"Wow, I've never met a transgender before." I stood dumbfounded as the words stuck in my brain, telling myself I didn't really hear what I knew I just heard. I tried to maintain my composure and not look too flabbergasted; after all, she obviously wasn't trying to be offensive. She most certainly wasn't transphobic; her reaction was more inquisitive, like child who just discovered something brand new and wonderful.I smiled at my new acquaintance, introduced to me as Susan. It seemed that my reaction had gone unnoticed, as she continued her awe filled ramble, "especially one who looked so… forgive me for saying, real." There it was, the second hit of the one-two punch that would make even Rocky Balboa stumble. I knew immediately that not only did I have to quickly recover from the shock of these statements, but find the right way of taking the opportunity to educate this woman in a way that would not only help her understand, but allow her to take the newfound knowledge I would provide her and send her off into the world as a well-informed ally. It was my hope that she would take future opportunities to teach others in turn.
"IT'S THE NATURAL REACTION OF DEFENSIVENESS THAT EVERYBODY HAS WHEN THEY'RE PUT IN THEIR PLACE AFTER SAYING SOMETHING OFFENSIVE."
"Well, it's very nice to meet you, and thank you for the compliment; however, if you don't mind, I would love to take a moment to explain a few basic do’s and don'ts of addressing somebody who is transgender." She was taken aback for a moment, and I knew the reaction would come even before I started speaking. It's the natural reaction of defensiveness that everybody has when they're put in their place after saying something offensive. "First off, Susan, I want you to know that I mean no offense nor am I offended by anything which you said. I know you mean well and are just trying to show your support, I appreciate that greatly. However, there are some general things that should just typically not be said to a transgender individual."
Over the next few minutes, Susan was very open as I explained why you should never refer to us as 'a transgender' much like you would never address an African American as 'a black.' I explained that, despite the attempt by some to diminish our identities, we are "real," because well, not only are we real people, but by expressing ourselves, we are living our authentic lives and allowing ourselves to be the people we were always meant to be, and what's more real than that? I continued our class with an explanation as to why you would never introduce somebody as trans, or for that matter, never out somebody without their permission. Susan was shocked to learn how important anonymity is for many of us, and how dangerous it can be to lose that cover in some situations.
"THIS INFORMATION REALLY SHOCKED SUSAN, WHO APPARENTLY DIDN'T REALIZE THERE WAS SUCH A STRONG TRANSGENDER COMMUNITY IN HER AREA"
As the lesson winded down, we spoke about safe spaces, and I mentioned that I attend a weekly support group. This information really shocked Susan, who apparently didn't realize there was such a strong transgender community in her area. "We're everywhere," I teased with a mock tone of warning. "I wouldn’t be surprised if you've interacted with dozens of transgender individuals over the years. Possibly even spoken directly to them, either while presenting under their assigned gender for one reason of the other, or they were just so… real looking," I winked at her, "that you never would have guessed."Susan looked at me and smiled, "well, if that is so, I'm glad that I never knew who they were, it means they are being who they truly are and nobody can question them for it. And I'm especially glad I met you today Crystal. You've given me a lot of fabulous new information, and I hope to be able to spread it to others one day."