I am participating in Trans*forming the Dialogue, Simmons College’s Online MSW Program’s campaign to promote an educational conversation about the transgender community. By participating in this campaign, I will be offering my perspective on what TO ask and what NOT to ask trans*people.
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In my case, I am comfortable answering almost any question about being transgender. However, this doesn't mean that my openness is typical of transgender people. One of the questions that most transgenders dislike being asked of them is whether they have had bottom surgery. Being female may be more of a social construct than it is a physical construct. And from my experiences in the world of females, if I'm following the "written and unwritten rules of femininity", then I'll be accepted as a female - even when women in a group know that I wasn't born with female "plumbing".
Other bloggers have noted that they don't like being asked "Why do you do this?" and "When did you first know you are Trans?" For me, given that the public is only starting to gain an awareness of "Transness", I have no problems answering these questions. Yet, I consider them to be in as bad a taste as if one was asking the same of a Gay or Lesbian person.
Of course, many people wonder if and how our sexual preference is tied to our gender identities. And again, this is a touchy subject. There are very few conditions that one needs to know a person's sexual preference - and one of them is when a person is searching for love, where one wants to be sure that a proposition is made to a person who won't feel uncomfortable with that proposition.
An inevitable question comes up from curious people - "How does it feel to be a (wo)man?" Although this question may be in bad taste, the person may want to take advantage of a transgender person's unique experiences, and learn more about life than s/he would learn from her/his own experiences. I'm not yet comfortable answering this question, as I do not have enough experiences as a female to adequately contrast my male experiences with my female experiences.
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There are so many questions, and so many of them are wrong - only in how information is gathered. Instead of asking "How were you treated when you were a boy/girl?", you might ask about the expectations of his/her assigned gender, and how he/she dealt with them? Ask the transgender person how best to approach topics, such as which pronouns to use, how to refer to childhood, etc. - there is no "one size fits all" questions or answers.
Even though I am transgender, I am still learning things about myself, and the things I am comfortable talking about. What works for me does not work for everyone. But the most important thing is that we have a dialogue with people about being transgender. Only by dialogue, will people find out that we are not freaks - but are people born with (as I see it) a cerebral intersex condition....