in words and pictures: asking trans folks questions

This new poster has been making the rounds on the blogs I read the last couple of weeks, and I actually think the title is somewhat misleading: it's not so much about what specific words are verboten (for a glossary of terms surrounding transsexuality, check out the guide put together by the Gender Identity Project) but about why certain questions or turns of phrase are hurtful to trans people.

I appreciate that they include explanations along with each phrase, rather than just announcing "these words are transphobic!" When folks find themselves explaining over and over again that certain language is hurtful, the "why" often -- understandably -- gets lost in the shuffle. The "why" is often so obvious to those who are inside a given community that it can seem redundant to explain to those outside the loop why a question is hurtful. It can often be even more difficult to explain why it's hurtful without making the person on the recieving end of the explanation feel defensive.

Obviously, it's not the responsibility of those in the know to educate 24/7 about the things they're knowledgeable about . . . which is why it's handy to have infographics that do it for us!

via sexgenderbody and others.


  1. One question on pronouns. Suppose you are talking about a time prior to a person's transition. Do you use the pronoun and name they were using at that time, or the pronoun and name they use currently?

  2. Good question, Greensparrow!

    Speaking as a person who is not trans, but based on reading and conversations I've had, my advice would be this:

    When speaking about someone whom you know has transitioned, even when you're talking about a period of time before they transitioned, use the pronouns they now prefer, and their current name. Occasionally, I suppose, it would be important to cite a former name (if you're citing a book they wrote and published under a previous name, for example), but you could still in that instance use their preferred pronouns.

    My reasoning? Folks who identify as trans, in my understanding, don't usually see themselves as having ever been the gender they were assigned at birth. So the gender they now identify is has always been their gender. Even though socially they were treated as if they were a different gender. Using pronouns associated with their assigned gender, then, signals to that person "I don't believe you when you tell me your gender has actually been X all along."

    Probably individual folks have their own personal preferences about this, but I'd say err on the side of respecting peoples' current choices unless you've been given specific license to do otherwise. Using a person's pre-transition gender assignment and/or their previous names is often a way that the media or people with malicious intent call into question someone's gender identity. It's a way of framing the trans person as fake or posing as their current gender, wheras their "original" or "real" gender was the earlier one. So even if you're doing it without the intent of being disrespectful, using pronouns connected to a previously-assigned gender often feels disrespectful to the person on the recieving end.