by: Professor Xx
For this first installment, I had my girlfriend supply me with questions. I was the first ftm she ever met, and these are the questions that she had when she met me. (She looked up the answers for herself — something that made our first conversations about this stuff totally awesome). So, without further blabber, here are a few “trans 101” questions and answers.
1. Can I ask your birth name?
When I’m close to people I often tell them my birth name — because it may come up in stories — and also because my parents still use it on occasion. However, it isn’t relevant to my every day life and isn’t a name that I’d ever want anyone to use intentionally. Being called by my birth name always feels like a little slap in the face. Often, birth names are painful for trans people to hear or talk about, and bringing it up can feel invalidating to their identity, as well as very invasive. If you are curious about this, ask yourself why you would want to know this information. What will this add to your relationship with them? Is asking this question worth potentially hurting their feelings?
2. Can I ask about surgeries?
Again, you probably shouldn’t, especially if you don’t know the person well. Would you ask a cisgender (aka. not trans; See: Question #3) person about their medical history? Furthermore, don’t ask a trans person if they’ve had “the surgery.” This just makes you look ignorant. There are many surgeries that can be involved in transitioning, as well as hormone injections and social aspects of transitioning. Some people will do all of these things, some only a few. Some trans people choose no medical intervention. I personally have had some surgery, do regular hormone injections and have pretty completely socially transitioned. I’m also willing to answer questions about any of these things, and so please, feel free to ask.
3. What does ‘cis’ mean? Where does that term originate from?
Cis, or cisgender, is a term that refers to people who are not transgender, or those who identify with the gender/sex they were assigned at birth. Cis and trans are actually Latin prefixes commonly used in chemistry. Cis means “on the same side” and trans means “on the other side.” Cis has been adopted as a logical “opposite” to transgender by the trans community, and one that takes away the heirarchy inherent in terms like “normatively” gendered or “biological” male or female.
4. How can I best support a friend/partner who is transitioning?
I think the absolute best thing you can do is probably also the most simple: tell them that you still love them, that you respect their decision to transition and that you’ll be there for them if they need it. When I told my sister I was going to transition, she said she understood and that it wouldn’t be any different to her than me getting a haircut: I’d look different, but I’d still be the same person. I thought that was about the best thing I’d ever heard.
Work hard to remember to use their preferred pronouns and name. This can do amazing things to boost their self-esteem during what is often a difficult time. I remember I used to get tingles whenever anyone called me “he.” Also, doing a little bit of research (reading this column is a great start) can not only make you better able to support them, it will show them that you care enough about them to learn about what is happening in their life.
Finally, celebrate their milestones! I know the date of first day that I did a shot, and while no one else may know how much this means to me, it was the day that I started living my life on my own terms. That makes it pretty important.
5. What resources are available or things can I consider if I’m questioning my gender?
There are an ever-increasing number of resources out there for people who are questioning their gender. I started my exploration on the Internet. If any of you kids still use LiveJournal, there is a community simply called ftm that is an absolute font of information, categorized by subject if you look in the tags. The Original Plumbing zine and website is a great place to find articles about and pictures of queer trans men (my favorite!). In addition, their website has a 5-day-a-week blog, with a staff of writers that rotates every few months.
As a primer on all things gender bendy, I’d suggest Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein. She has an awesome way with breaking down complicated material and turning personal experiences into helpful lessons.
Finally, if you happen to live in a large metropolitan area, check into support groups at local LGBT centers. In Chicago, Howard Brown is a great resource for all things transition related — and I can give them a first-hand thumbs up — and I know that in New York City, Callen Lorde is a resource that I’ve heard good things about.
Professor Xx is a female to male (FTM) advice columnist for In Our Words, who pens the column “T and Conversation.” When he’s not training the next generation of mutants to save the world, he’s fielding your questions at email@example.com. Feel free to ask him anything you like, as long as it isn’t abusive or too invasive, and he’ll get back to you.