Jennifer Finney Boylan, GLAAD national co-chair, shares her thoughts on five things not to say to a transgender person as well as three things you should:
1. "Hey, you! Have you had 'the surgery'?"
This is kind of like someone coming up to you and asking about your vagina or penis. No, wait, it's exactly like that. While there are some trans folks who are eager to start blabbering away about their nether regions, most of us consider our private parts, you know, private. Go figure.
2. "Do you love RuPaul? How about that Rocky Horror Picture Show?!"
It's important to understand the difference between drag culture and trans reality. The former can be about performance, exaggeration, and entertainment; the latter is about people's actual lives. Plenty of transgender people have begun their journeys in the drag community, and you will find many trans folks who adore all of the subversive, transgressive energy that drag can bring. But many of are uneasy when our lives are mistaken for "performance," and it's disrespectful to trans people to conflate the two.
As for Rocky Horror, here's another delightful piece of subversive drag culture, made more enjoyably depraved over the years by the legendary participation of its audiences at the film's midnight screenings. All of that is great. But remember that, while Frank N. Furter sings that he's a "transsexual transvestite from Transylvania," he's surely not an actual trans woman any more than Al Jolson in blackface is actually Thurgood Marshall.
3. "So you must love that Judith Butler!"
OK, so plenty of transgender people love Butler's groundbreaking work, which has to be respected for the way it brought the term "gender binary" (as in, "reject the gender binary") into the vernacular (among other good reasons). But there are plenty of us who kind of sigh when we encounter a sentence like "If there is a sexual domain that is excluded from the Symbolic and can potentially expose the Symbolic as hegemonic rather than totalizing in its reach, it must be possible to locate this excluded domain either within or outside that economy and to strategize its intervention in terms of the placement."