There’s a number of different blog posts in my head I need to write but this one might be one of the easier ones to write as I’m going to say stuff I’ve said before, many, many times since I came out as trans five years ago. If you’re worried that this is a direct response to something you have said, it isn’t. This is a response to literally hundreds of comments people have made to me over the last five years and not a response to any particular person.
As someone who is fairly “out” about being a trans person, I regularly hear comments like this:
“I don’t know any trans people”
“I’ve never met a trans person before!”
“The trans people should come to more of our LGBT events!”
“I’ve never seen a trans person on campus so there mustn’t be very many”
I also get asked very basic questions about trans experiences in general (ie questions that could be answered by wikipedia), very personal questions about my own transition (which I have become adept at refusing to answer) and people questioning my insistence that there are in fact more than two trans people on campus but no I won’t tell you names or introduce them to you in order to prove that.
What I want to address in this post is the idea that you do not know any trans people. Because if you interact with more than say 200 people, you probably know at least one trans person. This is entirely consistent with you not knowing which people you know are trans and which are cis (cis or cisgender is the opposite of trans, it means someone who is okay with the gender they were assigned at birth).
I have been to many people:
“That guy in my seminar group”
“My regular customer for a coffee and sandwich”
“My presentation partner”
“A fellow member of a society”
“The guy I am paid to help with showers and meals”
“The only man in the fibromyalgia group”
“That cute Jewish guy on campus”
“A part time officer of my Student Union”
“A member of my committee”
“The guy who posts all those useful links to the facebook group I’m in”
“The boy I was flirting with the other night”
… All without telling any of those people that I am trans. There could be (and likely *are*) people in your life who you see often, even regularly or maybe even live with, who are trans and you don’t know it.
First thing to think about: WHY do you assume you would know if you knew someone trans?
I’m being entirely serious here.
Do you think that all trans people “look trans”? If you do, you’re wrong. We don’t. And some cis people do. Because there isn’t really a way to “look trans” – just like other people we come in all shapes and sizes. We’re of all different races, social classes, ages, genders, religions. Some of us are disabled, some aren’t. Some of us are LGB, some aren’t. We’re just as diverse as any group of people.
Do you think all trans people do or should tell the people around us that we’re trans? I’ll spin this one on it’s head for you and ask: Why should we? If I can walk through the world with people using the right pronoun and name for me most of the time, why would I jeopardise that by letting people know that my genitals (which they probably hadn’t even been thinking of up until this point) might not be or might not always have been the way they expect them to be based on my pronoun. People do start suddenly having difficulty with my pronoun or suddenly asking invasive questions about my medical history and my sex life after being told I’m trans – would you risk ruining a perfectly decent friendship like that?
For other trans people (who are not white men with lots of supportive friends and free healthcare) the risks are often much higher. Go read Engendered Penalties (UK), The Trans Mental Health Study (UK) and/or Injustice at Every Turn (USA) to get an idea of what people risk by letting it be known that they are trans. I have a huge and wonderful support system of friends and lovers around me and yet even I have been the victim of transphobic hate crimes.
Now here’s the big reason I’ve heard a lot of people cite as why there can’t possibly be any trans people in their lives who are not out as trans to them:
“But I’m a nice person! Surely no one thinks that I would misgender / insult / harm / out / fetishise / ask inappropriate questions / unfriend / etc any trans person!” Occasionally people say this after having just said something inappropriate or transphobic to me. But assuming that you actually are someone who would never ever do something transphobic… what reason do any trans people in your life have to believe that you wouldn’t?
Think about it.
Really think about it.
What do you do in your everyday life that shows that you are actively not transphobic? Do you ask people for pronouns or offer yours? Do you say “That’s not okay” when people around you make transphobic jokes? Do you help spread trans awareness by linking to information and news about trans issues written by trans people? Do you correct people who misgender famous trans people or trans fictional characters? Do you challenge policies, practices and laws that are heavily binary-gendered? What things to you actually do to make the world a slightly better place to be trans in?
If you did more of those things, maybe people would think of you as a safer person to come out to. Or maybe they wouldn’t, but you’d be helping build a world where it was safer to be trans and taking some of the burden of educating clueless people off the backs of trans people. Help make a world (or even just a bit of the world) where being trans is okay and safe and understood and maybe more people you know will come out.
Do you know any trans people? I’m pretty sure you do. But even if you don’t, you can make our lives a little easier, a little safer by actively trying to educate yourself and others about how to not be transphobic.