Trans Lives Matter, by Spencer Small

We are often asked to provide training to businesses, service providers and educators on transgender inclusion and acceptance.  This post is a brief synthesis of some of that information.  For a basic guide to terminology please see my post on An Intro to Gender and Sexuality.

I often hear from people that they are concerned they might accidentally offend a Transgender person by using the wrong term or word.  The best principle to follow is to call a person what they prefer to be called.  Words that are generally offensive to transgender people include: She-male, He-she, Trannie or Tranny, “Real Woman” or “Real  Man” and “It”.

Pronouns are important.  You should always use the pronoun that a person requests you use.  If you don’t know which pronoun is preferred, it is OK to ask.  If you are uncomfortable asking, use the pronoun “they”.  It is extremely inappropriate and offensive to purposely use a pronoun that someone has asked you not to use.

Transgender people may or may not go through three types of transitions: social, legal and medical.  The transition process is such a unique and personal experience.

The social transition involves coming out to family, friends and co-workers.  It involves a great deal of planning for emotional reactions from others, including one’s family, friends and co-workers.  The social transition often involves changing pronouns and name.  It also may involve non-permanent body changes – things like make-up, hair and clothing.

The legal transition involves navigating various systems to change one’s gender marker and/or name (on driver’s licence, birth certificate, passport, social insurance card, etc.).  After a legal name change transgender people may remain in their current place of employment, if they feel comfortable and supported or they may find a new place of employment that may be more welcoming, supportive and inclusive. It is important for Transgender people and Transgender allies to advocate that employers have clear policies that outline how the employer will protect, support and include transgender people.

The medical transition can involve many stages and will vary by individual.  It is often believed that children are provided with hormones. This is incorrect. At the onset of puberty children and/or teens (with the support of a trained medical professional who specializes in gender identity) may begin puberty suppressants. This is not to be confused with administering hormones. Puberty blockers do just that, they halt puberty which enables a person to continue to explore their gender identity without developing often unwanted secondary sex characteristics. Individuals on puberty blockers report a reduction in stress, anxiety and depressive feelings. Persons aged 16 and older may elect to undergo hormone replacement therapy (for example, taking testosterone to induce the body to develop more masculine traits).  Most often, youth cannot get approval for gender affirming surgery until age 18.  There are multiple surgeries a person may or may not undergo. There is not just one surgery. Currently, some types of gender affirming surgery are covered through OHIP if a person goes through the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto and their application and screening process. If not, a person can go through private clinics but this may involve substantial financial resources.

Transitioning is always a unique experience.  It may be stressful and increase feelings of depression and anxiety. However, it can also improve overall well-being as a person moves closer to feeling like their authentic self. It is important as a family member, friend, or co-worker of a Transgender person that you both signal and offer your support.   All any of us can ever do is our best to listen and understand.  It is OK to ask questions as long as they are respectful and not intended to embarrass or exclude.  It is not OK to ask someone if they have had “the surgery” or when they are having the surgery. Other unhelpful questions and comments include:

  • When did you decide to be a man/woman (boy/girl) or transgender?
  • “You look so real. I never would have known.”
  • What is your real name?
  • Which bathroom do you use?
  • How do you have sex?
  • Are you sure you just aren’t gay, lesbian etc.?
  • You’re so attractive, why would you want to…?
  • Can I see a picture of you before?
  • Can I feel/touch your..?
  • “I can tell you used to be a boy or girl, man or woman”
  • Do you think you’ll ever go back?
  • “You’re just confused”
  • “You pass so well for a trans person”

Pass – to be identified as the gender you feel you are by others

If you encounter someone and you can’t immediately tell how they identify their gender ask yourself why it matters that you know.  That person knows who they are.