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 basically 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 where I will talk about questions I would want to be asked.