“People these days! Just… too darn P.C.! It’s like you can’t even ask a question without getting called a bigot!” I have heard every variation of this statement, and it never gets easier to approach. When people are expected to be flawless and knowledgeable of all topics, we scare people into keeping those deep-rooted stereotypes hidden from the light of better understanding. Yet… while I agree that there is a problem with callout culture, there is a time and place to ask difficult questions. You might feel like this is the perfect time to hash out your troubles with nonbinary identities, but let me assure you, the other guests at the house party definitively don’t agree. So instead, ask me! Go online, find resources and confess to the deepest darkest questions. You might learn something, and if you do, share it with the world!
So… if you were a woman, and still date men now… aren’t those guys really just straight?
There are a few things we have to clear up first before I can reply to the main question. First… it’s not my place to tell people who they are, or what their sexual/romantic orientation is. That’s up to you, and you alone. If you’re a straight guy who occasionally likes to hook up with other dudes, good on you. Enjoy your sexual experiences fully! Just don’t let it become a way for you to hide behind “straightness” if the same dudes you’d enjoy time with get harassed for being openly into men. It’s also best to avoid using language that sounds definite or prescriptive. By saying “if you were a woman”, you’re making assumptions on how the person identified before they came out. The person might agree with you, and consider the time before a time they were living as another gender. Many trans people, however, will feel like their time pre-transition was a time they were just not allowed to present as their actual gender. With all that being said, if someone is attracted to me because I look like a man and they are also a man… that doesn’t sound too heterosexual! And I know what you’re thinking, “but wait, Zack, aren’t gay men defined by their attraction to… the penis?” I mean… sure. Some men who love men will define it exclusively as a “cis man loving a cis man” experience. Personally, I feel like that’s exclusionary. It doesn’t mean that I judge someone for being exclusively attracted to men with dicks! Just, when you define being a gay man as always only being into cis gay men… you invalidate a lot of people’s personal experiences. It also implies gay men would necessarily be attracted to a trans woman exclusively for the fact that she might have a penis. If I’m getting hit by another man at a bar, there is nothing about me that is signaling “woman”. No matter the potential surprise, he’s still approaching me as I’m signaling “hey world, I’m a dude” to everyone.
Are nonbinary people trans?
Good question! I’m a binary trans guy who also identifies as gender non-conforming. I like looking like a queer warlock, but ultimately if I play with gender presentation it’s an expression of my queerness rather than nonbinary identity.
Disclaimer aside, transgender as a label includes both binary trans people and nonbinary people. Nonbinary people might personally decide they don’t fit under that umbrella, and that is absolutely okay! They always invited to the party. Transgender is less of an exclusive table to sit at, and more of a picnic that’s open to the whole city. Within the community, transgender is more accurately defined as “not cisgender” so if you don’t identify as cis, you’re more than welcome to sit and join us!
I think I might be trans. I’m not sure. Is ____ a masculine or feminine thing to do?
After a couple of years in trans spaces, I’ve come to realize how unspoken yet common this question is. Every person who is doubting their gender identity will ask some variation of this question, it just seems to be a part of the messy initial steps. I’ve heard people ask trans folk about their childhoods, their preferences in high school, heck even asking us to pass judgment on someone’s drink preferences. None of these things will tell you if you’re trans. Only you can tell if you’re trans. I’m going to reveal a Big Secret about being trans in today’s world: we’re absolutely not allowed to show doubt. It’s rare that anyone will ultimately know 100% what it feels like to be “a man” or “a woman” or “a person with a gender” at all. So much of our own experience is shaped by culture, family or simple personal preferences. Gender feels like one ingredient in the omelet that is the entirety of that person. Sure, it might be separate but trying to cleanly cut it away from the rest of you can become… messy. In my opinion, it’s more important to think about how you want to appear to yourself, and how you’d like others to see you. Personally, there are plenty of things that I enjoy that are seen as “stereotypically feminine”: I enjoy makeup, glitter, and brunch. But… if I were born a cis man, I could comfortably indulge in mimosas with friends and just be written off as more feminine or as a queer man (which would be accurate). As a trans man, people will question my “gender integrity” or authenticity as a whole.
How do you tell someone you’re attracted to them but not necessarily into trans genitals?
As a queer dude who doesn’t care about a partner’s gender, I will disclose that I struggle with knowing how to reply to this. To me, when I’m attracted to someone… I’m just drawn to them. It doesn’t have to be for any reason, although a sense of curiosity and love of cartoons helps. From the perspective of a trans person, I can understand why you’d want to be sensitive. I’ve seen people’s expressions shift from interest to anxiety when I’ve returned flirtatious remarks while letting them know I’m trans. Most people just don’t know what to say or do, and there’s no formal etiquette guide for these conversations (yet). What I will say is be honest with them, but compassionate. What do you want from this interaction? Do you want to disengage? Do you want to let them know that you’re still interested, but aren’t familiar with sleeping with someone who’s trans? Quickly! Give it some thought, and try to express that with kindness. If someone being trans isn’t a deal-breaker for you, for the love of all things vibrating, don’t say “it doesn’t matter, I’m bi/queer/pan”! This person wants to hear their gender identity is being affirmed, especially by someone who’s interested in them. By saying the reason why their transness doesn’t matter is because you’re not exclusively into ____ means you don’t see them as the gender they are. Instead, say “of course I’m into trans women! I’m also pan, just as an aside, how do you identify, sexually?”. If you find yourself accidentally hurting someone’s feelings, apologize sincerely. If they want to drop the issue, let it go and realize for them it may take some time to feel better. When someone invalidates how you see yourself, it can make you doubt how the world at large sees you. You begin doubting everyone who’s ever interacted with you. It is completely destabilizing!
How do I show my support without getting yelled at?
“So I used to support trans* people. Then one day, I got into a debate with someone, and they freaked out and said I was being transphobic! Since then, I just don’t feel comfortable publicly supporting trans causes or groups, especially if they’re going to attack allies like that.”
I’m sympathetic to being yelled at, and not being sure of how or why. We’ve all been in those social situations where we hurt someone, felt the condemnation of our peers but can’t fully understand why. It’s painful, and can feel isolating. Ultimately though, I think we need to have a certain stoicism about being questioned on our words. We need to ease into the discomfort, understand it isn’t personal all while continuing to grow past the slip-up.
Personally, if someone used to support a marginalized group because “it’s the right thing”, then they drop the righteous cause when they feel personally hurt… maybe they weren’t doing it for the right reasons. I mean, imagine if people stopped supporting other causes because they felt personally criticized! There can be a sense of entitlement from assuming the A means “allies” instead of asexual, to criticizing someone actively marginalized for having a “poor attitude” because “allies are the ones you have to convince!”. Allies are wonderful. I absolutely am grateful to allies, but there are moments when allies can be wrong. If I have to convince you of my humanity through a certain extra layer of kindness and politeness… then you need to work on that by yourself. You aren’t ready to be an ally if being an ally means feeling entitled to all the praise without any of the painful growth all of us necessarily have to do. On that note, there’s also a quickness to dismiss an ally for standing up in a slightly clumsy way. In general, expecting people to be able to perform allyship perfectly every time is unreasonable. We’re all learning, and while it’s not the job of any marginalized person to teach decency, it’s also important for us to not destroy someone for simply not knowing.
I know someone who’s trans and is currently living life as a woman. How do I refer to them pre-transition?
Ask them! The best way to find out is to simply ask, and create a better rapport with your friend in the process. She likely has a preference for how she refers to her past self, and figuring it out sooner will prevent any hurt feelings on either side. If you’re referring to someone who’s in the public eye or a celebrity who very publicly transitioned unless they’ve said otherwise, use their current gender and pronouns. For example, if a famous singer transitioned and is living life as a man, you’d refer to their past works by using their current pronouns. “Oh, is that his song back before he transitioned? His voice was much higher!” Mostly, it’s done to prevent someone from being unnecessarily “outed” to people they wouldn’t normally be out to. Not everyone is comfortable with trans people, and it’s best to let your trans friend set the level of openness. Just please… don’t unnecessarily argue with anyone about how they want to be referred to, past or present.
So you used to look like a woman. Now you look like a man. Do people treat you differently?
Interesting question! Yes, definitively. It wasn’t necessarily in a way I expected, but there has been a profound change in how people behave. I also lost a lot of weight and found my confidence in transitioning made me more pleasant to be around, so take that into account as well. Men either treat me like a “youth” when I’m actually closer to 30, or think I’m just very gay. I feel comfortable walking down the street near men, and I don’t anticipate catcalling anymore. Still, I’m very aware that I went from being a tall and broad “woman” to being a tall but slim man (with noodle arms). I still worry about being attacked for appearing queer or trans. I had a situation on public transportation where a strange man was trying to get people’s attention in order to start a fight. He started yelling out, “F**! F*****!” and I wondered who exactly he was talking to. Suddenly I realized… oh, he’s talking about me! OH WOW. My anxiety told me to get out of there quickly, then I waited around the corner. The man came out, started getting angry with another stranger, and in the blink of an eye, there was an all-out brawl. I had to call the police, as the man started attacking random passersby, and I realized just how powerless I would be to defend myself in a fight. Women haven’t really changed towards their behavior towards me, but they’re more likely to give me flirty glances. I’m still not used to that, and especially not when there’s still a social expectation that men will ask women out first (to dance, drinks, dinner). That’s a certain kind of death-defying anxiety! Finally… my nonbinary friends haven’t changed in their behavior towards me except to discuss and groan about gender expectations in society.
I’m trans, but I think I might be intersex! Wait… do your genitals look like this? Did you do this as a child?
I found out that my body preferred testosterone naturally when I began transitioning. It was a weird thing to discover of myself, but it firmly explained a lot of issues I had growing up. People would be surprised at how quickly I grew facial hair, and I’d explain that I guess my body took well to it since I already had a high baseline of testosterone. People usually find that intriguing, but the worst thing is when a trans friend begins to use me as a yardstick to compare their biology. It’ll make me feel like a lab rat, and suddenly they feel just as entitled as a chaser to knowing the intimate details of my body. People will question every delicate detail, and it makes you feel really gross. They want to hear that they could also be biologically different or intersex, and feel like this might legitimize their gender dysphoria. I’m here to tell you, it won’t. If you find out that your biologically different than most people, it will not cause folks to suddenly go, “oh, and you’re trans? Well of course! I get that, how could I be so stupid?!”. They will instead ask you more invasive questions, tell you that you should get medication to adjust that balance in favor of the gender identity you don’t connect with, and explain that it’s a physical issue. If you try to play a bigot’s game, you won’t win. So please, don’t demand intimate details from your intersex friends. Go speak to your doctor instead.