Cover image of the Trans-Australia railway by Pavel Špindler
This article is for everyone who loves trans people and wants some guidance in treating trans friends and co-workers with kindness and respect.
Of course, trans people aren't all of one mind, this is just one trans woman's list of the things I wish every cis person knew.
I work on camera. And in my voice and face are both immediately identifiable as gender-non-conforming. That means I get hateful messages in my stream chat. I get them during conferences and as comments on my video. Sometimes it's extremely rough to deal with.
What definitely doesn't help is sending me a screenshot and asking if I saw it. If I have or I haven't seen it, it's not going to cheer me up to see it. This is doubly true if the commenter is anonymous or works at another company. In those cases there's generally nothing to be done, so all that forwarding can do is ruin my day.
Did the word 'cis' in the intro trip you up? Learn it and use it! Based on the latin root that's the opposite of 'trans,' 'cis' is used to refer to anyone who isn't trans. It's not an insult or a derogatory term, no more than being called trans is an insult.
I use the term 'cis' it because, absent a term to describe a way of being, it defaults to just 'normal.' There's nothing more normal about cis people!
One side note: if someone is telling you that being called 'cis' is offensive, or some variation of the statement that "'cis' is a slur," be aware that you are probably talking to someone who's getting their talking points straight from websites and communities dedicated to excluding trans people from society.
When a trans person talks to you about being excluded, discriminated against, or otherwise being the victim of transphobia; often it can feel natural to respond with something like:
"oh gosh that's awful! I never heard of anything like that! I'm shocked!!!"
And while it's clear that the intent is to be sympathetic, there's an underlying assumption to these comments that transphobia, while awful, is unusual and unexpected.
I'm not asking you to read every report by the Southern Poverty Law Center or read every transphobic article in The Guardian. I don't do that and neither should you! But realize that discrimination and hate for trans people is becoming the norm in our society.
I don't want to have to tell people my pronouns. I don't want to explain that I have a deep voice but, yes, I am a woman. I want you to tell people that.
If you want to become my star ally of the year, send at least two people the following message on Slack
Hey! Our next meeting is with Nočnica (Nica to her friends), one of our best Dev Advocates. She had the number one partner talk at Re:Invent last year! Reminder that her pronouns are she/her. Hit me up if you want any background!
This little check in with people keeps me from having to have the same conversation. I appreciate it to no end! Some things about this script:
- I'd rather be introduced as 'a woman' than 'a trans woman'
- What I do and how good I am at it are more important than my gender
As popular culture has commodified queerness into something anyone can consume from their living room, awareness of drag has spread beyond the queer community. That might be a good thing, but it's led to some confusion.
Some drag performers may be trans, and many trans people do drag, but the two terms aren't synonymous. Add to that the fact that many of the catchphrases and terms used in shows like Queer Eye and Drag Race are AAVE that sound deeply odd when said by a white person (looking at you Jonathan Van Ness), and it's just, a mess tbh.
I really can't simplify the issue beyond this analogy:
- Your jewish friend doesn't want to hear your rendition of tunes from 'Fiddler on the Roof'
- your friend who grew up in the foster care system doesn't want to read 'Oliver Twist' with you
This is just a courtesy thing that I appreciate from cis people. it means that it's not just trans people who are doing the work of communicating about gender.
Whose job is it to end transphobia? Is it trans peoples' job? I would suggest no. I try to put my pronouns out there, but doing so, especially when almost no cis people have, outs me as trans to strangers in a way that isn't always comfortable.
Are you worried that you've insulted someone trans? In these situations it's common to feel some embarrassment. If you want to get in touch with me to apologize, that's fine and I might even appreciate that you noticed.
But if we do have a conversation and you want to apologize, I cannot emphasize this enough: keep it short.
I get misgendered almost every day. If I had to have a whole conversation every time, it would bum me out! I don't want to spend all day talking about being trans.
In point 4 above I said I didn't want to be the one who had to explain my gender to everybody. It's a drain on my time and energy and I'd rather not talk about gender all day.
But there is a big exception to that rule: If you have questions about your gender, of course I want to talk about it.
Feeling like your gender doesn't "fit" can be such a lonely experience. And I feel a responsibility to make sure that others don't go through it alone. So if you have questions, of course reach out.
Thank you for taking the time to read this list. If you have questions, or if you're trans and want to add to this list, add a comment below!