Watch Your Language!

How uneducated conversation about transgender people doesn’t help.

When my wife came out to me, I was completely ignorant about the transgender experience. I knew that there were people in the world who felt like they were born in the wrong body, but I had no idea that gender dysphoria even existed. I certainly didn’t know that the best treatment for it was transition. There was so much that I needed to learn.

For my wife and I, this journey started about five years ago. It immediately became important to me not only to educate myself about everything related to being transgender, but to find information that was credible. Websites like Transgender Universe and a few others have allowed transgender folks and allies to share their personal stories and experiences, and they were all a great help to me. Today you can find a ton of information online about being transgender thanks to the trans folks that live out and proud. Those people who believe that being public about their transition shine a light on the transgender experience and advance the public conversation. I think that it is important to educate the cisgender population regarding these experiences.

As the wife of a transgender woman, I felt like it was important to know as much as I could about what she was going through and what the road ahead would look like for our family. I attended a peer-led support group for transgender, gender non-conforming, non-binary folks, and their family members on a weekly basis and it taught me a lot about what the members of this community go through on a daily basis. I became immersed in this great community, and eventually I began to help other partners and families who had a loved one who was going through the process of transition. It was at this point that I learned how important language was. I learned that ignorant speech could trigger a whole room full of trans folks, and that my choice of words could either elevate the room or spark their PTSD.

"I OFTEN HEAR THE MOST HURTFUL AND UNEDUCATED THINGS ABOUT TRANSGENDER PEOPLE SPOKEN FROM THE ALLIES WHO BOAST TO SUPPORT THEM."

I often hear the most hurtful and uneducated things about transgender people spoken from the allies who boast to support them. As their partners, parents, or siblings, we are the people on the front lines of everyday life talking about the issues that transgender people have to deal with. If we are misspeaking, then we are not helping to advance the understanding of the transgender experience nor are we helping people to understand that transgender folks are just like everyone else.

When the partner of a transgender man makes a statement that sounds like, “When my husband was as a woman; bla, bla, bla,” I want to scream and say “No, wrong! Your husband was never a woman. Your husband was trying to conform to the gender assigned to them at birth. Your husband is a man and has always been a man!” Or when the wife of a transgender woman deadnames their spouse constantly to other people when they are not around. While we are at it, partners, please stop saying transgendered, it’s not a word. Being transgender is not a choice or a lifestyle. If we are running around as the husbands, wives, and partners of transgender people and we are using incorrect language, then we are only perpetuating the ignorance of the cisgender world.

"...IF THE FAMILIES AND ALLIES OF TRANS FOLKS ARE NOT USING THE PROPER LANGUAGE, THEN WE ARE MISINFORMING THE POPULATION AND HURTING THE TRANSGENDER COMMUNITY."

Over the last few years, more and more people are admitting to knowing a person who is transgender. In September 2015, GLAAD released the findings of a new survey conducted online by Harris Poll that included over 2,000 U.S. adults age 18+, which showed that the number of Americans who reported knowing or working with someone who is transgender had doubled in the past seven years – rising from 8% in 2008 to 16% in 2015. Doubled in seven years! I think that’s amazing and shows the progress that the transgender community and their allies have made in letting the rest of the world know that they exist. Shining a light on the transgender community has allowed many trans folks to finally come out and live their lives as their authentic selves. However, if the families and allies of trans folks are not using the proper language, then we are misinforming the population and hurting the transgender community.

I am not sure if I should apologize for this angry tirade or not, but I want allies everywhere to know how important it is to use the proper language when speaking about the transgender community. You may or may not have known that your language is hurtful, demeaning, or dangerous, but now you do. I am out about my being married to a transgender woman, so I am constantly talking about her experience everywhere I go, and I mean everywhere. My goal is to educate the people who I come in contact with so they know that transgender people are just like everyone else. How I speak about my wife and my friends in the transgender community comes from a place of love. I hope that other families, friends, partners, and allies can do the same. Every encounter with a cisgender person can be a teaching experience.

Comments (5)
No. 1-2
glamboar
glamboar

I disagree with several points in this article. "Transgendered" IS a word and experience that plenty of trans folks use to describe their identities. It does not imply that it is a choice, but rather that the identity of being trans is forced upon one by society rather than something they personally identify with. It can, and is, an outside force that acts upon our bodies. I am transgender, and I am also transgendered by society. The nuance needs to be emphasized, not erased. The other part of it is the whole, "But trans people were always (their identity) and never (their gender imposed on them at birth)!" For some this is true. For others it is extremely important that their identities prior to transitioning (medically, mentally, or however other affirming way) are acknowledged and understood as part of their journey. I have had experiences as a girl and as a woman before I understood that I am a man. For some, that part of their life is painful and best forgotten, and rightly so. For others it is foundational to how they perceive and understand themselves. I get that these are nuances cis people are wholly unaware of 99% of the time, but I don't think it helps to oversimplify the conversation and make monolithic statements about all trans people, or imply that some trans experiences are less valid than others if we do not buy into a certain point of view.

MelissaD
MelissaD

I don't think you have anything to apologize for. Allies seem to do more harm than good at times. Personally, I would be distressed if my SO outed me all the time. I'm sure you have her permission. My transition was 30 years ago and times have changed but it was a family discussion before I started writing letters to the editor and a column on the editorial page about transgender rights. Thank you.



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