These are not all bad, but as a trans woman I don’t appreciate them
By: Lorelei Erisis*/TRT Columnist–
“What’s one question you wish people would ask you more often [and] one you wish people wouldn’t ask about your experience as a trans woman?”
I really like this question. It’s so open-ended, it actually made me have to sit and think for a bit.
So many of the questions I get are either really specific to a single person’s circumstances or are so broad as to be essentially asking me to speak for all trans folks.
Often, they are questions asked to elicit a specific answer that the questioner already has in mind. None of which, to be clear, I mind. Answering peoples’ questions is what I do. And, I enjoy what I do.
But, it’s rare that I get one that’s so personal and yet so open-ended.
The first part was really easy. I get asked a lot of questions, by a lot of people. But the one question I’ve almost never been asked, but which I love to answer is this: “What’s great about being trans?”
Honestly, if the bulk of my writing has a central thesis, it would probably be this question. Yes, I talk a lot about the struggles of being trans, the hardships I, and we, face. The reality of speaking fully about trans lives requires me to do so.
But, when I started writing this monthly column, some 10 or so years ago, I looked around and most of what I heard and had read, by and about trans people, was focused almost exclusively on the hardships and difficulties we face. Only some of the more positive aspects of our shared experience we discussed, at least whenever possible.
I could probably go on for the rest of this column answering this question and talking about all of the really great things about being trans! But since it was a two-part question, and I will most certainly revisit this later, I’ll just mention one thing I love about my own experience.
I get to be myself. I was given, or perhaps more accurately, I took the chance to completely reinvent the person I am in the world. As an adult, already pretty well established as a person—but a person that I felt was inauthentic to who I really am—I came out to the world as trans and decided I was going to do something about it.
And, though I never chose to be a woman—after all, I already was—I was simply hiding it. I did choose to be the woman I am today. I made specific and intentional choices about how I was going to dress and act and about generally the sort of person I was going to be in the world. I even chose a new name—and an old one—for myself.
I am, as much as is possible and circumstances permit, the person I want myself to be—the person I have chosen to be. How many other people can say that? Never mind the trans aspect for a moment. How many people feel stuck in an identity and persona based on choices they made, or that were made for them, early on in their lives? Dragging themselves through the world as a person that feels inauthentic to their interior sense of self, but who have no real path that they feel will allow them to so completely reinvent themselves?
So yeah, in this way, I feel I am actually lucky to be trans. It gave me the opportunity to remake myself, to truly become the person I am.
Okay, so that was the first part of the question. The second part, I actually assumed, as you might have, would be easier to answer.
“What do I wish people wouldn’t ask?”
There are things I know people think I get asked a lot. You can probably think of a few yourself. But honestly, those sort of rude, very explicit questions are things I am asked far less often nowadays. And at that, usually only online.
Also, again—and strictly speaking personally—I enjoy answering peoples’ questions; even sometimes, the dodgy, weird ones. I know people have a genuine curiosity and I feel if I can help clear up those questions people have, then they will be less likely to ask another trans person who might not be so comfortable. And frankly, I lack a filter anyway. So answering people’s often intensely personal questions is something I sometimes do with little to no prompting anyway.
When I really thought about this, thought about the things people actually ask me when I’m going about my daily life, there were a few things that I thought of.
Here’s a short list I made:
“How tall are you?”
“You wanna hang out?”
“How does your family feel about … this?”
“So, how long ago did you start?”
“What was your name when you were born?”
“Have you, y’know, changed fully?”
“Do you play basketball?”
Now, on the surface, some of these seem pretty innocuous. There’s some that are even things I don’t mind answering if they are asked honestly and without particular subtext.
But in reality, almost all of these are questions that usually have a very specific subtext accompanying them; a tone that simply reading them in print does not convey.
For one thing, they are almost always asked by cisgender men. And, what they actually want to know is one of the following things: Am I really a woman, or just “pretending?” Have I had the surgery (gender affirmation surgery)? Do I have a penis or a vagina? Isn’t it a terrible life being trans? Do they have to pay me to have sex with them, or will I do it simply because—they think—my identity is a fetish? Also, do I play basketball?
Okay, that last one is usually genuine. I’m just, as a tall person, sick of being asked and hoped it might stop when I transitioned. But nope. People still ask. And to be clear, I suck at basketball.
But the rest are all things that assume my identity is a “trick” or that I exist simply for their sexual gratification. And, because I am a trans woman, I am likely also a sex worker.
The thing that really ties these questions together though, the thing I intensely dislike, is that they all assume that being trans must be a shameful, terrible thing and something they cannot ask me about directly. Something they have to dance around.
Usually, this is really because of shame and discomfort that they feel around my identity as trans. Not me.
I am proud. Proud to be trans. Proud to be me.
And I will not justify anyone’s discomfort or personal issues by pretending otherwise.
*Lorelei Erisis is an actor, activist, adventurer and pageant queen. Send your questions about trans issues, gender and sexuality to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.