Archive for the ‘Etiquette’ Category

Question MarkBelow, we have two relatively unrelated questions about guy things, but I put them together because they’re short, and I was also hoping for reader ideas and suggestions. Here we go:

A reader writes: “I have read many articles about bathroom etiquette. I understand that you are not to linger around the men’s room. My question is about a situation where there is only one stall in the men’s room. What do you do when it is occupied?

“You don’t just want to stand there and wait. If you wait outside of the men’s room, you look a little creepy or like you are trying to pick someone up. So what do you do when the stall is occupied and you are not comfortable or able to use the urinals?”

I run into this situation all the time. Sometimes I do wait – not outside the men’s room, but just hanging around inside, generally washing my hands or otherwise busying myself. However, if it looks like it’s going to be a while before the guy comes out, I generally leave and either come back later if I can wait, or try to find another restroom if I can’t.

When I first started using men’s public restrooms, I learned quickly that you don’t smile at anyone, you don’t make small talk, and, for the most part, you don’t look at anyone at all. But I never did learn what the acceptable thing to do is if you need the stall and it’s occupied. So I just did what came naturally, which was hang around a little bit and see if the guy was ever going to come out, then leave and seek out someplace else if he didn’t.

Since I wanted to get this right, I just asked a non-trans male friend about the rules. He said that he would not hang around inside the restroom if he didn’t have anything to do there. (more…)

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Question MarkBelow, we have two letters regarding allies (the second one is a stretch, but I figured it could loosely go with an “Ally” theme). And here they are:

A reader writes: “I am a cis teenager who tries her hardest to be a good ally. Recently, I was talking with someone I’d just met (‘Bob’) who attends my school. We walked past another student, who is trans (we’re in an intersectional feminist club together and he’s talked about it). Bob referred to the trans kid using female pronouns.

“I know that the trans kid only transitioned last year, and Bob had met him before his transition, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t know that the trans kid had transitioned. Instead of confronting Bob, I continued to talk about the trans kid using male pronouns. Bob got the memo and then used male pronouns.

“Was that the right thing to do? I wasn’t sure if I should have confronted him more directly (‘Actually that kid uses male pronouns’), but I didn’t want to out him, even though he’s out at school as far as I can tell. I also didn’t want to just let it slide and use the wrong pronouns. In case this situation comes up again, do you have any advice on the course of action that I should take?”

This is a tough one and an easy one. It’s a tough one because, as an ally who knows this person from a particular club only, you might not necessarily know if he is out everywhere. If you refer to him by male pronouns outside of the club, and he is not using male pronouns outside of the club, then you will out him. But if you refer to him by female pronouns just because someone else does, then you will disrespect his identity, whether he’s out or not, but particularly if he is out everywhere.

The easy part is that you can ask him. You’re in the club together, and even if you don’t know him well or have never talked to him directly, there’s nothing wrong with approaching him and saying, “Here’s the deal. What do you want me to do from now on?” (more…)

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Question MarkA reader writes: “Our good friends have a daughter, Linda (I changed the name that the reader sent in, because I didn’t know if it was real or fictional).

“Linda dresses and carries herself in a very masculine way.  She has done this for as long as we’ve known her – five years or so. She shops in the men’s section of clothing stores and seems to identify more with being a male.

“Several times we have all been out for dinner and the server will refer to Linda as ‘he.’ It’s not surprising and I can see why they mistake her for a man.  However, what confuses me is why no one speaks up. My husband and I want to say something to correct the server.  We feel like we should defend Linda, but we don’t say a word. Linda doesn’t either – and doesn’t seem fussed by the mistake. And her parents don’t acknowledge it in the moment or afterwards. We all just go one as if nothing has happened.

“I feel like we are not being honest. I want Linda to know we love and accept her. She may be perfectly okay with being mistaken for a man. Still, I wonder if it is best to keep quiet and say nothing. Her parents seem to be in denial. I am most concerned about Linda and want her to be able to express herself fully.

“She still lives at home and seems to be pretty isolated from people. I want to be supportive, but it feels like we’re all silently dancing around the situation. Maybe it’s none of my business. Bottom line, I care about Linda and want the best for her. Her parents may have difficulty, so I don’t feel comfortable saying anything to them.

“I wanted to get your input on how/if I should say anything to Linda or her parents.”

First of all, thank you for your concern in this situation. It sounds as if you care a great deal for Linda and her parents.

Second, the short answer is: No, you should not say anything to Linda (at least not at the time) or her parents, and no, you should not correct the server on Linda’s behalf.

There could be so many things going on here that it’s impossible to list them all, but I will throw a few out there, and, in all of these cases, you are better off keeping your mouth shut: (more…)

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Question MarkI have two letters with relatively short answers (for me!), so even though they’re not related, I put them together into one post. And here we have them:

A reader writes: “I’m a queer cis femme, and I have a number of close friends who, over the past few years, have come out as trans (FtM). I consider myself a strong ally, and I have had no problem adjusting to their preferred names or pronouns, but there is one issue that I am unsure about.

“In many cases, these friends and I share mutual friends and/or acquaintances who may or may not know of a trans friend’s past. When telling stories about various adventures or experiences with a trans friend who, at the time, did not identify as trans, which pronoun should I use?

“I don’t want to accidentally ‘out’ them to people who don’t know (or don’t need to know) the whole story, but I also want to stay true to my friend and true to the story. If we did something together – let’s say, went camping – then should I say, ‘She and I went camping last summer’ or ‘He and I went camping last summer’?”

The best thing to do, particularly if you are talking about relating stories about this person when he is not present, is to ask the person. You will need to ask each one of your friends, individually and privately, what he prefers if you happen to be talking about him to others when he is not present, particularly when those people don’t know that he has transitioned.

However, as a general rule when talking about a trans person’s past, whether he or she is present or not, the following two things apply:

1. Always use the pronoun that the person currently uses, even if everyone in the room knows that he or she is trans. For example, when referring to a trans man friend, you would say, “He and I went camping last year,” “He and I grew up together,” or “I’ve known him since he was five.” The same rule applies with trans women. You would always use “she,” regardless of the time period you are talking about. If the person uses a pronoun other than “he” or “she,” then use that one.

There’s nothing more aggravating than reading a news story about a trans person and seeing that the writer uses both pronouns to refer to the person, as if the writer’s sole purpose was to confuse the public: “She was a nuclear physicist prior to her transition from female to male, and then he became an astronaut.” Huh? No, he was a nuclear physicist prior to his transition from female to male, and then he became an astronaut. (more…)

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happykid1A friend of mine told me about a workshop she had been to where participants were asked to tell each other what comments they would be perfectly happy never to hear again for the rest of their lives. The activity was based on what marginalized group or groups a person belonged to and what things people said to that person because of his/her/hir membership in that group.

It sounded like a fascinating exercise, so I decided to try it out here. You don’t have to be trans to participate. Regardless of what group or groups you belong to or identify with, I would love to hear in the Comments section what questions, phrases, or comments you could happily live the rest of your life without ever hearing again.

As a trans person, my top one would be “You’re so brave.” A close second is “I would have never guessed (that you were trans).” Don’t worry if you’ve ever said these things to me. I’m not upset. But I would get along just fine if I never heard them again.

And I have one more that has nothing to do with being trans. As an old(er) person, my number one would be “You’re not old!” Yes, I am.

I love being old, and I say it quite a bit: “Well, I’m old, so I remember that” or “The good thing about being old is that you don’t have to worry about that” or “I’m old, so I didn’t grow up with the Internet.” Then someone (always much younger) will say, “You’re not old!” – as if being old were a bad thing. It’s not. It’s way better than you think.

So let me be old. You’ll like it when you get here, too.

Readers, this post is short because I want to hear from you. What would you be happy never to hear again as long as you live?

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Question MarkA reader writes: I’m FTM, still in the closet, and I was wondering: What are the most common questions you get? I would like to know because I want to be able to think about questions that I may get asked when and if I come out of the closet.”

The questions never stop coming, and sometimes I still get caught off guard. Because I live in this “trans world,” I forget how little people actually know about this issue, even today. The good thing is that people are asking them, which means that they want to know more.

And although we all get tired of answering them sometimes, I try to look at the positive side of being a walking and breathing Google search engine – at least people want to be educated. And this is never a bad thing.

The questions I get depend in large part on what I’m doing. If I’m in an educational role of some sort – speaking in front of a group or to the media, for example – I would say that the top ten questions are as follows (in no particular order):

1. What does transgender mean and what is the difference between transgender and transsexual?

2. Who are you attracted to and who do you date?

3. How old were you when you “knew”?

4. Have you had “the operation”?

5. How did your family react?

6. What discrimination/prejudice have you experienced?

7. What do hormones do? Do you have to take them for the rest of your life?

8. What are the health risks of transition?

9. How did you feel when you “knew”? What was it that made you know that you were trans (or a man)?

10. What are some of the differences you see between living as a man and living as a woman? (more…)

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Question MarkA reader writes: “I am a straight male and consider myself fairly liberal. One of my best friends is openly gay and I have never felt uncomfortable around him. Yet the thought of being around a transgender person is extremely uncomfortable to me and I don’t exactly know why.

“I can understand the scientific reasoning for having a different gender than one’s do-dads would imply, yet some part of me cringes whenever I hear the words “tr***y, transgendered or transsexual” or read anything about it. (Asterisks mine – MK)

“Does this make me a bad person? How can I consider myself a liberal person who respects and judges everyone based on their character if I am uncomfortable with the concept of having a different gender identity? Is there any way for me to come to grips with this and perhaps regain my own self-respect?

“I hope this question was not offensive in any way, and if it was, I apologize wholeheartedly.”

I was not offended by your question. Some people might be, but in my opinion, it takes guts to do some self-reflection, realize that you have an issue, and take steps to try to resolve it. For this same reason, I don’t think you’re a bad person.

I also don’t think that, currently, you can consider yourself a person who respects and judges everyone based on their character, but I think that you can consider yourself someone who is trying to get there.

I’m going to throw a couple of thoughts out that might or might not apply, and then I’m going to suggest some questions that you might ask yourself as you’re doing some looking inward. Here’s something to think about:

Western culture has established very specific and very strict parameters for being a “man” and being a “woman.” And as much privilege as straight men have in this culture, you are constantly walking an extremely narrow tightrope in order to stay within those parameters and maintain your acceptable standing as a straight man. (more…)

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Question MarkA reader writes: “So, like, what would motivate someone to want to alter their body and ‘gender’?

“Like, I am bisexual, so I get the whole orientation thing that could be involved, but what is the emotional motivation? What is there to gain over such high risks like excessive judgment or even physical acts of aggression against someone who alters their genitals?

“Personally, if anyone ever even tried taking something sharp to my crotch, I would probably kill them because I wouldn’t want my reproductive organs to be altered in any way … so what would make someone want to alter something so biologically important on an instinctual level?

“Not hating on tr***ies, just tryin’ to understand this crazy world.” (Asterisks mine – MK)

I’ll be honest with you here. I really appreciate you writing, I appreciate you reading my blog, and I appreciate you trying to understand. I value all my readers, and I value all their questions. Even so, my first impulse in responding to your letter came from the deep, dark, shadow side of me, and that impulse was to respond like this:

“So, like, what would motivate someone to want to sleep with both men and women? Like, I am trans, so I understand the whole born-this-way thing that might be involved, but what’s the emotional motivation? What is there to gain over such high risks like excessive judgment or even physical acts of aggression against someone who, probably at least sometimes, sleeps with or loves someone of the same sex?

“If anyone tried to make me sleep with a person of a certain sex, I would probably kill them, because I wouldn’t want to change my sexual orientation in any way … so what would make someone want to go against something so biologically important on an instinctual level?

“Not hating on bis, just tryin’ to understand this crazy world.”

But then I realized that this response would be inappropriate, that it really wouldn’t serve to educate anyone, and that it might end up turning people off when they really do want to understand. So please forgive my evil-twin shadow self, and let me really answer the question.

Although gender identity and sexual orientation are two different concepts in Western culture, one of the things that they share is that neither is a choice. Another thing that they share is that, based on them, people are subject to excessive judgment and even physical acts of aggression. (more…)

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Question MarkA reader writes: “I’m thinking about speaking to a Gender Studies class at the college I attend because of some ignorant comments from ignorant classmates when I took the class last semester (such as ‘I can pick out trans* people by looking into their eyes’).

“The professor thinks that it’s a great idea. (I spent the whole semester educating him.)

“I am not actively out at the school and would use a pseudonym if I do a presentation. The college has a very large student population of 40,000+, so I’m not too concerned about being known, but don’t want to be stupid.

“Besides using a pseudonym and making sure everyone has their phone and computers put away, are there any tips that you can give me before I commit to do this – like what to say, etc.?”

This is a good question that I think a lot of people wonder about, particularly if you are not a speaker or teacher. Whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, we as trans people are often put into the position of either wanting to or having to educate, and sometimes we are asked to do this in front of a class or group, even if we are not professional presenters.

Unfortunately, when we do speak, we are often seen as representatives of our entire group, providing information that transfers to anyone who identifies as trans in some way. Whatever we put out there is seen as fact, and how we present ourselves in front of others is seen as the way “trans people are.”

Because of these misunderstandings, and because speaking in front of a group is just plain tough, especially if you’re not used to it, there are a few tips that I can offer that might be helpful. Readers will probably have others. Here are some that I consider essential:

1. Overview: Start out with a brief introduction, including who you are (even if you are using a pseudonym), how you identify (tell them that definitions will come later), and why you are there. Explain (briefly) what you intend to talk about during the class period. Explain to them why this information is necessary and important for them as students and as human beings functioning in a very diverse world. (more…)

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Question MarkA reader writes: “My daughter has recently started dating a transgender young man who is currently seeking therapy and is considering undergoing a sex change or hormonal therapy. I try to think of myself as being open-minded and accepting of others.

“My daughter has asked me to spend the day with her and her boyfriend and let me know that he will be going in his alter ego, or dressing as a woman for the day. I am not hip to all the politically correct lingo, so please bear with me and forgive my ignorance.

“I want to support her and her decision to date J., but in all honesty, I do feel a bit uncomfortable because this is all very new to me. Perhaps you have some advice for a mom who has never dealt with anything like this before. I want to be supportive and understanding, but it is a little outside my comfort zone.

“I am a bit concerned with his lifestyle and how it might affect my daughter’s relationship with her father/my husband. He is not aware of her boyfriend’s lifestyle and I don’t know how to broach the subject with him, or if that should be my daughter’s responsibility?

“In closing, I would like to say that my children’s happiness is very important to me. Like any mom, I want them to have someone to love and to be loved, marry, and raise a family if they wish.”

First of all, thank you for being supportive of your daughter and willing to accept her new love interest and learn more about the issues. Because you are concerned about spending time with this person, let’s talk about some terminology and some ways for you to feel more comfortable in her presence.

I’m going to use the female pronoun for your daughter’s partner, and so should you, if she is presenting as a female in your presence (using a feminine name, dressing in traditionally feminine clothing, and so on).

Even though you are hesitant about being around this person who you originally knew or assumed to be male, spending more time with her when she is presenting as female will allow you to get more comfortable with her and help you prepare for the time when she transitions, if she decides to do so. (more…)

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