If I just dropped this link on you, it’s probably because you used some language that makes me a little uncomfortable. I’m quite sure it was well-meaning and came from a place of love, which is why I feel safe sending you this link and having this chat. You are someone that is important enough to me that I want to preserve our friendship by helping you learn and grow.
You’re probably feeling a little uncomfortable and awkward right now, and that’s OKAY. I feel that way all the time (trust me: every. single. day.), and I probably felt that way about sending you this link just now but I did it anyway because it’s important. It’s not just you – clearly this happens a lot or I wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of writing a whole post for this exact scenario. 😉
I’m a queer and agender person. If you didn’t know that or aren’t quite sure what that means – start here. If you’re a little confused about transgender identities in general or you’re looking for more basics, start here.
For me, this means a few things:
My pronouns are they/them/theirs. If you’d like to learn more about that, start here.
Many types of gendered language make me very uncomfortable. This includes calling me terms of endearment like “Lady” or “Girlfriend” or “Woman” or “Sister”. This happens a lot, especially within midwifery circles – but I’d really prefer you take a moment to consider less gendered terms to use to refer to me (and any other folks in your life who may feel uncomfortable with gendered language). Try “Friend”, “Sibling”, “Human”, “Love”, or a multitude of other words that don’t carry a gendered connotation.
Please don’t ever call me “female-bodied”. There are some trans people who may be ok with that language (female-bodied or male-bodied), but it’s generally a term you should avoid unless it’s explicitly been used by the trans person you’re engaging with initially. For me, it’s a hard no. I’m not going to give you an alternative for this phrase because you don’t need to talk about my body and it’s intricacies and parts. If you’re my care provider or lover, I’ll tell you my preferred language. If you’re neither of those things, simply refrain from talking about my body.
Addressing a group? Rather than “Ladies and Gentlemen”, try a greeting that isn’t so exclusionary. Try “Honored Guests/Colleagues”, “Beautiful People”, “Distinguished Guests”, “Friends and Colleagues”, or you can take a page from Doctor Who and try “Ladies, Gentlemen, and variations thereupon!” 😉
Looking for the appropriate honorific to introduce me formally or address some mail? Mx. This isn’t a new term (it’s been around since the 1970s), but it’s less common and you might not have heard of it. You can learn more about it here. Mx. Arden Kindred, folks.
When I hear someone use the wrong pronoun or word and then correct themselves, it warms my heart. I never expect perfection, but I expect the people I love to care enough to TRY. The effort is beautiful. Making no excuses for mistakes but instead continuing to work on reducing them is all I will ever ask from you.
Let’s talk about some of the things that are NOT appropriate to ask any trans person. Often these questions come from a place of love and wanting to learn more and form connection, but they are also often simply motivated by curiosity. I want to make something crystal clear – regardless of your motivation for asking, trans people do not owe you answers about their journey, their bodies, their dysphoria (or lack thereof), their medical decisions, their genitals, their sex life, or their birth names. PERIOD. If a trans person wants to share any of this information with you, they will do so. It is not appropriate to ask, nor is it appropriate to ask a trans person’s friend or family member for this type of personal information. It’s none of your business, frankly. Unless you’re a medical care provider or imminently about to engage in sex with a trans person, their body is NEVER an appropriate subject for you to ask about. Let me repeat this – WE will tell you what we feel comfortable sharing, of our own accord, when we’re ready (which may be never and you should respect that).
I never expect perfection from the people around me. I’m imperfect, I’ve used the wrong pronouns for recently transitioned or genderfluid friends in the past and I’ve had to correct myself and apologize now and then. We’re human, and that’s ok.
What is not ok is justifying or defending your mistake by placing the blame on someone else – PARTICULARLY the person you’ve just harmed. Deflecting is never a healthy way to deal with this situation, but doing it to trans people who are often viscerally affected by your mistake is especially egregious. Take responsibility.
One of the hardest conversations I have with people who make mistakes is when they defend themselves with “You don’t LOOK trans though”, or “It’s hard for me to remember because you look like a girl.” Those words feel like gut punches, and I rarely respond to them well in the moment because they feel so intense to process. There is no way to “look trans”. There is no such thing as “trans enough”. These defensive comments feel invalidating and incredibly heavy. They don’t make you less culpable for your mistake, they twist the knife. When you make a mistake own it. Sit with your own hang-ups in how you see trans people in another conversation, with a cis ally. Don’t make your trans friends hold your hand when they’re likely already struggling with you.
So what now?
So you’ve figured out where you went wrong, now what? It’s not a big deal. Just a simple “Oops, sorry, I’ll do better next time” is all I want from anyone when a mistake is made. It’s just a mistake, I know there was no ill will. Thank you for taking the time to read and learn, and I’m so excited that you’ve taken this opportunity to grow. That’s all folks!