Proper Etiquette when dealing with the transgender
Respect their gender identity
If the person standing in front of you is presenting themselves as a woman then address that person as a woman. If the person is presenting as a man,
then consider that person a man. This means that you should use the proper pronouns and address them with the proper name. If the person has always
been known to you as Christopher but uses the name Christine when dressed as a woman, you should address her as "Christine." If you mistakenly use
the wrong pronoun or name, don't apologize too much, just follow the mistake with the right term and continue what you were saying.
Ask respectful and appropriate questions
If you have a question that isn't too personal, ask it. Most transgender people will be happy to answer any question as long as you are respectful
and the question isn't inappropriate. Just keep in mind what is and isn't appropriate. It is certainly appropriate to ask them what name they are using but
asking about how they have sex is certainly not appropriate. You probably would not ask a woman that you just met at a cocktail party if they are gay
or bisexual, so don't feel that it is OK to ask such a personal question of a transgender person.
If a situation is appropriate for asking personal questions, here are a few that you may consider:
Would you be willing to help me understand some things about gender?
What does gender identity mean to you?
Do you identify with the term "transsexual", "crossdresser", "transgender", or some other term?
In what ways can I support you?
Please keep in mind that not every transperson is an authority on gender issues, so don't expect them to know everything. Also, if the person looks obviously
uncomfortable with these questions, please be courteous and gently change the subject.
Respect their privacy
Many transgender people are not "out," so please do not out them. When a transgender person tells you of their transgender status, they are entrusting
you with a secret. If you out them then you are betraying that trust.
Treat them like any other person of that gender
A transperson presenting as a woman wants to be considered to be a woman and treated as such. Similarly, a transperson presenting as a man wants to be
consered a man and treated as a man. If you have any doubt how to act, just use some common sense and act as if they had been born and raised in the
gender they are presenting.
Familiarize yourself with the vocabulary
It is often very helpful and less awkward for everyone if you became familiar with some of common transgender-related terms and their usage. By doing so, you are better equipped to talk more intelligently about transgender-related
topics and will also help the transgender person you are talking with feel comfortable.
It should be noted that the term transgender should be used as an adjective, not as a noun. Do not say, "Chris is a transgender," or "There are a lot of
transgenders here." Instead say, "Chris is a transgender person," or "There are a lot of transgender people here."
Please be careful of 'slang' terms. Just as the "n word" may be considered offensive by many in the African-American community, there are slang terms
that many transgender people find offensive and dehumanizing. "Shemale" is one of the most noteworthy. Although this term may not have the exact same
connotation everywhere, in the United States it is considered to be a term used only in the porn industry or with sex workers. Other defamatory
terms include "he-she" and "it." In a related note, it is never appropriate to put quotation marks around the pronoun used with a transgender
individual. Again, treat the transperson as you would anyone else of the gender that individual is presenting as.
Things not to do
Don't make the transgender feel 'fake'
Do not refer to a non-transgender person a "real woman" or a "real man" or say things like "You look so real." Using terms like "real" or
"natural" can make the transgender person feel that you think they are fake or unnatural somehow. transgender people are real people so
deserve to be treated as such.
Don't assume that the transgender are kinky
Do not assume that a transgender person is gay or bisexual or sexually promiscuous or fetishistic. Gender is not the same as sexuality. Assuming that
all transgender persons likes men sexually is no different than assuming they only people who are attracted to women sexually are men. If you do ask
a transperson if they are gay, the answer makes sense only when you keep in mine the pairing of genders. A female who likes other females is a lesbian. A male who likes other
males is gay. A female who likes men is straight. Therefore, if you accept a male-to-female transperson as a female and that transperson likes
females, then that transperson is a lesbian. Similarly, do not assume that a transperson is a sexual deviant. Again, keep in mind that sexual preference
is different than gender identity. transgender people are no more likely to be kinky than the population as a whole. transgender people
are no more likely to be pedophiles than the population as a whole. Assuming that all transgender people are sexual deviants is just as absurd as
assuming that all Cathlolic priests are pedophiles.
Don't assume that the transgender have a choice
Do not assume that a transgender person is transgender by choice. Although anyone can choose to wear womens clothes, choosing to do so
doesn't make you transgender. Some people, such as drag queens, choose to dress as women for some aspect of showmanship, but for the vast
majority of the transgender, there is little choice. For many other transgender, the only choice is how often to dress. Many male-to-female
transsexuals will feel compelled to present as a woman and have genital surgeries and if they don't, they would rather die. This is no different
for female-to-male transsexuals. For the non-transsexual transgender person, there is also a need, albeit not a life or death compulsion and the
nature of this need may vary from person to person. Many non-transsexual transfolk experience a comforting effect when dressed while others feel
a certain emotional release. Ignoring these needs tend to cause stress and anguish. Therefore, the only real choice is to not dress and not be
happy or to dress and be happy.
Do not judge a transgender person based upon your own religious beliefs
Everyone has the right to decide to follow any religion they want.
Who am I to tell you that your religion is wrong? Similarly, who are you to tell me that mine is wrong? Just because your religion may consider
being transgender a sin, doesn't mean that mine says that it is.
Do not assume that a transgender person is mentally ill
Although there are medical texts that describe certain mental disorders associated with
the transgender community, namely gender dysphoria, but these definitions are being challenged. Just because only a transgender person can
suffer from gender dysphoria does not imply that every transgender person suffers from gender dysphoria.
Do not assume that a transgender person is a transsexual
Do not assume that just because a person is transgender that they are transsexual or wish to have genital surgery. There is a whole three-dimensional
aspect to defining where a person fits under the umbrella term of "transgender." Some crossdressers are only too happy to be a boy one day and a girl another.
Do not assume that you can "cure" a transgender person
Most transgender people cannot have their behavior changed in such a
way that they can no longer be considered transgender. Some tranfolk have been able to "purge" and give up their transgender feelings,
but there is some debate over why they were able to do so. Many feel that these so-called "cured" people were not really transgender to
begin with, but had other motivations for dressing - perhaps fetishistic in nature. Others feel that these people were never cured but rather
just learned to suppress certain feelings of gender and constantly experience a certain inner strife. This often happens when young people trying
to come to terms with their sexual and gender identities. They sense some internal conflict which they don't clearly understand. Many transfolk
who were raised as a male would respond to that internal conflict by becoming hyper masculine - growing beards, joining the armed services, taking
on stereotypical masculine traits, etc. - only to find themselves even less happy because they still have these feelings even though their outward
appearance gives no indication.
Do not assume that a transperson is breaking some law by dressing
In most communities the only thing unlawful about dressing is if you do
it to disguise yourself to commit a crime. Laws vary from locale-to-locale, state-to-state, and country-to-country, and more work needs to be
done to change some laws, but crossdressing is not a crime in the vast majority of places.
What others say
No matter what you read, on this site or on another, don't assume that the author is presenting all viewpoints or has presented things accurately. You should
consider other sources and perspectives.
Here is one such additional resource - a video from Calpernia Addams called Bad Questions to Ask
a Transsexual. Although it specifically discusses transsexuals, it does provide a lot of food for thought for dealing with the larger transgender community.
Please be warned that this video contains language that some might find offensive.
Fortunately, there are some encouraging developments in the way transpeople are treated. Here is a television commercial that I found touching.