My friend Brian has a wonderful post called “Eight Things I Don’t Need to Hear from Straight People”. It’s a really great post about people who are trying to be supportive, but who say hurtful things. With his permission I am adapting the post and writing about things I don’t need to hear from cisgender people. This isn’t saying that all cisgender people say these things, or that the people who do say these things are mean or cruel, but it is about calling out hurtful behaviour and about hopefully helping people to be better allies. I realize that we all make mistakes (I have even done some of the things on this list), but my hope is that once attention is called to the hurtful things we do and say that we can change those behaviours and move on.
This is an incomplete list and probably won’t be true to everyone’s experience, but these are things that I have heard a lot and am tired of hearing. Feel free to add your own in the comments!
* Upon telling someone that I am transgender, having that person say “oh, I already knew because you have (insert whatever “feminine feature” here)”. This is incredibly insulting for a number of reasons. One, it assumes that you can tell someone is trans* just by looking at them and this is simply not the case. Two, I already worry that I don’t fit in properly or that something about me will “give me away” (especially in a dangerous situation) and you have now fed into my fears and insecurities. Even if what you have said is true, it’s hurtful.
Along with the above I’d like to add that just because I told you that I’m trans* does not give you permission to tell other people. You shouldn’t assume that because I told one person that I am always open about my trans* status. It should be my decision about when to tell someone I am trans* and it puts me in danger when you out me without my permission.
* When I tell someone that a particular term they use is hurtful or that I won’t answer a certain question and they respond “Well, my other trans* friend lets me call them that and they’re not offended!” All trans* people are not the same. We don’t experience our genders the same or our transitions the same. What might be perfectly okay for one trans* person is totally offensive for another. It’s confusing, I know, but it’s also the truth of diverse people. Not all of your friends are the same why would you assume that all trans* people are the same? Instead of getting defensive respect the boundaries that I am placing around conversation.
* “You must have a really unique view of what it’s like to be both genders!” I get this one a lot. For some folks it might be true, but it’s not true for me and it’s kind of frustrating to hear it. I have always been visibly queer so I have no idea what it’s like to get treated like a straight woman. I have no idea about how to move through the world in that way. Even before transition I was never a woman. So, no, I don’t know what it’s like to be both genders (and this also assumes that there are only two genders which is also false!).
* “Wow, that’s really cool, I totally support you, so are you like fully male now?” This is another one I get way too often. In what universe is it polite or acceptable to ask about the genitalia of someone else? If I am not planning on being intimate with you it is none of your damn business what’s in my pants. I wish I could say it was a rare occasion when someone asked me about my surgical status and/or genitals but it happens pretty often. There is this idea that the person asking will only accept me as male if I have all of the proper equipment.
* I don’t need you to apologize profusely when you misgender me. Apologize once, don’t do it again, let’s move on. This happened a lot when I was early in my transition. Someone would use the wrong pronoun and then fall all over themselves to apologize. That may seem like a nice thing to do, but in reality it just calls attention to the situation and makes the misgendered person feel worse. It was also often the case that the person doing the profuse apologizing would promptly mess up the pronoun again. Here’s how to handle the situation: Apologize once, don’t do it again. That’s all. And if someone corrects you about their preferred pronoun, don’t get defensive. Just use the correct one next time.
* If a trans* person tells you something is offensive to trans* people do not respond “You’re just being too sensitive!” or “It was just a joke!” This happens all the time, especially as the mass media still thinks that it’s okay to make jokes about trans* people, particularly trans* women. You don’t get to tell someone who is oppressed what is or isn’t offensive. The reality is that a lot of what passes for “jokes” in the media are laced with a history of devaluing the lives of trans* women which puts them in danger. Any time a trans* person is made into a joke or dehumanized it gives license to those who wish to do violence to trans* people. Instead of making excuses, work to change the culture which finds such things “funny”.
Again, this post isn’t about dog piling on cisgender people, but it is about calling out behaviour that is inappropriate and hurtful no matter how well meaning. I’ve had great friends and even people I consider allies make some of the above mistakes. It doesn’t mean they are big jerks or that they aren’t trying, they just need a little education (as we all do when we face something that is outside of our realm of experience).
Do you have things you’re sick of hearing from cisgender people? Let us know in the comments!
UPDATE: This post was so popular, I wrote a follow up post: 8 Awesome Things Cisgender People Can Do! Check it out!