Home > Answers, FtM, Transition > Answers with an Agenda 5- Minimizing Feet In Mouth

Answers with an Agenda 5- Minimizing Feet In Mouth

Language is very difficult for people. It is full of misunderstandings, innuendos, and intonations. Every statement has multiple interpretations, which makes communication difficult, especially when a person is treading in the waters of not knowing what may offend someone. This entry is sparked both my discussions from last weekend’s KinkForAll DC 2, but also from a friend’s response to a previous entry which reminded me of how little people realize. So… this week’s Answers with an Agenda is not about sex, at least directly. It’s about interacting with someone who is trans.

How do I ask this transperson this question?

Trans people get asked a number of incredibly awkward questions. Sometimes, it is an  appropriate situation, but the wrong question. In my experience, and from what I’ve heard from friends, it is usually both a highly inappropriate question as well as a highly inappropriate situation. So, in the interest of hopefully keeping some people from going nuclear on some unsuspecting person, here are some guidelines.

First of all, if you have questions about a transperson’s gender, sex, body, identity, expression, surgeries, etc. I would recommend NOT asking that person unless they have specifically invited questions for the purposes of helping educate others, such as myself or DDog.

One question I’ve mentioned previously that people don’t necessarily realize is inappropriate/can be really offensive is asking someone’s birth name. If you find out someone is trans, and was given a different name at birth, don’t ask them what that was. It is both very rude, and actually is pretty offensive. It is not the same as if someone just changed their name from their birth name, there are a lot of additionally implications. Maybe some trans individuals don’t feel that way, but trust me when I say that I do, as do many others who I have talked to.

A series of questions that are not appropriate to ask random people:

  • So, who do you sleep with?
  • What do you call your “parts”?
  • Do you fuck like a guy or a girl?
  • Are you gay?
  • What pronoun do you prefer?

None of these questions are relevant unless the asking person is on a short list of people the person being asked is intimate with in some manner. Finding out of someone would be interested in you is perfectly legitimate, but rather than asking something like “Are you interested in me?” Because, no matter how sexy, smart, charismatic, of the prefered gender(s) you are, that does not mean people will be falling at your feet to fuck you.

If you aren’t trying to sleep with the person, none of these questions should ever be asked. Actually, unless you are very good friends with a person, asking things like “How’s the testosterone effecting you?” is often really inappropriate. Do you really go up to 13 year olds and say “How’s puberty?” On the other hand, comments like “Your voice is deeper” is fine. Comments like “Where’d your boobs go?” or “Damn, you grew a nice set of tits” are not fine. I wouldn’t fault someone for slapping you for that, but more likely you will make the person incredibly uncomfortable.

Even if you are curled up with a wonderfully hot transperson, and there is no question where it is going, those questions aren’t actually the best ones to ask. In the end, don’t ask a trans person anything you wouldn’t ask any other person you would take to bed.

A series of good questions to ask:

  • Is there anything I should know?
  • Are there any hard boundaries you don’t want me to cross?
  • Is there any language you prefer for me to use?
  • Is there something you particularly like/dislike?
  • What do you want to do with me?

Notice, none of these are actually body or gender specific. Rather, they are important questions generally when hooking up with someone, especially for the first time. They give a person the opportunity to answer as they feel comfortable.

Maybe one person gets off on being called a slut, but cannot stand the phrase “blowjob.” Thus, the language question is really useful beyond just asking what to call various parts of a transperson’s body. Like me? I call my own parts clit and cunt. I’m fine with this language. If you call it a pussy however, I may well slap you. Some transguys call their own parts things like front hole and dick, and if I’m strapping it on it is my cock. Not the dildo, it is my cock. There are times in bed when I don’t really want to be called by my name. I’d rather be called “Creature,” mostly because I don’t yet have a name for him, and I haven’t been able to figure out what animal specifically he is (other than that he is creature like.) We all have different words that turn us on… or off. So, why limit these questions to specifically for transpeople in a way that will probably offend someone?

But as I mentioned in my last entry, don’t ask if you aren’t going to listen and follow the response. No matter how silly you may feel saying “I want to suck your cock” when referring to a transman’s biologically attached dick, if that is what he wants, trust me when I say you will enjoy the response.

Not everyone has the right to ask these questions, and trust me when I say asking them at the wrong time can get you in serious trouble with the person. Maybe you’re trying to hit on them, and so genuinely want to know. Well, a lot of people don’t appreciate being asked by random strangers/semi-acquaintances in a public place, like a bar, about what they prefer to do in bed. On the other hand, some people might get off on that discussion happening in the middle of the local coffee shop. Adjust your questions as needed, but be aware that the person may well say anything from “I’m not comfortable answering,” to “I don’t know,” to an incredibly long and detailed response. But hopefully, this will help prevent a giant “Fuck you, asshole” or a long diatribe about how what you did was inappropriate.

There isn’t some rulebook on what to say or not to say to a person who is trans. Then again, there isn’t a rulebook on how to talk to most people. A lot of it boils down to judgement, but hopefully this gives you some better judgement.

EDIT: As Jhiera asked in a comment, why/when is it not okay to ask someone’s pronoun? Here is the thing, do you go up and ask everyone this? If so, then sure, go ahead. But there is a lot of problems with the “need” to ask certain individuals simply because they do not conform to previously understood gender norms. Yes, it is better to ask than to continually fuck up. But do so as an aside and not in the middle of a crowd. One, it puts the person much less on the spot. Two, it also will keep you from seeming like an idiot in case you should “already know” what pronoun they prefer. Rather than specifying pronouns, you could also ask anyone “How do you prefer to be addressed?” because this covers things like Mrs. versus Ms. versus Miss versus Mr, or Sir or Madame, boy, etc. as well as just pronouns.

  1. Jhiera
    06/18/2010 at 9:58 am | #1

    Could you go more into detail about why What pronoun do you prefer? is a not-okay question? I have been told that directly asking a person’s pronoun preference is a more appropriate than randomly guessing what it could be. (Although the question does make for pretty awkward awkward-times…) What is a more respectful approach to identifying someone’s pronoun preference, given our reliance on pronouns in this language?

    • 06/18/2010 at 10:45 am | #2

      A lot of that mention was about those very awkward times. I think the entry’s edit should answer the questions, but also asking someone in a group and putting them on the spot like that can very well keep them from answering honestly (this has happened to me a few times.)

  2. Michelle
    06/29/2010 at 8:42 pm | #3

    I’m sometimes uncomfortable with pronoun questions. I don’t think that having knowledge of a community (or of several intersecting communities) absolves a person from using that knowledge responsibly (for example, not putting people on the spot, especially not in crowds—I’ve seen it happen, and it’s awkward).

  3. Michelle
    06/29/2010 at 8:45 pm | #4

    Still, I do occasionally suggest volunteering pronouns at convened social spaces, like organizing meetings. Even if folks don’t feel safe outing themselves (or aren’t aware that that would be something they’d want and/or need), raising awareness is always good.

    • 06/30/2010 at 3:22 pm | #5

      But as I mentioned, it is very different for a person to suggest ot a wider group to volunteer pronouns in such a space than to target a specific person in that space. Like you said, not putting someone on the spot.

  4. Julia
    09/07/2010 at 12:01 am | #6

    I stumbled through a few links to your safeword piece today and have been reading through the archives. While there’s a lot of great, enlightening stuff I wanted to thank you for this one in particular. It really made me conscious of how often I start thinking about a polite/respectful way to ask something without backing up and thinking through whether it’s appropriate to ask at all. And mentally running through the idea of whether I would normally be asking a straight, cis-gendered person an equivalent thing made it painfully obvious that – no matter what I believe – I sometimes suck at considering people first as people.

    So, thank you for two things: First, for a really easy to remember and flexible tool for avoiding putting my foot in my mouth. I know I won’t always have enough context to realize that something I think of as innocuous is offensive or ignorant; which means it’s never a substitute for listening to people (or worse-using it as grounds to say they’re wrong for being offended). Second, thank you for shining a giant spotlight on a blind spot I wasn’t remotely aware of. Even if it’s in an attempt to be considerate, it’s not pleasant to admit that I’m often thinking of someone as (insert category of “other” here; trans, black, Muslim, …) before thinking about them as a person. Ugly to look at or not, at least now that I’m aware the problem exists I can watch for it and work to both put my foot in my mouth less and become a little less ignorant in general.

    I also really liked the examples of questions you can ask someone you’re going to be intimate with. There have been a couple times where I haven’t flirted with someone because I was sure I’d manage to flub this kind of conversation. Seeing it as just a version of questions it would be good to discuss with any lover makes it a lot less intimidating; it’s also a good reminder not to focus so much on getting gender-related stuff right that you don’t talk about say, how having their wrists held down is a trigger. (It also reminds me how much I learned from getting involved in bdsm about asking for what I want and explaining what I don’t want.) Next time I’ll just remind myself to stop jumping six steps ahead to the naked parts and work on getting past being too nervous and shy to even flirt and find out if they’re interested. :-)

  1. 07/08/2010 at 1:05 pm | #1
  2. 07/14/2010 at 12:44 pm | #2
  3. 07/15/2010 at 6:52 pm | #3

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