When Caitlyn Jenner was on her book tour in the spring, she revealed that, yes, she had undergone gender confirming surgery. She said something like, “There, now you know, so don’t ask about it any more because I am done talking about it.”
You can imagine that trans folks are sensitive to questions like this. That’s why it was easy for me to find this picture:
Do an internet search that goes like this: what questions should I not ask a trans person? Plenty of articles will come up. Most of them have lists.
Lists of questions you should never ask a trans person. Lists of ways you easily will offend a trans person. Lists of things you would never ask a non-trans person.
Memorize the questions. Got ‘em down pat? Good. Now, never ask them.
No, wait. I have another idea. It will be easier to remember.
Consider this. If you were standing next to a stranger in line at a store, would you ask her if she ever had cancer? “Hey, lady. I don’t know you at all, but I’m going to ask you this deeply personal question.” Of course, you would not. But, if you were sitting with a good friend, and the conversation led you to wonder if she ever had suffered cancer, it would be natural to ask. “Oh, wow. I didn’t know that about so many of your family members. Have YOU ever had cancer?”
It’s as simple as that. How well do I know the person? What is our relationship? Do we usually talk about personal things? Is this person normally open to discussing her private life?
If you have that kind of relationship with a trans person, you’ve probably already talked about her or his or their transition. If the person had planned or undergone surgeries, it’s likely been on the table. If you care about each other at a deep level, to talk about these things is as natural as caring about any health issues, or family troubles, or you name it.
If your friendship is more casual, you likely won’t discuss sensitive, personal issues. This could be a neighbor, a co-worker, a cousin, a member at your church, and the like. You know the person well enough, when you see each other you always greet each other, you make small talk, and perhaps more. But, anything deep? Anything really personal? Nope. You simply don’t have that sort of relationship.
If that person were transgender, that’s one to whom you would not ask things such as:
- “Are you on hormones?”
- “Have you gotten your name legally changed?”
- “Do you date men or women or both?”
- “What surgeries are you planning on having?”
- “What does your family think of all of this?”
If that person were cisgender (if you are not transgender, you are cisgender, meaning your sex/body type and gender/identity match), you wouldn’t ask any of those questions to a casual acquaintance, right? See how easy it is to know what’s okay or not to ask a trans person?
That said, there is one final thought. Let’s say your co-worker, next to whom you sit, and with whom you have only a casual relationship, says to you, “Gosh, I feel lousy today. My hormones are all out of whack. The doctor just changed my HRT meds and it’s affecting me.” Because that one opened the door, not only would it be fair to enter it, it would be friendly to reply with, “I’m sorry you’re feeling lousy. I’m afraid I don’t know anything about that. How would you describe it?”
The more private a person is, the less open they will be to questions. The more open a person is, the more available they will be to fielding questions. Of course, every question needs to be asked in a respectful manner. Never rudely. Never to be crude.
This entire conversation comes down to respect. And being a considerate person. And treating others in the manner we desire for them to treat us.