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Cis people: Help me get a sense of the landscape out there!

In a few months, I’ll be attending a secular conference to speak about trans-related issues. Since this subject is pretty general and wide-ranging in its scope, and most of the audience obviously won’t be trans, I was hoping I could enlist your help in figuring out exactly what people might be curious about when it comes to trans stuff.

When asking questions about these things, most people I’ve come in contact tends to be quite polite and tactful, and I really appreciate that. At the same time, I also know what it’s like to be on the other side of this. I used to assume I was straight and cis and a guy, and I really had no idea what it meant to be trans, queer, or anything like that. Frankly, I was pretty much clueless. I didn’t have a good sense of what might be appropriate or inappropriate to say about any of this. There were a lot of things I never asked anyone about, because I wasn’t sure if it would be in good taste.

Normally, that’s the best protocol for everyone to follow. We expect people to exercise good judgment and decency, use their common sense, and not ask us things like “why the hell would anyone want to get it chopped off?” That way, we can more or less get through the day without having to field intimate questions that we might not feel like dealing with. It’s a legitimate and important expectation, because trans people and other minorities don’t want to spend all their time explaining their lives to curious people.

However, speaking at a conference is different: I’ve chosen to be there and explain these issues to an audience that’s prepared to learn. In that situation, my foremost goal shifts from avoiding uncomfortable questions in public, to presenting information that’s as useful as possible. Some areas of discussion that might usually be considered off-limits could actually be helpful to their understanding. I want to locate those areas, and I’d like your help.

In the interests of mapping this out, I’m suspending the usual primacy of tact for anyone who wants to assist me with this. I know that, for most people who aren’t trans, trans-related topics simply aren’t something they think about a lot. I’ve had to learn about this out of necessity, and I’ve largely forgotten what it’s like to be inexperienced and confused when it comes to this stuff. I’m hoping to regain a sense of that, so I can gauge which information a cis audience is most in need of.

Cis readers, that’s where you come in. I know you all mean well and want nothing more than to be polite, but I’m sure there are some things you still wonder about – things you normally wouldn’t say out loud. I bet there have been times when you’ve thought, “I’d better not ask her that.” Maybe there are questions you’ve privately pondered when among other cis people, but would never actually talk about in front of someone who’s trans. Even if you do your best to be supportive and understanding, there are probably some occasions where it still feels like you don’t entirely “get it”.

Those are the sorts of things I want to know about – even if it’s something you’ve learned (correctly) that you should never say to a trans person. If you’ve decided against asking a certain question before, I’d like you to decide in favor of it this time. I need to know what people need to know, so that I can work out how best to answer such questions and clear up whatever misconceptions people don’t often speak openly about. Somewhere between the assholes who just hate us, and fellow trans people who truly know what it’s like, I know there are plenty of cis people who are pretty nice folks and really do want to learn more about these things.

So, what’s something you still struggle to understand about us? What’s something you don’t quite get? If you’d like to get all your seriously honest questions out there, go ahead and leave a comment with something you’d like to know more about. If you’d rather do so privately, you can email me at [email protected], or if you want to be super-anonymous about it, you can send me an ask on my Tumblr. This would really help me avoid, or smooth over, any potential areas of confusion when giving my talk. I can’t guarantee that I’ll have time to reply, but it would definitely show me the sorts of things I might need to address. Let’s get it all out in the open. Thanks!