Attention cis people. Are you struggling to overcome your prejudice? Confused about the right things to say and do? Wondering why everyone got so offended by that thing you said? Well, have I got the quiz for you! Try your best to answer honestly, and don’t stop to think about how this is an issue better solved by introspection and self-evaluation. Nobody has time for that. Speaking of, on with the quiz!
Question 1: You’ve just misgendered a trans person in a public setting. What do you do?
A. Double down. Oh, you thought that was an accident? Grow up, snowflake.
B. Breeze past it and avoid eye contact until the error is forgotten.
C. Apologise profusely, lamenting your own foolishness.
Answer: Wrong! The actual answer is D) None of the above.
“But why didn’t I get that option?” I hear you ask, “that’s what I would have picked!” Yes, obviously, but that wouldn’t have been your real reaction. You know that this is a quiz about transphobia and you don’t want to be called a bigot, so, given the option, you’d have hedged your bets and picked the answer where I teach you something. I’m still going to do that, but you don’t get to feel superior about it. Going out on a limb, I’m sure you’re all aware that A is not exactly the desired response, given its blatant transphobia. As popular culture gets closer to a general consensus that trans people are allowed to be alive, this option is becoming less acceptable in the mainstream. However, for those of you who have the luxury of forgetting, I will remind you that this school of bigotry is still very much alive and kicking. We still have a long way to go, even on this, most bare-minimum of fronts. A distressingly popular choice is option B, which comes into its own among figures of authority and self-assured friend-of-a-friend types. No one likes making mistakes or looking foolish, but it would appear that all of you have decided to take being corrected as an attack on your public image. Most often, this results in an uncalled for private confrontation where the trans person in question is subjected to a courtroom-worthy analysis and justification of the behaviour of all involved. Rest assured, this gets old very quickly. Now, this is making option C look quite good, but I’ll have to stop you there. You made a mistake. Correct yourself. Move on. Do not pause the entire conversation to wallow in your guilt. We understand that misgendering someone is an accident, and, as long as you put effort into changing the way you think so it happens less often, it’s not a big deal. If you instead choose to put yourself down in the hope that we’ll tell you that it’s okay, then I have bad news for you. Your embarrassment is not our problem, and it’s not our job to make you feel better. Trans people have got quite enough to deal with already without you throwing your unnecessary feelings onto the pile. You can actively improve our lives just by insulting yourself less and telling others to do the same. That’s a pretty good deal, if I do say so myself.
Question 2: You overhear some people discussing the transphobia they experience, and you have something relevant to share. How do you go about doing so?
A. Start playing devil’s advocate, baby! Get a proper debate going!
B. Stand next to them for long enough that it would be awkward to not involve you in conversation, then expound upon your own thoughts.
C. Enter into the conversation, and wait for them to finish speaking before you introduce your point.
Answer: Stop it! That is a faulty premise, m’lord! Once more, you must opt for a fourth alternative.
You lot never stop and consider whether you actually need to say anything. We always get asked how to open a conversation, and never when to do so, or whether one should at all. Your desire to demonstrate how educated and inclusive you are leads to the total abandonment of all common courtesy. This shouldn’t need to be said, but if you don’t know someone, do not engage them in a conversation about the validity of their existence. That is what you are doing, by the way, when you “discuss” trans rights with us. No matter whether you’re looking for a debate, an explanation, or validation, you’re positioning us to represent the entire trans community to you. If we don’t do a good job of it, there’s a real risk that your prejudices will be reaffirmed and you’ll cause harm to someone else. Often, we have to deal with aspects of this every day, with every person, in every conversation. It’s exhausting. We are more than our gender, and to only be approached for this singular aspect of ourselves is dehumanising and depressing. Look, I get it. I’m kind of telling you off for the inherent nature of humanity. Everyone wants to share information, collaborate, and explore the world together. Relationships are built on shared understanding and respect, which requires learning about each other’s experiences. It’s a beautiful process, but please take a moment to think about your intentions before trying to engage. Is your opinion relevant to the discussion, or is it just “generally to do with trans people”? If we’re talking about transphobia in the workplace, your salient new article about trans healthcare is more of a distraction than a contribution. Is this the correct time/place to have this conversation? A good explanation can’t happen in five minutes on a bus, no matter how fast you talk. These things take effort and the security of knowing your privacy is guaranteed. Trans rights are a contentious issue, and—especially for an out or visibly trans person—are not something to be debated in a setting where our safety could be at risk. Most importantly, are you looking for an excuse to get on a soapbox about your own thoughts? You’re allowed to have an opinion, but you shouldn’t use the existence of a trans person in your presence as an excuse to share it.
Question 3: You have a query about being trans, and know just the person to ask. How should you bring this up to them?
A. At great volume in a public place, with zero respect for their privacy or comfort.
B. By asking any and all questions, regardless of how appropriate they are.
C. In a private conversation, attempting to rid yourself of all your misconceptions.
Answer: I’m sure you’ve picked up on the pattern by now.
Only one word for you in this situation: Google. Many of you seem to be under the impression that when we come out, we’re instilled with some kind of “trans-omniscience” and therefore must know the answer to anything you’d want to ask. Newsflash: we don’t. As with every other group of people, the trans community is not a monolith. My personal insights on trans people in sport stretch about as far as my sporting interest in general, which is to say not very far at all. If you want an informed answer, you should find knowledgeable sources who’re personally invested in the topic. You could, in fact, seek out the thoughts of an actual trans sportsperson, rather than your one trans friend who has no reason to know anything about this, but now feels a responsibility to become an expert. Still, many of you struggle with this even when you’re trying your best to be understanding. Transness is a concept new to many, so there’s confusion over how to be polite and what the correct behaviours are. This is happily exacerbated by the media who play into stereotypes and clickbait-y shock stories to position us far outside of the realms of traditional society. This is a nonsensical and prejudiced separation, because if you follow the standard social boundaries that exist within any conversation, no one’s going to be offended. To my knowledge, genitals, childhood trauma, mental health and future surgical plans, aren’t traditionally on the agenda during a first meeting or casual chitchat. Consequently, I don’t think that our request for you to not use these topics as icebreakers is as unreasonable as some of you are making out. Underneath your well-meaning misunderstanding, there’s a subconscious conviction that we need to justify our identities and perform them in a way that is acceptable to cis onlookers. Our privacy is revoked and our time is stolen as we explain our gender, our history, our families reactions, our joy, our worries and fears, and any other private information that you feel entitled to knowing before you decide if we’re worth respecting. Fuck that. Being trans is awesome, and no amount of furious, bigoted protesting will ever take that away. Your ignorance, concern and pity at our lives; your avoidance and suppression of our voices; your violence and hatred for our identities. None of that will hold us down. We’re a part of this world, and we always have been.
If you knew what was wrong with the options, and what you should do instead.
Excellent! Keep doing what you’re doing, and you won’t go wrong. It’s always heartening to remember that there is support out there, even while the most hateful voices are shouting their loudest.
If you thought there was something off in the options, but weren’t sure what or how to fix it.
There’s still a way to go, but you’ve got a solid foundation. Keep investigating when something doesn’t feel quite right, and don’t be afraid to (politely) ask questions about the finer details. Keep it to the right time and place though, yeah?
If you didn’t pick up on the problems in all three options.
Hey, there’s a reason why this was written! Hopefully this helped to clarify some ideas and suggest more supportive behaviours. Being willing to listen is the best first step you can take.