Talking about transgender topics can be tricky, especially when you don't know the proper terms to use -- and especially when talking to transgender people.
Even for the most skilled conversationalists, understanding how to talk to the trans community takes time, patience and a high level of respect.
But befriending, working with or having general interactions with transgender people isn't something to be intimidated by. They're people, just like you and me.
Therefore, conversing with a transgender friend is only as difficult as you choose to make it. But as we all know, it's human nature to fear the unknown.
So do yourself a favor and educate yourself on the dos and don'ts of talking to transgender folk.
1. Treat trans people as you'd want to be treated (or as you'd treat anyone else).
Although transgender people may appreciate extra attention you give them, that doesn't necessarily mean they appreciate you making a big deal over their transition.
Respect their gender identity just as you would with any other person.
There's no need to draw attention. And if you knew a transgender person prior to their transition, don't overcompensate to make him or her feel accepted.
Transgender people have essentially the same personalities they did before coming out, so treat them as you would anybody else.
2. Use the proper name and pronoun.
The correct name to address a person by is whatever name he or she has given you. Similarly, the correct pronoun to use is based off whatever gender that person is presenting, not the gender he or she formerly identified with.
Even if you knew a transgender person prior to his or her transition, it is never okay to address him or her by anything other than the name/gender he or she identifies with now.
But, if you truly do not know which pronoun to use, politely ask, “What are your gender pronouns?” Most trans people won't find this offensive. In fact, they'll usually view it as a sign of a respect.
Nothing is worse than misgendering a transgender person, so take the precautions necessary to make sure you never do.
3. If you do slip up on a name or pronoun…
Don't make a huge deal out of it. It happens.
If you are alone with that person, apologize. If you're in a group, it may be best to ignore it and move on.
Don't dwell on your mistake, and definitely don't draw attention to your slip up. It won't do you or your transgender friend any good.
4. Don't ask about what's beneath the clothes.
Because really, that's none of your damn business.
If a transgender person feels comfortable talking to you about his or her body, and if it's something you're interested in hearing about, that's great.
But even then, the conversation should be led by the individual transitioning, and it can end at his or her request.
If this is a point that you're still struggling with, think about it this way: Would you ask any non-transgender person what his or her body looks like underneath his or her clothes?
My guess is no, probably not. So don't ask a transgender person that question, either.
5. Never make assumptions.
When talking to transgender people, it's never wise to assume.
Just because they're trans doesn't mean they're straight (or gay), happy (or sad), a liberal (or conservative), rich (or poor), single (or in a relationship), etc.
Most importantly, never assume talking with a transgender person is your opportunity to learn more about the trans community.
If that person wants to talk to you about trans-related issues, then he or she will talk to you about trans-related issues.
If not, don't force the topic. It's disrespectful, and will make both you and the person you're talking to uncomfortable.
6. “Transgendered” is not a word.
Just as “transgender” is not a noun.
Saying someone is “transgendered” is incorrect, offensive and a tell-tale sign of letting someone know you have no idea what the f*ck you're talking about.
Rather than calling someone “a transgender,” say he or she is a “transgender man” or a “transgender woman.”
Not only is it politically correct, but it's a surefire way to avoid offending a transgender person.
7. Transgender is not a choice.
Transgender people didn't one day just “decide” to transition, just as people don't choose whether or not to be gay. Sexuality isn't a choice, and neither is one's gender.
Now, transgender people may have made the “decision” to transition, but most of the trans community will say transitioning is not a choice.
It's a decision to finally, for the first time in their lives, to be themselves.
So never question a person's decision to transition because for the most part, it's never a choice, and it's never an easy one to make.
Although these tips are all useful tidbits of information when talking to transgender people, they're only the tip of the iceberg.
There's so much more to know when communicating with the trans community.
If you want to take the time to celebrate and respect the ever-evolving diversity of society, learn as much as you can about transgender people and how to talk with them.
Acceptance for the transgender community will only continue to grow, so make sure you're doing all you can to advance with the rest of the world.