As many may (and should) be aware, November marked Transgender Awareness Month, meaning that all transgender people were permitted to remove our invisibility cloaks and be recognised for who we are – that is, those of us who do not identify as the gender we were assigned at birth. For lots of people, Transgender Awareness Month provides an opportunity for voices to be heard and to educate friends, family, and strangers on the street on the facts of life which most people never encounter, and would never consider as obstacles.
I identify as male, despite being assigned female at birth, and while I cannot, nor wish to, speak for trans women or gender non-conforming individuals, I hope to shed at least a little light on why I believe these days of universal awareness are important. So I’ve composed this mini-rant and list of do’s and don’t’s for your perusal!
Having come out to everyone, I have faced my fair share of abuse, mockery, and comments like “but have you tried just being female?” The answer is yes, by the way. I have. While for everyone the feeling is different, I feel that I was not so much “born in the wrong body”, just that I have to work a little harder to be seen as the person I am. This is by no means an easy task. Society has set a bar between the binary genders (either male or female) which every day I am trying to cross. Shopping for clothes is horrid in case I am ushered into the female changing rooms; going to the toilet is horrid because it feels like I’m being watched and judged. With everything I do I am almost guaranteed to be wondering; “Am I male enough? Do I pass? Is this too feminine?”
As you may have gathered by now, life for someone who identifies as transgender is just a little complicated, if even just because of our own expectations. Trying to find a balance between who you are, society’s views of gender, and who you are seen as is nearly impossible, and most of the time, sadly, at least one of these must be compromised in order to maintain relationships and our safety. In my view, the main reason for this compromise is due to lack of understanding, and the fact that for many people the topic of gender and crossing boundaries in any sense is still regarded as a taboo subject. In order to remove stigma surrounding a topic, as always, it must be talked about, and that, dear reader, is exactly what I intend to do.
I suppose, then, what I really wanted to achieve by writing this is just to bring a little more awareness to the situation the transgender community are in. For instance: imagine having to justify yourself every day that you are enough; you are valid, not making things up, or making things awkward. Sounds exhausting, right? Now imagine trying to look like the man you are without the ability to grow facial hair, with hips, and narrow shoulders, and a constant need to stand in a ‘masculine’ way, walk and talk that way, and be that person with the confidence that is expected. Trust me: It’s really not fun.
Now, you may think that I’m somewhat labouring the point here, but I haven’t even started on dealing with ignorant people. To be clear, I do not expect everyone to know everything and never slip up or make mistakes. What I do expect is that if someone corrects you, you find out how not to do it again. So, first and foremost, everyone is different. Not everyone will feel the same as I do, but bearing that in mind, I’d like to give a few do’s and don’t’s from your local trans boy.
- do be prepared to be wrong. If a trans person tells you that something you said is insulting; listen! It is not up to anyone else to tell them what hurts and what doesn’t and no one should dismiss their feelings.
- Similarly, do take my word as gospel. Everyone feels differently, so if you go in with my advice and with the best of intentions, be aware that individuals will probably differ.
- don’t ask rude questions. I’m classifying ‘rude questions’ here as anything that seems to doubt a person’s identity, or imply that their feelings and emotions are somehow incorrect. This includes things like “Are you sure?”, “Isn’t that just weird?”, and “Does it bother you that you still look like your birth gender?”
- Having said that, if you are polite, most people will not mind the odd question. For instance, if you’re not sure of someone’s pronouns, try not to assume. My advice would be to either wait until they specify themselves, or politely ask them which pronouns they go by. If I am unsure, my template is “By the way, I use ‘he/him’ pronouns; how about you?”
- don’t bring anybody’s genitals into the matter. Why would you do that?
- do make an effort. I can’t speak for everyone, but I would prefer someone who tries to use the right pronouns and makes mistakes than someone who immediately dismiss it as too hard and unfamiliar.
- don’t be afraid to Google things! Google cannot be offended, and it is not up to the trans people you know to educate you. Personally I actively encourage questions, but be aware that not everyone is comfortable doing this. Reliable resources are out there, so have a look.
So from this I have hopefully given at least a little awareness to several things that are close to my heart. If you’re super keen (which is absolutely not a bad thing!) and want some more information, Trans Wellness is a good starting point. GLAAD’s website and Everyday Feminism are both great resources to use too, and here is an extremely eye-opening and informative piece from the NSPCC about gender and mental health in young people, especially since I have written this only really considering university-age people.
I believe that everyone has a fundamental right to be able to live their lives without constant doubt looming over them, and hopefully this has helped even a little, so thank you for taking the time to read this; you’ve already made an effort, and that means a lot.