Sometimes even those closest to us get it wrong. Here’s what we can learn about getting it right.
Ed. note: This comes from a study done at Towson University by M. Paz Galupo, Shane B. Henise, and Kyle S. Davis. You can find the complete study here.
You might have read Trans 101 articles about things to be aware of and sensitive to when talking to trans* people…or anyone, really. But have you considered how the language that you use with people who share your identity might affect them, or you? Below are a list of “Don’ts” that may be familiar. Whether or not you identify as LGBTQIA or anywhere along the spectrum, take a moment to check what you’re saying. -Ed.
“Microaggressions are subtle forms of discrimination that occur daily and can manifest as behavioral, verbal, or environmental slights. Whether intentional or unintentional, these microaggressions shape the daily experience of transgender individuals and are central to the way in which they navigate their social and personal relationships. Although transgender microaggressions were most frequently received from cisgender heterosexual friends, microaggressions were most hurtful when coming from an individual with a similar identity.” –M. Paz Galupo, Shane B. Henise, and Kyle S. Davis
In the study that provided us these insights, participants were provided 9 categories of microaggressions and were asked to provide examples from within their friendships. All quotes below represent experiences with friends who have a trans and/or LGBQ identity themselves. Quotes are followed by participants’ self-identification.
Use Transphobic or Incorrectly Gendered Terminology
“Speaking with a friend who identifies as a transwoman over Facebook. . .We got to talking, somehow began discussing my identity and transition. Clear she wasn’t informed on the right terminology, referred to me as a crossdresser, asked if I was planning on having kids, referred to me and any future partners (assumed female) as lesbians…She’d identified as transgender for years before I’d come out to her why didn’t she know her sh*t?” (FTM)
Assumption of Universal Transgender Experience
“One of my dearest, kindest friends is a trans man living stealth. When I came out to him as nonbinary, his response was to assure me that he had a period in which he was “in between” as well, and he’d accept me “every step of the way.” I am intersex but had my genitals mutilated to “female” assignment at birth, so it is assumed that if I am trans* I am headed towards the “opposite” sex. It was incredibly upsetting and invalidating to realize that even in the trans* community, my identity is viewed as a “make up your mind” kind of thing, or that I will inevitably identify as male.” (Nonbinary)
Exoticization / Tokenization
“I met a new friend on OK Cupid and was going to hang out with him soon. He was a cisgender gay guy. He sent me a huge message about how he found my identity fascinating and my pronouns quaint and interesting.” (Nonbinary)
Discomfort/Disapproval of Trans Experience
“There are often things I feel uncomfortable talking about with trans friends, such as the idea of pregnancy as a man, or the fact that my period, though I dislike it, doesn’t actually make me dysphoric. I get uncomfortable and doubt myself when I rub up against “you’re not trans enough!” types.” (Ftm, Genderqueer)
Endorsement of Gender Normative / Binary
“My town has an organization which hosts an LGBTQIA high school and college “prom” every year…I wanted to wear a nice button up blouse, a pair of dresspants and some plain black flats . . .when I met my friend who I was going with, she was not pleased; she was herself trans* and felt that I was hurting the cause of trans* women by not adhering to genderconforming appearances for women. She insisted on doing my makeup (something I had not planned on doing) and asked me to switch my flats for heels.” (Woman/Female)
Assumption of Sexual Pathology or Abnormality
“When I came out as trans to a cis gay male in my old school, he started talking to me about sexual things more than when he thought I was simply pansexual. I didn’t notice until he said he had a crush on me after talking a lot about how attractive he thought trans people were…I knew he was fetishizing me. . . I confronted him about it after telling him I had a girlfriend. His first response? “Well if you ever need a third person ;)”. . .He always asks me about what sex toys he should get every time we talk.” (Male)
Denial of Individual Transphobia
“Once a trans friend taunted me openly about my height. I’m below average, and have explained to him personally how much this upsets me; it’s a major source of dysphoria as well as fear of harassment. I’ve also tried to explain how equating height with worth is both misogynistic and transphobic. His teasing made me feel extremely vulnerable, angry and ashamed.” (Male)
Denial of Personal Body Privacy
“Actually a trans* friend asking about my surgical status. I get that he was going for solidarity and wanted to bond over trans* things, but it was really early in the friendship and I felt he was wrong to ask.” (Female)
Questioning Legitimacy of Gender
“This occurs frequently with my trans* friend, despite his efforts to appear sympathetic. He frequently disregards my preferred pronouns simply because I have said that “she is okay if they don’t know any better, but still causes dysphoria,” despite him knowing better. I have frequently been told that “if you’re a girl with a vagina and you don’t mind being called ‘she’ then you’re a girl, stop making up stupid terms.” (Agender and Gender Fluid)
For the complete presentation, including discussion questions, look here.
Presenter Bio and Contact Information:
Kyle S. Davis, a geeky, pansexual, genderqueer trans* guy, is a recent graduate of Towson University’s Counseling Psychology M.A. program. Shane B. Henise is a pansexual transman and currently a senior at Towson University, majoring in Psychology with a minor in LGBT studies. M. Paz Galupo, PhD, is a pansexual, cisgender researcher who focuses on the negotiation of sexual orientation and gender identity inthe context of social and personal relationships.
More from the Towson University’s Sexual & Gender Identity Lab on their Facebook page.
Photo: Creative Ignition/Flickr