Transforming the Dialogue at Simmons College

Hello Friends!

The fine folks at the Simmons College* MSW program reached out to me last week and asked if I would like to participate in their new program aimed at educating their population on trans* issues.  Of course I’m happy to help!

To be more specific, Megan, the marketing coordinator for Simmons, informed me that Simmons is “the third US women’s college to accept students who identify as transgender,” and also told me the college is “embarking on an exciting initiative that aims to educate the masses on trans* lives.”  Neat!  I’m in!  But first, let me let Megan finish explaining what exactly this project entails.

She continued, “[t]his spring, we are launching “Trans*forming the Dialogue,” a campaign designed to shift the conversation away from the problematic questions that are often asked of the members of the transgender community and foster a more progressive dialogue.”  Any readers interested in seeing the final project can find it here in June.

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So, I am one of a few bloggers she has invited “to be a featured voice in this campaign and provide [my] unique perspective.” To that end, I answered three questions:

1. What are the do’s and dont’s when asking a trans*person about their experiences?

Well, I like to keep it simple: keep it respectful.  Speak from a place of integrity.  I guess what I’m saying is, it’s actually really easy to talk to trans people about their experiences if you come to us as a person first (that’s why you start from a place of integrity), and as a trans person second.  Ask yourself, before you ask me, why are you about to ask me the question you are going to ask?  Is it to learn about me, or is it to objectify me?  Is the answer to the question necessary for the interaction we are having?  The thing that I think trips up some cis-gender people, people who are allies and who want to get this right, is that they are so worried about embarrassing themselves or saying the wrong thing that they end up embarrassing themselves or saying the wrong thing.  Remember the golden rule: treat me how you would want to be treated, and interacting with trans* people, or any minority culture or person different from you, becomes much easier.

2. What are 2 – 3 questions that one should NOT be asking a transgender person?

Do not ask me what my “real” or “birth” name is.  It’s none of your business (in the case of my birth name), and actually, you know what my real name is, it’s the one I introduced myself to you as.

Do not ask me what surgeries I’ve had.  The state of my medical transition, if I am transitioning medically, is also none of your business.  Just like cis-gendered people do not have to justify their gender presentation to me, I do not have to justify my gender presentation to anyone else.  This is why coming to me as a person first, and as a trans person second is important. While my gender identity is important, it is only a part of the whole.  Treat me like a whole person, and we got no problems.

3. What are 2 – 3 questions that one SHOULD be asking a transgender person?

Please feel free to ask me what pronouns (if any) I prefer.  Sometimes people play with the gender norms, confound them, complicate them, fuck with them, and we might not be aligned with the traditional gender presentation our preferred pronouns would have you believe. Meaning, for example, sometimes dudes have breasts, sometimes ladies have stubble.  I would never be offended if someone wanted to know how I preferred to be referred to.  See how that’s different than asking me if I have a penis?

I am also always happy to answer the kinds of questions Megan has asked here.  Let’s talk about how to start a conversation, let’s talk about cultural norms, let’s talk about opinions and experiences.  I am very open with my transition, duh, I’m spilling the beans on a public blog. But not all trans people want to share their lives with the whole of the internet.  Start from a place of respect, a place of integrity, and let us lead you to how far we are willing to go with the divulgence of personal information.

I’m sure I’m missing some things, but that’s why I’m not the only blogger they approached.  I want to thank Megan for reaching out to me and giving me this opportunity.  Thanks Megan! And I applaud Simmons College for engaging the trans community: it’s this kind of willingness and effort that is the starting point from which we can foster real and meaningful dialogue across the sometimes too-silent gulfs between discourse communities.

Also, in closing I want to give a shout out to Simmons’ queer group, SWAG.  In the sea of poorly-chosen queer acronyms, SWAG knocked it out of the park. Great job people!

If this was your first time here, thanks for stopping by, and as always,

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli


* Woot-Woot Massachusetts!