This past Tuesday, GLAAD’s own Tiq Milan addressed an overflowing inbox of questions about transgender etiquette on Washington Post Live, moderated by columnist Steven Petrow. Petrow introduced some of the topics Milan would be addressing: “what pronoun and name to use for a trans person; what not to ask a trans person; why the sudden visibility of trans people in the news, and much more.” Questions were submitted through Washington Post as well as through GLAAD's website.
STEVEN PETROW : Let's start with some definitions. In fact, I told my 80-something year old mom the other day that we're going to be having this discussion and she said: "Ask, what's the difference between transsexual and transgender." So, let's start there.
TIQ MILAN : Your mom asked a great question and one I hear alot. Simply put transgender is an umbrella term that includes the multitude of gender variants and identifications from cross-dresser to gender queer to trans male or trans female.
Transexual refers to someone who has medically transitioned with hormones and/or surgery. Not all people who identify as transgender have medically transitioned nor do all transgender identified people want to.
STEVEN PETROW : Tiq, going back to definitions for a moment. In my experience, some well-meaning people use the wrong words (and pronouns, which we'll come to in a moment): When that happens, what's a good response from both people?
TIQ MILAN : First, I think people should get into the habit of asking others what their preferred gender pronoun is if they aren't sure. I'm sure that feels new to a lot of folks to ask, but it's ok to inquire very politely: "I want to be respectful so can you please tell me what pronoun you prefer." I'm sure the person being asked would be grateful for the space to define themselves and it makes for less awkwardness later.
If you're in a situation where someone is repeatedly using the wrong pronoun, it's ok to pull them aside and explain to them the situation and to act accordingly.
STEVEN PETROW : A commenter posted this on my page after I wrote about Laverne Cox being on the cover of TIME. It wasn't the only message laced with antipathy. Why are we seeing that? And, not to mention, so much violence against trans individuals?
“I think the TIME magazine story is ridiculous. What kind of civil rights do they need… This is what makes everyone say the gay community is looking for special privileges. When a fringe group says they want MORE, it reflects poorly on all of us. This cover wasn’t a ground breaking move for LGBT… it was a giant step backwards.”
TIQ MILAN : Transgender people aren't a fringe group. We've existed for thousands of years in cultures all over the globe.
The fact that gender is not binary..is not as cut and dry as most people may have thought evokes a lot of fear in people. And that fear is sustained by misrepresentation in the media and a lack of representation in our legislation and policies. Only 8% of people actually know a trans person, so for 92% of the population everything they know about us is what they see in the media. Laverne Cox is completely shifting the narrative of our lives and creating space for trans folks to tell our own stories about our authentic lived experience and that change doesn't sit well with a lot of folks. However, that is the nature of social change. There will always be people who aren't ready to handle social shifts. Also, this idea that trans people having leadership within the broader LGBT movement will some way take away from LGB folks is quite frankly, nonsense.