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What Not to Say to a Transgender Person

A judge just blocked a policy from the Obama administration which would allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender. The judge’s ruling is a setback for those involved in the battle for transgender rights, and it has left many in the community angered and worried for the future.

There are several other cases concerning transgender rights which will be decided by the courts in coming months. These cases are of the utmost importance, because they will effectively determine the level of safety, humanity, and equality that will be afforded to the LGBT community.

In my opinion, the federal judge who ruled against Obama’s bathroom policy got the case gravely wrong, at least from a moral standpoint. I am no legal scholar, but it is my belief that the issue is much, much larger than bathrooms alone. Even if we were to settle the issue of transgender bathroom rights for once and for all, I know there would just be another skirmish of some kind regarding transgender people’s rights to live as they see fit. To me, the only answer is to amend the U.S. Constitution to prevent discrimination of any kind. Until this step is taken, we will continue to wage these smaller battles. We need the Constitution to reflect the total humanity and equal rights of the LGBTQ community, or else we will continue to see cases like this crop up across the country as policymakers and politicians try to do battle over something as intimate and personal as an individual’s gender identity.

As long as our lawmakers and politicians are allowed to treat LGTBQ individuals as ‘less than’ the rest of society, then others will follow suit. Employers will follow suit. Churches will follow suit. Parents will follow suit. We will continue to live in a world dominated by shame, fear, and ignorance, rather than love and acceptance.

So what can you do if you want to be an ally for the transgender community? Here is a quick list to consider:

  • DO be aware of what the terms mean.  It’s okay if you don’t understand all the complicated in’s and out’s of gender identity—even scientists and doctors don’t yet know how it all works! But here is what we do: Many people are born with a gender identity that does not correspond with the sex they were assigned at birth. We know now that gender largely occurs in the brain, meaning that a person can be born with male genitalia but identify as a woman on the inside. It is not a new thing! We are just finally talking about it and accepting it.

  • DON’T use terms like ‘tranny’ or mis-gender someone. Tranny, queen, butch, etc. No-no-no! These are not acceptable terms. Similarly, don’t mis-gender others—use the pronouns and names they prefer. If you have a friend who is named James but goes by Jimmy, you probably call him Jimmy without a second thought. The same goes if you work with a trans person who goes by the name Lydia even though their birth name might have been Mark. It’s basic respect: Call people what they want to be called. Names matter. Words matter.

  • DON’T ask overly personal questions. Would you ask a cisgender individual how they have sex or what genitals they have? Of course not! Yet people feel very comfortable asking transgender people these types of questions. Until we realize that we don’t have the right to opine or inquire into a person’s private sex life, we will continue to deal with legislation that tries to take these rights away.

  • DO be tactful. Many transgender say they hate when people say, “Wow! I couldn’t tell you weren’t born a woman!” or “I really thought you were a man!” You might be trying to compliment them, but it comes off as demeaning or even bigoted. Just say: “You look beautiful” and leave it at that.

  • DON’T spread the word. It’s not up to you to disclose a person’s gender identity. It is up to the person themselves if they want to share their status as a transgender individual. Again, this is just basic politeness! Gossiping is hurtful no matter what it is about.

  • DON’T shut down. Be willing to learn. This is new to a lot of people. These terms and concepts are not what we grew up with—and that’s awesome. We are learning. We are growing. We are progressing. That’s what we are here to do!

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