I’m writing a trans etiquette flyer and have gotten some valuable feedback from two other trans people who helped with it. Here it is:
Some basic trans* etiquette
Trans people are as diverse as cis people, so this flyer cannot speak for all trans people or encompass all our different experiences, opinions, and preferred language.
Trans means that someone is not the gender and/or sex they were assigned at birth. Not everyone you may think of as trans identifies as trans*, and not all genders are trans or cis.
Cis means that someone is in fact actually the sex and gender they were assigned at birth.
Both words and concepts only make sense within white, colonial concepts of gender and sex.
Use the word cis whenever you want to make a distinction between trans* and non-trans* people. All other alternatives I have seen are transphobic, like ‘normal’, ‘regular’,’genetic’,’natal’, ‘bio’ or ‘real’ woman/man. Don’t say that. Trans* people are just as normal and real as cis people.
Self-definiton means that the only person who has anything to say about what gender they are and what their name and pronoun is, is that person themself. No one else has any authority whatsoever on the matter. No doctor, no parent, no spouse, no one.
Respect our identities and our bodily autonomy.
Respect and use our names and pronouns. No matter what your opinion is or what we look like to you.
Do not call us ‘it’. This is only okay when a person specifically chose this as its pronoun and asks you to use it. In all other situations, especially when you don’t know someone’s pronouns and/or gender, don’t do it. Respect us as human beings.
Our genders and identities are valid and real no matter what our bodies look like.
Don’t touch us without our consent. This should be self-evident, but lots of cis people want to “check“ and touch trans* people’s chests/breasts and crotches without asking. That is violence and sexual assault so don’t ever do it!!
Don’t ask us about our genitals, surgery or hormone status. That’s rude and invasive. These things are very intimate.
We do not exist to educate you. If you want to learn more about trans* issues or how exactly surgery works etc, ask google or find other resources, preferably some that are written by trans people and not about us, but don’t badger us at parties etc just because we’re trans.
Don’t out us. Don’t tell people that we’re trans*, and don’t reveal our birth names or assigned genders to anyone. These things can have serious consequences for us. It can get us thrown out of our homes and/or killed.
Don’t ask what our ‘real’ name is. This question invalidates our real names, the ones we have chosen for ourselves. It’s also really none of your business.
Don’t tell us what to do with our bodies. This one is especially important for anyone working in a health profession. Don’t tell us whether or not to take hormones/ get surgeries/ wear make up. We have the right to make these decisions on our own. Respect our bodily autonomy.
Don’t pity us. Stand in solidarity with us and challenge cissexism and transphobia wherever you encounter it.
It really doesn’t matter whether or not we are taking hormones or had surgeries. Not everyone wants them, and not everyone can afford them. Our genders are valid regardless.
We deserve access to gendered spaces (toilets, women’s shelters etc) that are appropriate to our gender identities whether or not we have medically transitioned.
All this is of course also true for trans people who are marginalised on other axes, e.g. people of colour, sex workers, disabled or chronically ill people, homeless people, fat people etc. None of these things invalidate our genders or our rights as human beings.
If you are very close with a trans person, it may be okay to ask questions and to talk about surgery, hormones and other intimate things. Please be considerate and respectful.
Not everybody is either male or female. There are a whole lot of genders, including non-binary genders, femme, butch, genderboys, boi, gurl, grrrl, genderqueer, androgynous, gender fluid, bigender, pangender, agender or neutrois, to name only a few. Not everyone has a gender. Not everybody has a name for their gender.
Don’t fall into the trap of wanting to be trans-inclusive, and saying things like, “men, women, and trans people“. This turns trans men and trans women into third genders. Men and women already includes all trans people who identify as such. It’s better to say, people of all genders or lack of gender.
Don’t say things like, “Men and women“ or “Ladies and gentlemen” when you mean everyone. This erases and discriminates against non-binary people. Say “people“ or “persons“ or “humans“ instead.
There is no such thing as “the opposite sex“. As said above, there are lots and lots of sexes and genders, and male and female are not opposites, nor are they mutually exclusive.
If you talk about women, if you’re a feminist, if you organize women’s spaces and events, you better actively include trans women! If you exclude trans women, you are a transmiso-gynistic bigot.
Don’t ever equate certain body parts or organs with women or men. Vagina or uterus or being able to get pregnant or estrogen or breasts do not equal woman. There are lots and lots of women without these things and lots and lots of people who are not women with these things. The same goes for penises and testosterone etc. Always keep this in mind when talking about reproductive rights, biology, sexuality, etc. Make an effort to be inclusive in your language and actions.
People have the right to name their body parts however they feel fit. If someone calls their genitals pussy or dick or anything else, respect that regardless of wether or not their genitals look like cis people’s.
Words you should not use unless it’s clearly consensual: tranny, trap, and shemale. They are really offensive and oppressive and harmful. Unless you are a trans woman or other trans person who experiences transmisogyny, you do not get to use or reclaim these slurs. You should also never imply that trans people ‘decieve’ or ‘trick’ others if we don’t tell them that we are trans. You should not assume that everyone is cis.
There is nothing inherently funny or comical about trans women. Don’t make us the butt of jokes or laugh about such jokes. Also obviously don’t use trans as an insult, or shame people (cis or trans) for “looking trans“.
Don’t tell us what our genders are or how we should look/ act/ dress/ present. It’s none of your business. Don’t give us unsolicited advice on how to “pass“ better. Don’t assume it’s our goal to look cis.
Trans people have every right to dress, act, speak and look however we want without anyone questioning our genders. We can be as femme or butch or both or neither as we please. We are not “upholding restrictive gender norms” by presenting very femme as trans feminine people or very butch as trans masculine people, nor is it our fault that the gender binary still exists.
If a feminine trans* person has short hair and wears jeans and tells you that her name is Aisha, call her that. Don’t look at her funny, don’t ask why she cuts her hair short, just call her Aisha. If a masculine trans* person wears make-up and has long hair and his name is Pjotr, call him that. If a non-binary person wears a bowtie and pastel shoes and their name is Ens, call them that.
It can be really dangerous to be openly trans, and not everyone is out to their families or at work etc, so you might meet them presenting as their assigned (wrong) gender. If someone wants you to call them by their assigned name and pronouns for safety/privacy reasons, for example while their parents are around, do that. It can ruin people’s lives if you don’t.
Language is important. There are lots of clichés and phrases that trans people are tired of hearing, such as:
“Are you a man or a woman?“ - This is super rude. Just ask what my name is.
If you are not sure, ask them in private what pronouns they use, or avoid using pronouns and use their name instead. Same for gendered words like mother, uncle, etc.
Correct others if they use wrong pronouns for someone.
Don’t ask what genitals someone has. Don’t assume that everybody’s pussy or dick looks the same.
Don’t define someone’s sexuality based on what you think their genitals look like.
Trans* people can be as hetero or homo or bi or asexual or queer as anybody else.
“Trans people were born/ are trapped in the wrong body” - Cis people should never call trans people’s bodies wrong. Trans people were assigned a wrong gender, based on our bodies, and a lot of trans people do feel that their bodies are wrong. But not all do. Some love their bodies or are content with them.
Don’t use “born as“ language, as in, “Trisha was born as a man“. Chances are she was born as a baby and was not yet able to tell anyone what her gender was. Other people mistakenly decided she was male. Say Trisha is a woman, or a trans woman if that is really relevant.
Our past is private. Cis people usually only bring it up to discriminate against us, so please just don’t.
“A __ trapped in a __ body“: There are trans people who use this because it describes their experience, and there are also trans people who don’t feel trapped in someone else’s body and who don’t describe their body as being the gender it was assigned at birth.
“male-bodied/ female-bodied“: Many trans people do not consider their bodies to be what they have been mistakenly assigned at birth, whether or not they have taken hormones and/or surgery to alter their bodies. A better way of saying it is “Kim was assigned male/female at birth,“ but only if that is really necessary, which most of the time it isn’t.
The words trans, transgender, and transsexual are adjectives and not nouns. If you say “a trans“ that is de-humanizing. Say a trans person or a trans woman/man or trans superhero or whatever noun applies. And yes, these are adjectives so there is a space between them and the following word. You wouldn’t say ‘a whiteman’, and you also don’t say ‘a transman/ transwoman’. It’s trans man/ trans woman.
Don’t talk about trans* people’s genitals if it isn’t absolutely necessary. Especially when talking about trans* children!
Unless you’re trans and speaking about yourself, better use words like, X is a woman. Y is a trans man (if being trans is important in this context. If not, leave it out). Z was assigned male at birth.
Cis is not the norm – there is no norm – and it’s important to use language that reflects this, for example by being precise and saying cis men when you mean them, and by introducing yourself as for example a cis woman. As the privileged position, it should be made visible and its ‘normality’ challenged.
Trans people are never obligated to disclose that we are trans. Since this can be really dangerous and puts us in a vulnerable position, you have no right to say you were ‘betrayed’ or ‘lied to’ if you wrongly assumed someone to be cis and later find out you were wrong to assume that. You’re the one who made an error here, not the trans person.
A last note:
In progressive and/or feminist circles, a lot of gender subversive things get praised when cis people do them, like women not wearing make up, having hairy legs and armpits, and shaving their heads, and men wearing dresses and nail polish and long hair. And yeah, gender expression is cool!
These things are no less cool if a trans person does them.
Yet often trans feminine people with hairy legs or trans masculine people in skirts or non-binary people doing anything that would be in line with their birth assignment get told that “it shows that they are really their birth assignment” or that they “should at least make an effort” before anyone can respect their genders.
Let’s stop applying a double standard.
Let’s celebrate every form of gender expression.
This is a flyer about how trans people want and don’t want to be treated, so this isn’t your place to make suggestions if you’re cis.
I would especially value and appreciate feedback by trans women and other dmab trans people and people who are marginalised on other axes too, e.g. black, iaopoc, disabled, chronically ill, sex workers, autistic people and everyone else, since I’m a white afab able bodied middle class non-binary person.