Big thanks to my friend Emma Maree for help with this post, and catching the questions I forgot.
OK, we understand: your friend has just come out as trans, and you want to be the best support you. Thing is, you don’t really know a lot about being trans, and while these days there is helpful information all over the internet, each person experiences it differently. You have questions, and so you ask your friend. And then get really confused when they’re upset.
It’s ok. This isn’t a rant to slap down people who ask the wrong questions with good intentions. Those people usually want to learn. If you’re not one of those people, I suggest becoming one very quickly, or you’re going to lose a lot of friends.
This is a list of questions you shouldn’t ask a trans person, and I will do my best to explain why.
“So are you post-op/pre-op?”
Let’s start with the one that comes up the most. And it has a really simple answer: none of your fucking business. Like I wrote about in my post on passing, not all trans people are going to “pass” for their cisgender counterparts, and that is totally fine. This question comes with the judgement of whether a person is “truly trans” or not. If a person says they’re trans, they are. Medical procedures or lack thereof aren’t going to change that.
“What junk do you have?”
This one is particularly nasty, because not only is it using a person’s genitalia to define their gender, which is complete nonsense, but this is often a stance used by TERFs (Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminists) to deny the existence of transwomen in particular. What a person has in their pants doesn’t define their gender, and this question is just fucking rude. We don’t go about asking cis people what junk you have, don’t do it to us.
“So what was your name before?”
If you’ve met someone after they’ve changed their name, guess what? You don’t need to know what their dead name is. A lot of trans people change their names for very good reasons: because their old name was causing dysphoria, they feel their new one fits better with their identity, or because they had to leave their families because it was dangerous. You don’t get to invade their privacy and potential put them in danger just because you were feeling nosy.
“So who’s the man/woman in the relationship?”
This one happens to gay/lesbian/other sexuality couples a lot too, and again it’s just really rude. It’s based on the heteronormative view of relationships, and even if you don’t mean it to be it comes across as a way to invalidate a relationship just because it doesn’t fit the “norm”.
“Won’t they cheat for [BS Reason]?”
So funny thing; your gender doesn’t define if you’re a good person or not. If you’re gonna cheat on your partner, you’re going to do it whether you’re cis, trans, gay, pansexual, demisexual, whatever. Asking trans people this again makes us feel like we’re some sort of deviants, that you think we’re suddenly bad people for being who we are.
“Aren’t you worried you’ll get bulky/lose your boobs/[some other bodily change]?”
This one always strikes me as an odd one, because I’m pretty sure your trans friend has long ago considered all this, and decided if needbe it is a necessary price to pay to finally feel at home in their skin. They may want the bodily change, they may not, but really, unless they decide to talk to you about it, it’s none of your business. Not all change is bad.
“So what bathroom do you use?”
One that has a toilet in it. Unless you enjoy peeing outside, by all means go ahead. What bathroom do you use, cis person?
Ok, I was being flippant. This is a really stupid question for a variety of reasons:
1) everyone has to use the bathroom, we need to stop being so precious about it.
2) It can actually be really dangerous. Just today (the 9th as I’m writing this), there have been reports of people bombing a women’s bathroom in Target because the store were perfectly happy to let trans people use whatever bathroom they saw fit. Imagine asking your trans friend this question within earshot of someone who thinks that’s ok.
3) It’s really disrespectful. Again it smacks of you not trusting your friend when they tell you their gender. Please don’t.
OK, I saved the two biggest ones for last. They shouldn’t have to be explained, but I will, just to make sure everyone gets it.
“But what if you want to have kids?”
Some trans men can get pregnant. Some trans women can help get someone pregnant. Well, they can if they have the capacity. Funny thing? This applies to cis people too. And for cis people who don’t have children themselves? Adoption and fostering services. For trans people? Same thing.
For a cis couple who can’t get pregnant on their own? Sperm donors or surrogates. For trans people? Same. Fucking. Thing.
As a society we really need to move away from the notion that the main goal in life is to get married and have a family. For a lot of people that’s not even on the top 20 things they want to do with their life list. And we need to stop with the gender prejudices about who can get pregnant and who can get people pregnant. If trans people want to have kids, they’ll find a way, just as cis people do. Stop treating us like medical freaks.
“Are you sure you won’t regret it/change your mind?”
Here’s the deal: if your trans friend has trusted you enough to come out to you, they have thought about this, thought about the implications it will have on their life, AND STILL KNOWN THEY WERE TRANS. Also, if they later decide to transition back, THAT’S ALSO TOTALLY FINE. Gender is a spectrum, and people often move back and forward along it. Just because I say I am a genderqueer trans boy just not doesn’t mean I might not go hyper-masculine trans boy in a couple years time (spoilers, I won’t, because hyper-masculinity is bullshit). I might go full queen, and be the most effeminate boy I can be. That is all 110% fine.
Some trans people do regret coming out, because it tears apart their home life, or puts them in danger, or alienates them from friends. The reason they are telling you they are trans is because they trust you with this information about themselves, and yeah, would like you to support them when they need it. Preying on their insecurities so they fit back in the gender binary bullshit and make your life easier isn’t a very friendly thing to do.
All of these are not ok to actually ask trans people, BUT if your trans friend comes to you and wants to talk to you about an issue, don’t then pull the questions out in some sort of fake concern nonsense. Listen to what your friend is saying, and treat them like you’ve always treated them. If that’s badly, you’re a shitty person and you need to change that yesterday.
If you want to know more information about being trans, that’s what blogs like this are for. There’s loads of information on the internet, go find it. I know I would much rather be able to go to a friend with a concern, and they tell me about something they read about on the internet and how it might relate to my situation than have them ask invasive, rude questions and use me as their education token in a vulnerable time.
It’s common decency, and being a good friend. Think before you ask: if it’s not something you would ask your cis friends, chances are it’s something you shouldn’t ask a trans friend either.