Genitals are none of your business, and other rules of trans support

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It can feel like walking on eggshells when talking to certain people. Maybe it's someone you look up to or just an especially intimidating individual. More often than not, we make it worse for ourselves than it needs to be, or we never take any steps whatsoever, frozen in fear as we awkwardly stand still in front of a field of eggshells.

The same can be said for interacting with someone who comes across as different in one way or another. Many people, queer or not, know what it's like to be stared at awkwardly or given a second, more curious glance. Trans people know this all too well. Some of us have to teach etiquette on a weekly or even daily basis, succeeding only some of the time.

So how can you avoid being rude, disrespectful, or tone-deaf with transgender people? It's been said a million times, but the most important – and obvious – answer is to treat us the same as you would anyone else. Y'know, like a human. More people have caught onto this rule than haven't as awareness grows, but it certainly sets the tone nicely regardless.

But what if you see someone “in the wild” who looks like they could be transgender? What if you know they're transgender? Do you try to show your support by mentioning it to them? More often than not, the answer is no.

While the sentiment may be appreciated, the fact that it needs to be pointed out can seem awfully unflattering and potentially invalidating. It can make someone feel like they stick out. What does work is to just treat that individual as any other person of their gender you would otherwise come across.

If you absolutely cannot discern someone’s gender, avoid using gender-specific language. And regardless of how you personally perceive anyone, if that person tells you what their gender is, that is their gender. No exceptions. It’s not up for discussion.

What about friends who are trans, or if someone who comes out to you? Believe it or not, the most common question, even from friends and family, is about our genitals – if we’ve “had the surgery” or if we are going to have it.

Unless someone gives you express consent to talk about their genitals… Don't talk about someone's genitals. It's weird. It's uncomfortable. It can be borderline, or even outright, harassment.

Speaking of harassment, grabbing or touching a trans woman's breasts qualifies. The fact that we're trans does not give automatic permission to touch our chest as if we;ll understand the intent because “we were once a guy.” We were never a guy, and it’s still sexual harassment. And if the are a guy, one who might have had surgery to remove his breasts, it's still not an excuse to go touching people.

Unless you're intimate with someone, keep your hands to yourself.

Now, what if you're talking about a trans person with someone else? If both parts of the conversation are cisgender, there’s still harm in misgendering a trans person. Maybe not directly, but it encourages the continuation of intolerance.

Transitioning isn't a ruse that trans people want everyone else to “go along with” to make us feel better. It's just who someone is, and all we ask is others to see — and respect — who we are.

Nobody is immune to making mistakes, of course. A lot of this advice can be directed towards other trans people as well as cis people. I've had experiences with both that left me feeling uncomfortable, if not a bit violated. Ignorance is indiscriminate.

I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, but no one else is obligated to do the same. Asking a trans person about something trans-related doesn't require them to answer. It (usually) isn't their job, and it can be draining.

Treat your fellow humans nicely. Hopefully, they'll do the same.

Heather Maloney is a writer, editor, and creative thinker from Atlanta with a vested interest in gender and sexuality. Read her full column at

Photo by Robin Rayne Nelson/Zuma

A version of this article originally appeared in Q magazine. Read the full issue below.




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