7 don’ts when talking about transgender people

(Photo: Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox, Chaz Bono)

NEW YORK (MEDIA GENERAL) – The publication of Caitlyn Jenner’s photo in Vanity Fair has sparked a nationwide conversation about the transgender community. For many, the conversation can be confusing.

What do you write? Say? Do?

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has some suggestions for people trying to figure out how to talk about transgender individuals. Here’s seven things they suggest you don’t do the next time you post or talk about the transgender community.

  1. Don’t assume a transgender person’s sexual orientation

Gender identity is not the same as sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is who we are attracted to. Gender identity is about our own personal sense of being male or female.

  1. Don’t guess if someone is transgender just by looking

Transgender people all look different. They may or may not appear “visibly trans.” You should assume there may be transgender people at any gathering.

  1. Don’t assume someone is a he or she – listen first

If you’re not sure which pronoun to use, listen to people who know that person well. If you need to ask the person what they prefer, start with yourself. “Hi, I’m Joe and I prefer the pronoun he or him. What about you?” If you accidently use the wrong pronoun, apologize with sincerity and move on.

  1. Don’t ask what their “real name” is

For some transgender people, being associated with their birth name is a source of anxiety. Respect the name they currently use. If you know the person’s birth name, don’t share it without his or her permission. Likewise, don’t share photos of someone before his or her transition without permission.

  1. Don’t assume everyone knows

Be careful about outing someone. Knowing a transgender person’s status is personal. It is up to them to share it.

  1. Don’t ask about a transgender person’s genitals, surgical status or sex life

You wouldn’t ask a non-transgender person about these issues, it’s just as inappropriate to ask a transgender person about these things.

  1. Don’t offer backhanded compliments or “helpful” tips:
    • “I would never have known you were transgender. You look so pretty.”
    • “You look like a real woman.”
    • “She’s so gorgeous, I would never have guessed she was transgender.”
    • “He’s so hot, I’d date him even though he’s transgender.”
    • “You’re so brave.”
    • “You’d pass so much better if you wore less/more make-up, had a better wig, etc.”
    • “Have you considered a voice coach?”

While you might intend to be supportive, these comments can be hurtful or insulting. Want to learn more? GLAAD has many more tips included here.

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