There is no shortage of material online about what to do or say and what not to do or say when meeting or talking about transgender people. The bottom line is respect. Treat us with the same respect you would give any other human you encounter. That being said, here are a few specific “do’s and don’ts”:
- Use the name they ask you to use (it may require breaking a habit)
- Use the pronouns that match their presentation (if you’re not sure, politely ask)
- Treat us like regular people (because we are)
- Ask about our transitioning process or surgeries (if you get to know us, these subjects will come up. Leave it up to us to let you in that circle.)
- Distinguish us from cis-gendered people, allow us the dignity of blending in
- Ask us our “old name”, “real name”, “legal name”, etc.
Another important note to stick in your back pocket is that just being transgender does not make one an expert on transgender issues. For many people, this time of transition is a state of recovery from a lifetime of stressful conditions ranging from depression and anxiety to bullying and marginalization. They need your support more than you need answers to your questions.
On a side note, the same principal holds true in other areas of privilege and marginalization: people of color are not automatically experts on racial justice, disabled people are not all legal critics of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and being gay or lesbian did not instantly gain a person access to the mysterious “secret gay agenda”. If you want to understand the identity, get to know the person.
I have been privileged with access to extensive research libraries as I have gone through this process. While that has given me more head knowledge as to what is going in the field of gender research, it doesn’t make my experience of being transgender anymore valuable than another’s. Listen to the story they have to tell. Love them for that story and embrace them on that journey.