll be suggesting some things you SHOULD say to a trans* friend, so stay tuned.
Nick E.* is sixteen years old and writes about sexuality, gender, and mental health, among other topics. He also enjoys reading and writing his own short fiction stories.
*Not the author’s real name.
The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located in New York City. It provides comprehensive, confidential, judgment free health care at no charge to over 10,000 young people every year. This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.