Conversations with a Trans Climber – Part 2

In my previous post (link), I talked about asking underrepresented people the right questions. An important thing to remember here is that no one is obligated to educate you. As a trans women, I have enough to deal with already and there are times when I just can’t handle another ignorant person. But I personally do place a high value on being open with these issues and want to help people understand. That isn’t the case for everyone though, so just enter these conversations aware that you are the one asking for the favor and that for many trans people (myself included) this stuff can involve a lot of trauma that you are asking them to relive through your questions.

So here are some questions I would have wanted to be asked:

What has been the most difficult part of being a transgender woman?
Trans people face unique difficulties (that you might not expect) and when we gloss over that fact, we are removing an opportunity to address the important problems. Unknown issues will remain unsolved issues.

What has been the best part of coming out?
This serves as a contrast to the previous question, because life as a trans person isn’t all doom and gloom. For me, coming out has been probably the best (and most difficult) thing in my life. So I am excited to talk about how amazing life is and to give hope to trans people who are still afraid of coming out.

What do you wish society understood about transgender people?
We have very little representation. When we do, it is usually just tokenism or sensationalism. There is a incredibly wide range of experiences by trans people that society generally misses out on.

What could our community do to be more inclusive?
Many people who are aware of the difficulties faced by trans folk are not sure how progress can be made. So I think it is best to just ask the people facing those issues.

What climbs are you excited about?
There is a lot more to me than just a woman that is trans. I am a climber. I also have a job. I have hopes, dreams, relationships, and family. And I really love chocolate. Basically, I am a whole person. Not recognizing that I am a multi-dimensional human contributes to tokenism and makes me feel not valued.

So there are the questions that I think would have been more appropriate and interesting. But that is just me and each person has different thoughts and priorities. If you are in an underrepresented group, I would love to hear about the questions you wish you were asked. Please leave a comment or email me at halcy@alpenglowcollective.co

Bonus Round: Here are some questions I do not like being asked.

Have you had “The Surgery?” (and other questions about my body)
It is generally considered rude to ask random people about their genitals. A good rule of thumb is if it would be inappropriate to ask a cis person this question, it is probably inappropriate to ask a trans person that question. So think about asking a cisgender person if they have had/wanted labiaplasty. Yeah, I don’t like being asked those questions either.

And if you are focused on my physical attributes, you are thinking about the wrong thing. My body is like the least interesting thing about me. There are way better questions to ask.

How did you know you were trans?
The biggest reason I don’t like this question is because it can create harmful stereotypes/expectations. Because there is so little representation of trans people to general society, a single narrative becomes the only narrative. So if I said “I knew because of X”, and another trans lady just coming out could be faced with skepticism if the way she knew was “Y.” Our society unfortunately has constructed rules about being “trans enough”, and this question can reinforce those rules. I (and too many of my friends) have faced criticism and skepticism because our individual experiences didn’t match “how trans people were supposed to be.” I want to do all I can to make sure that doesn’t happen to my fellow trans siblings.

Tell me about your life before you became a woman
Ooooh, there is so much I hate about this question. This is probably one of the more offensive things you can say to me. I would rather you ask about my genitals. (Don’t do that either) First off, I became a woman the same way a cisgender person becomes a woman; that’s how I was born. Remember, “trans” is just an adjective (like “tall”) and that trans women are real women. And asking about my life before I transitioned can be kinda traumatic for me, it focuses on an act I had to play instead of the real me, and makes me feel “othered.” So, just don’t.

Clouds flowing in the mountains at sunrise. Photo by Halcy

Conversations with a Trans Climber – Part 1

Recently I was a part of a live audience for an interview with a trans climber. And I almost walked out in the middle of it.

This was in Boulder Colorado with a group of fairly privileged people who considered themselves very progressive. And I do not doubt their intentions or desire to be compassionate human beings. But it was fairly obvious that they were naive and ignorant about how to best do that. And I think that is pretty common. People generally don’t want to be cruel, but often lack the perspective on how to be considerate. Thankfully perspective and education is something we can do stuff about. And when mistakes are made, we can all learn from them together. So here are some points that I thought were worth considering.

Trans women are real women.
And trans men are real men. Remember that trans is just an adjective, like tall or short. And it doesn’t matter what medical procedures a trans person undertakes, or if they appear like the majority of cis women/men. A transgender lady is just as much a woman as a cisgender lady.

It’s never ok to misgender or deadname* someone.
Even if you are talking about them before they transitioned, use their correct name and pronouns. Unless they explicitly tell you otherwise. (Because each of us should have control over our own narrative)

*Deadname: Call someone by a name they don’t use anymore. Particularly used by trans people to refer to the name they were given at birth.

Who is setting the narrative?
This point is a little more specific to the circumstances that prompted this blog post, but still is worth thinking about in general. While I appreciate that they got a trans climber up on stage, the conversation was still moderated and controlled by someone with extremely little insight into gender issues. This basically took some of the power away from the person they were trying to highlight. So if you are trying to give an underrepresented person a voice, you need to let go of the microphone. And recognize that some people are not a good fit for moderating certain conversations.

Asking the right questions.
As a continuation of the last point, sometimes you want the format of an interview (or you are just a person wanting to get to know someone) but you don’t want to control the narrative, so what do you do? I am a big fan of just asking. If you are an interviewer, beforehand just ask them if there are any points/questions they particularly want to discuss or avoid. It is really that simple. And if you are someone in casual conversation, you can literally say “I feel really ignorant about this subject and don’t even know what to ask. Are there things about this subject that you wished were more widely known or aspects of your story that you feel are really important?” Their answers will probably spark more questions to continue the conversation.

And I think that last point is worth a whole blog post. So keep an eye out for part 2 (Up now! – Link) where I will talk about questions I would want to be asked.

Halcy viewing the alpenglow on Neníisótoyóú’u (Longs Peak) Photo by Valerie Paulson