When I first started coming out, I relished the opportunity to finally be honest with my friends. I was terrified as all hell, but I was also happy to be done with a lifetime of hiding part of who I am, and excited to answer any questions with utmost honesty.
It’s been nearly two years since the first time I came out to someone. First of all, wow. Secondly, while I haven’t lost any of my initial happiness with finally being done with all the lying, I have gotten a little bored with the questions.
It’s not that I mind them, I should clarify. I am a very firm believer in the importance of helping people who want to understand. It’s why I didn’t say anything a few weeks ago when I had dinner with a couple of people and one of the first things they asked me was whether I am attracted to men or women. It might be an offensive question when you really think about why it’s being asked, but I try to ignore that and just answer the question and, if it’s appropriate, explain why questions like that generally bother people.
As I was saying, it’s not that I’m offended, it’s just that at this point I could literally write out a script and correctly anticipate most conversations of that nature. There’s only so many times you can be asked whether you’re going to ‘have surgeries’ before you feel like just laughing as a response.
Again, I prefer being bored by repetitive questions to leaving people uninformed to make assumptions, which brings me to today’s post. Below you’re going to find a collection of all the typical questions I could think of, and their respective answers.
If you have questions about transgender people you’ve always felt afraid to ask, if a friend recently came out and you’re curious but don’t want to be offended, or if you’re just nosy (no judgement, I’m nosy too!), check out my answers below.
Before reading them, please remember I’m not a sociologist, psychologist, or in any other way professionally qualified to answer anything with complete authority. I only speak from limited personal experience as a male-to-female transgender person.
I’m also going to copy-and-paste a bit from a FAQ I attached to a fb post I published back when I first came out. It’s okay though, I doubt guy!me is going to sue for plagiarism.
How do you know?
This is an interesting question. I still haven’t found a satisfactory way to answer it. I don’t know if there is such a thing. See, the problem is that gender dysphoria (the feeling that your physical sex doesn’t match the gender you see yourself as) is an experience so far removed from anything cis (non trans) people feel.
How would you describe the colour red to a blind person? How does someone with synaesthesia explain what purple smells like, or how a G chord tastes?
When your gender matches your sex, and people see you as you are, and allow you to express yourself in a way that generally matches how you feel, it’s easy to not notice there’s anything to notice.
I knew I wasn’t a guy the same way you could look at a traffic light and see whether it’s green or red. I just knew. My sense of gender identity was completely incompatible with the way people expected me to be and look, and I can’t explain it any better than that. You’ll have to take my word on that.
Quick aside: And no, it wasn’t simply that I was an effeminate boy, or gay. Did you know there are butch trans women? Also super gay and girly trans men. It goes simply beyond being masculine and feminine.
There is a lot of research that shows transgender people have brain patterns and show behavioural development that aligns with the gender they identify as, rather than the one they were assigned as birth. Transgender women like me, for example, have been found to have their brain develop more like other women’s than men’s. There’s a lot of interesting stuff out there.
A lot of it is speculation as this is an extremely difficult subject to investigate, experiment with, and study, but the science generally points towards trans people being ‘right’. Once I find a satisfying number of studies and scientific data I’ll compile it in a post.
How long have you known?
Something I like pointing out is that, in an evolutionary context, species are a kind of silly idea. All animals can mate with their parents, and are the same species as them. So you can take humans, and go back in the evolutionary chain one, by one, by one, never leaving the idea of ‘animal you can reproduce with’, and you see how your great-great-great ancestor could’ve mated with their great-great-great-great ancestor, and so on. Eventually you end up with an animal that looks nothing like a human and whose descendants, if you follow a different branch, never stop being able to reproduce with their parents, and eventually become tree frogs.
At what exact generation did the ancestral species become human? It’s an impossible question, and the same applies to asking when I first knew I was trans. I thought I hadn’t given it thought until I was maybe 7 or 8, but after I came out one of my aunts told me she’d seen me trying to put on a pair of stockings when I was 4 years old. I went through a period of young adolescence when I tried to ignore it, and I eventually stopped being in denial when I was or 17. On some level I always knew, and in another level I didn’t really ‘know’ until I decided to transition age 19-21.
It’s a process, realising you’re transgender, and some people know by age 7 while others take 40 years to realise it.
You say you’ve felt like this all your life, but I never noticed anything…
I don’t mean to be rude, but.. well, duh.
I’ve been a teenager for nearly all of the time I’ve ‘known’, and everyone knows the first rule teenagers follow is ‘try not to stand out.’ I hid it as best as I could, so it’s natural that most people didn’t notice anything.
Are you going to… *significant look*? *wiggles eyebrows*
This question is one of those people tend to be offended by. I understand why people ask it, so I’m going to answer it, but I’m also going to add context so you can understand why a trans girl once nearly bit your head off when you asked her if she had a penis. Also, this is a bit TMI so skip ahead to the next question if you don’t want to read about genitals.
I personally don’t have plans to have my penis surgically modified to resemble/become a vagina. This is for a couple of reasons:
- I don’t feel much genital dysphoria*
- I don’t care too much about sex, as I’m asexual/demisexual. (look in my previous post if you’d like to know what that means)
- There’s so much risk and uncomfortableness that come with the surgery and aftercare.
*Genital dysphoria is an aspect of gender dysphoria. For me, gender dysphoria is expressed in how when I used to look at a girl in a cute dress I felt like crying out of jealousy and grief because she was everything I felt I couldn’t be. For others, it means being naked or even hearing the word ‘vagina’ or ‘penis’ (respectively) could make them go into a panic attack or break into tears. This is an example of genital dysphoria.
I also don’t plan on getting implants on my chest as I’ll be (mostly) satisfied with whatever size my boobs end up being. I might get an orchiectomy (removal of balls) to stop taking Testosterone blockers, as I hope to die of old age and not liver failure from taking too many pills.
Now, just what is wrong with the question? You’re “just asking” right?
Well, yes and no. It’s just a question, but it has an implied question (whether you realise it or not) and it’s also just weird. Let’s address the weirdness first. When was the last time you asked a cis guy how long his penis is? How often do you ask your cis girl friends how deep their vagina is? It’s a creepy and inappropriate thing to ask about someone’s genitals, and that doesn’t change just because someone has unusual sex organs for someone of their gender.
Outside from a sexual partner, there are very few contexts in which it would be understandable to ask. If you’re flatmates with a transgender woman, it’d be reasonable to ask whether they’re planning on getting a vaginoplasty, maybe if you’re the health care provider of someone, but I struggle to think of anywhere else. It’s just not your business.
The implied question in asking someone about their sexual organs and secondary sexual characteristics (that is, boobs) is also something of legitimacy. “Do you have a dick yet? Are you a real man?”
I understand you probably don’t mean to ask them that… but do you really? Why are you asking the question, really? What does it change? Even if you really, really don’t, we get so much shit about that from others that we just get sick of being asked that in general, regardless of whatever reason you have for asking it.
What do hormones do?
I love talking about this, because it’s so fascinating. Unfortunately, we only have mostly anecdotal experience to work with, since I can’t think of any humane way this could be studied scientifically.
My experience with MtF hormones is the following (again TMI warning):
- Lower testosterone and/or a higher oestrogen count definitely lower your sex drive. Holy hell. I can’t even begin to describe the change. I went from wanting to masturbate something like two times a day, to literally not being able to remember the last time I did it.
- It affected my emotions. This is a difficult one to study since I suspect it’s partly psychosomatic, partly due to feeling free to be yourself and, yes, partly due to hormones, though possibly more to the change than the fact it was oestrogen I was getting pumped with.
The point is, for whatever reason, that I’m more emotional than I was before. I find it impossible to control my emotions the way I did when I lived as a guy. I can’t just swallow my sadness, or subdue myself much. If I feel happy I’m going to smile like a loon, and I won’t be able to stop myself from crying if I’m upset. This effect was more marked in the beginning, which makes me suspect it was mostly due to hormonal instability from going from a male to a female testosterone and oestrogen count.
- I can smell. I have no idea how the hell this happened, but a few weeks after I started taking oestrogen, my sense of smell went from ‘nearly nonexistent’ to ‘holy christ so sensitive’. I’ve since read anecdotal evidence that in general women have a more delicate sense of smell, especially during ovulation. I wonder if there’s an evolutionary reason for it.
- I’m calmer. Again, this is partly due to losing most of my gender dysphoria and being more satisfied with my life, but I’ve found I’m a much less angry person, and find it easier to calm down.
- As far as physical changes, it goes down to trans women slowly growing boobs and having their penis and testicles grow smaller. New facial hair follicles stop developing, and body hair sometimes grows slower and in a lighter colour. I’m ignorant of the effects in trans men, but I think it just drops their voice a little, and sometimes allows them to start growing facial hair.
These changes vary immensely depending on the person, so take this with a few spoonfuls of salt.
How did you get your voice?
Hard work and time. I saw a vocal therapist for a few months. It was mostly the same general exercises singers go through. Improving posture, breathing, and slowly working on increasing your range.
Then I started working at a call centre and got about 8 hours a day to slowly build up my voice from being generally “sir’d” by customers, to eventually getting “ma’am’s” from most of them.
MtF (also M2F; male-to-female) hormones do not affect your voice though my therapist claimed they can make your vocal cords slightly more flexible. As I said above, FtM HRT (hormone replacement therapy) supposedly helps trans guys with their voice, but as far as I know they also need to work hard, even if they get a little boost from their new hormones.
What does this mean? Are you going to be different now?
Well, obviously this doesn’t apply to me, what with already presenting female and all. Still, it’s a question I got often when coming out so it’s worth addressing. Conversations about it ended up going a bit like this (except with a lot more um-ing and much less eloquence):
So… you’re a girl now?
The point is that I’ve always been a girl, but now I’m finally free to show it and explore who I am. My personality isn’t going to change, really. I’m still sarcastic and kind of weird, just like before. Short-term I’ll be coming out to more people, and long term I’ll be growing my hair out and dressing differently, maybe acting a little bit different. I’m still me, and that isn’t really going to change.
But you say you’re a girl. You are going to be different.
A little? I mean, some things might change, but seriously: I’m the same person.
I haven’t lied about who I am, I’ve only hidden a part of me because I had to. This doesn’t mean I’m turning into a completely different person, it just means I’m finally able to be even more open about who I am.
I really am still me, and the fact I’ll look and dress a little different and go by a different name won’t change that.
Which then leads to…
If you’re the same person why are you changing your name and how you look?
Well, would you say the clothes you wear define you? No. They’re just accesories. The fact I’m changing mine doesn’t change who I am.
As far as why change them… if you’re a woman, why don’t you wear men’s clothes? They’re much more practical. They even have pockets! If you’re a man, why don’t you wear women’s clothes? So much variety!
Well… you (as far as I know) don’t because you just don’t feel comfortable in them. Or rather, you prefer what you wear now. It’s not a huge deal, it’s just what you would rather wear. Same with me. I feel much more comfortable being called Lily and dressing as a woman because I feel it reflects who I am better. That’s all.
So… Do you like men?
As it happens, I do. I didn’t think I did when I first came out, but oh gosh do I now. I elaborated a bit more on this here, but from whatever reason, whether it was being treated as a woman by men, feeling less inhibited, or maybe even hormonal changes, I’ve lost any attraction I might have ever felt for women, and could only see myself being happy marrying a man.
I think it’s a fun thing to answer, but keep in mind most trans people don’t like being asked because of similar reasons to the genital question. If you don’t have romantic/sexual designs on someone, why would their sexual orientation be any of your business?
Some quick clarification, since this is also something people wonder about:
A transgender woman, that is someone like me who was born with male sex organs but knows they’re a woman, who likes men is straight. If I liked other girls, I’d be a lesbian. Transgender men, guys who were born with female sex organs, who like other men are gay, and those who like chicks are straight.
Their sexual organs have nothing to do with determining which label is generally accepted to describe their orientation, and neither does the level of their transition.
What can I do to support you/my trans friend?
My advice here is the same whether your trans friend is 2 years into transition, or just came out of the closet to you: Treat us as people, please don’t avoid us, treat as anyone else of our identified gender.
I understand it’s difficult to see someone you love changing in front of your eyes. I don’t know how painful it is, or how hard it can be for you, but I can recognise that it is a struggle. I don’t think you’re a bad person for feeling like that. In fact, I mean to write a post about the validity of those feelings. However, try to think of how your transgender friend feels when everyone acts weird, and begins to avoid spending time with them.
Think of how you treat other girls if your friend is MtF, or other guys if they’re FtM, and try to treat your friend that way. Use the right name, and the right pronouns. It’s okay if you mess up, just keep trying. You’ll get the hang of it.
Most of all, just see us as people. Please. I’ve written on how it feels to be dehumanised, but I’ll never be able to express the feeling clearly enough. Just talk to us, spend time with us, look us in the eye. You might be the only person that does.
Those are all the common questions I could think of, but I know there are many I’ve missed. If you’ve ever wondered about anything, please leave a comment below or send me an anonymous message. I swear on everything I believe that I won’t mind no matter what you ask, so long as it comes from a place of wanting to understand. Anything at all, ask ahead. I’ll add an ‘additional questions’ section to this post if necessary to address those questions.
I think my last two posts have been my longest so far. Yay!