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Talking about Trans

Breaking barriers and getting to know trans individuals

Trans. Image by Jonathan Rotsztain
Get to know someone. Image by Jonathan Rotsztain

Author’s note: When I use the term “trans”, I mean anyone identifying with a term starting in trans, such as transsexual, transgender, transitioning, etc. When I use the term “cis”, I mean people born into the gender they identify with.

When we see trans individuals in the media, they are often portrayed as hyper-sexualized and de-humanized people. We hear off-colour jokes about trans sex workers, or about a cisgendered person being horrified when they realize that the person they find themselves attracted to is trans.

Good Magazine senior editor Cord Jefferson puts it bluntly: “The first time I openly laughed at a transgendered person I was 12 years old (…) I was seeing Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.” If you’re not familiar with the movie, there’s a scene where Ventura realizes he has kissed a trans person, and he proceeds to vomit violently. The media portrays trans people as sneaky, shocking, sexual and nauseating; no wonder trans individuals face so much stigma. As a society we lack positive representations of trans folks.

This is part of the reason it can be complicated for trans people to figure their own stuff out. Often trans individuals have developed complicated relationships with things such as their name, their clothes, their government ID and the bathrooms they choose to frequent. They also often have complicated relationships with romance, hooking up, dating and flirting.

Because of these things, it’s hard to know how to chat with a trans person, and more specifically, how to flirt. Should you mention you think their stubble is cute? That you like their strong shoulders? Will that make them feel uncomfortable?

Whether you are interested in dating a trans person, or would just like to feel more comfortable chatting with the one you sit next to in class, here are a few thoughts on breaking barriers.

Questions are great, but wait on the ones relating to their trans identity until you know them a little better

There are a thousand things to ask a person you’re interested in without needing to talk about their gender. Which classes are you taking? Do you like sports? Where did you get your bike? Would you like a drink? Just because you might feel comfortable talking about the shape of your bits, it doesn’t mean everyone is. Get to know someone and you’ll soon find you know where their barriers are.

“It” is not a pronoun, it’s an insult

If you are confused which gender to call someone, call them by their first name, or use the pronoun “they.” Trans individuals also go by a collection of pronouns, including “ze” or “hir,” but no one will get on your case about the use of “they”(with the exception of your English prof).

Don’t Assume

Don’t assume gender, sex or sexual orientation. There are queer trans men and trans women; there are individuals who don’t want to pick a gender or orientation; there are individuals figuring their stuff out who might be interested in or confused about many genders and sexualities. Don’t assume. As my mom says, “It makes an ass out of you and me.”

We’ve been raised in a gender binary world and we’re rather nosey. When there are individuals breaking that binary, it immediately spurs a collection of questions: Why? How? When? As my friend Shay says, “We’re all special fucking snowflakes.” Everyone’s different. Sometimes we’re proud of our differences, and sometimes we’re ashamed. Sometimes we’re just tired of everybody asking us about them. So be kind, be careful, look at body language and listen to cues. If someone’s uncomfortable with your inquiry, change the subject. There are a million things to talk about besides sex or gender.

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