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What Not to Say to a Trans Person: A Guide for Allies

When speaking with trans people you might be curious about certain aspects of their lives, want to pay them a compliment, or ask about something you've heard in the media but are not sure about.

The top-level advice is not to ask about personal things that you wouldn't ask cisgender people about. When it comes to quenching your curiosity about transness itself, please remember that curiosity is not always a good enough reason to ask a question.

Please also keep in mind that trans people don't have an obligation to educate others, as they are likely getting the same questions repeatedly, which can become tiresome. Regarding compliments, they might be back-handed and become an insult if they come from ignorance.

A drawing portraying 9 diverse young people of different gender identities.

Let’s dive into some questions and statements encountered by trans people all too frequently:

"Did you get the surgery?" / "Are you on hormones?" or "What have you had done?"

Medical procedures and type of genitalia are very private matters that you certainly wouldn't ask other people about, so it shouldn't be any different when talking to trans people.

"Can I still call you by your old name?"

This is a no-go. Trans people undergo gender affirmation for a reason. You can read about gender dysphoria to better understand their experience.

"What were you born as?"

This is another invasive personal question that is normally rude to ask. Speaking of, the right term is "gender assigned at birth" rather than "born as (male/female)".

"But you don't even look trans!" or "You're very good-looking for a trans person!"

The notion that there's a certain way of looking trans perpetuates a hurtful stereotype and is offensive to the group as a whole.

"You pass so well!"

This is a back-handed compliment that implies it's bad to looks transgender and suggests that they fit your personal idea of what it means to be a man or a woman.

"Do you have a before picture?"

By asking that you might invoke someone's trauma or gender dysphoria.Gender affirmation is not the same as gym body transformation.

"But you're not a real/biological woman/man."

Gender is not a binary concept. By learning more about gender one can grasp why such comments are rude and transphobic, and typically come from a place of ignorance.

"I thought you were just gay!"

Gender identity and sexual orientation are two separate things.

"When did you decide to be transgender?"

Flip it around, what if someone asked you "When did you decide to be cisgender"? Exactly, it's not a choice.

Summarising, always be respectful when engaging with anyone and avoid asking intrusive questions, even if you’re curious.



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