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Transgender Etiquette Made Very, Very Simple

by Vol-E

I'll start with a disclaimer. I am not transgender. Most likely, I never will be. But yes, I've thought about it. There's a photo of me, floating around among my extended family somewhere, of me as a toddler, with a square face and very thick hair, dressed in a cowboy ensemble and a hat. The same child, clad in a frilly chiffon dress, looked like a cross-dresser.  Drag Baby.
Certain impressions stayed with me as I grew: A lot of family members had a habit of saying "Attaboy!" to me as a means of encouragement. I don't know what that was all about ... but for whatever reason, deep inside, for much of my life, there was a feeling of dissonance between the physical me and the mental me. There were plenty of things that confused me, and it's only within the past 10-20 years that they've started to make sense.

I'm delighted with the wide dissemination, via the Internet and other media, of information regarding sex, gender, sexual identity, sexual expression, and sexual orientation. There's been a wonderful meeting of the minds that's helped us understand that the above terms are part of a spectrum, a continuum, which makes it possible for that funny-looking toddler to feel like a guy on the inside, look very much like a woman on the outside, and still feel exclusively attracted to men. Caitlyn Jenner is only the most high-profile celebrity to be out and open about their transition. Back in my teen years, we had Christine Jorgensen and Renee Richards.  Now we understand that many, many people don't feel like the insides match the outsides, and finally, they're becoming more accepted.

We still have a Transgender Day of Remembrance, however (November 20 this year), to commemorate the many hundreds of people who are murdered because not enough of the world accepts it yet.

Because this topic holds some personal significance to me, I spend a lot of time online reading articles that address the problem of etiquette. The societal changes have come with relative suddenness, so that there's a bit of confusion and hesitation and committing of faux pas that gets a lot of play in blogs and comment sections. A lot of this has to do with pronouns.

Here's the Emily Post version of things: Caitlyn Jenner is the name; she, her and hers are the pronouns. Yes, at one time, she was known as Bruce and vital documents said "He." In numerous places around the world, it will take a great deal of time, effort and money to get those changes legally accepted. But for those who want to do the right thing, you meet the person where they are now, in the place where they have struggled so hard to get to. You don't try to force them to revisit the place where they no longer are.

And here's an easier way to understand this:

Imagine that, as a young child, you were a slow learner, socially awkward, non-athletic and just basically unpopular. Aha -- I sense numerous readers can instantly identify with some or all of that. Good. Read on...

So this young child version of you earned some none-too-flattering nicknames. Moose, perhaps. Stinky. Klutzy. Loser. Martian. I can go on, but won't. Why bother? If you are identifying with this, the names are yours, they're personal, and you'd no doubt be delighted to forget them forever and wipe them from the memories of all your classmates.

But time, in its way, enabled you to move on from that early unpromising identity. You grew, improved your physical abilities, got better at reading, found your hidden talent, started to get more comfortable with your academic subjects, and gradually learned the secrets to making and keeping friends. Perhaps your family called you Dick, but with gentle persistence, you got them to listen to you, take you seriously, and call you Richard exclusively. First your family dropped the "pet" names, then your former classmates gained some maturity and empathy, and came to respect your efforts to remake your public persona. No doubt, they were also struggling with some of their own issues.

Now - it's true that way back in those early years, they called you "Freaky." But now they don't. Now they call you Marianne. Because that's the name you like and use exclusively, and the one that fits your identity. "Freaky" happened, of course, and it may even exist somewhere in an old notebook, a photo caption, or a teacher's files. But to you, now, it's irrelevant, and annoying when others insist on bringing it up because, well, why actually?

Do you want people continually arguing "'Marianne?' Why on earth should I call you that? It sounds so unfamiliar. I've always known you as 'Freaky.'" Wouldn't it make you wonder why this person can't just get with the here-and-now and meet you where you are in your life? Is it that difficult to give up "Freaky" and get into the habit of using "Marianne?"

If you're that kid who needed a few years to gain dignity and self-esteem, you will understand the importance of people respecting your preferences in your name, label, and identity.

And exactly the same is true for someone who has transitioned in terms of gender. Sure, you knew Caitlyn once as "Bruce." So what? We accommodate the wishes of women who marry and give up their maiden names...we sometimes do that as soon as we hear that a couple is engaged. So to claim that "Caitlyn" sounds so wrong, so unfamiliar, as to make it impossible to give up "Bruce" is a clear indicator that it's about something other than the name. It's about respect and empathy and good manners.

Or lack thereof.

by Vol-E


The Urban Blabbermouth said…
Interesting post. The LGBT community will have to step up and furnish guidance.

Remember when metro sexual was a new word. I recently came across the term pan sexual. Not clear to me what that means. Gay marriage will probably drop the gay prefix and just become marriage but husband-husband or wife-wife is awkward so we need something new here. Let's say Caitlyn takes up with women. Is that a lesbian relationship or is some other term be more appropriate?

Lots to work out.

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