There are those names that are supposed to be unspeakable. Each generation has them. There is Voldemort and there is Cthulu as examples.
There are those events in history that are so unspeakable, as a species we would much rather forget at the least or completely deny as if by saying it, talking about it supports our own complicity -- which may or may not be true. This included the many holocausts and genocides throughout human history.
Which brings me to today, within the trans community about those questions that are not supposed to be asked. You may know a few of these:
What was your old name?
Have you had THE surgery?
Over the past few years, I am finding that my thoughts about these "unspeakable" questions are evolving in a major way. As I do more and more corporate trainings for supporting those who transition in the workplace, I find myself teaching and training less about the cognitive details of the transgender experience, and more and more about the emotional and relationship journeys of those who may be transitioning and also of their co-workers in the audience.
I began to wonder why these questions became unspeakable and if there could be a different way to deal with them. If, as I suggest in my book that we should always take the path of love rather than the path of fear, could I/we look at the questioner and the questioned through a different lens?
A few words started to come into my consciousness, and let me try to sort out my thoughts. You may or may not agree with my view but I suggest it is something to consider.
The first word that come to mind for me is "Boundaries." There are so many ways to have boundaries. For example, there are physical, emotional, spiritual and for some, even energetic boundaries. Some of us may have totally stable and rigid boundaries across all these dimensions, while others may have weak, unstable and easily crossed boundaries. These boundaries define where we each sense we begin and end. Given that so many of these boundaries are invisible to others, and that most humans are not very good at mind reading, the best way to find someone's boundary is perhaps to ask.
So perhaps when a person asks a question, it just may be heard and interpreted as a boundary violation. What happens then? Check out my SCRABBLE board .....and an imaginary conversation...
Person 1: utters an unspeakable question...
Person 2: (OMG, how dare they ask that...I am so mad at them!)
Person 1: (uh oh! What did I say? They look so angry)
Person 2: That is really none of your business, and don't you know that it is not polite to ask that!
Person 1: (Crap, I was just curious and wanted to be supportive and now I am getting this crap...) I was just trying to help....
Person 2: Well you're not!
So, perhaps innocent curiosity led to triggers, which led to micro-aggressions, and inevitably hurt feelings, confusion and total lack of understanding for both people. I am aware that not all conversations are like this , but I do sense that many are.
I think there is a better way, that just saying that some questions are unaskable.
It has taken me a long time to build up healthy boundaries. It has taken a long time to teach my protectors that they did not have to fight every unwelcome question. I wonder why this was so difficult to learn. Perhaps there were so few role models in my life that would take the "high road."
A few weeks ago I was facilitating a training class and I had the opportunity to meet with 2 people transitioning in the same workplace and then to do 2 training classes for their co-workers. In each cohort group, we chatted about boundaries and how best to deal with the "unaskable" and "unspeakable" without the triggers or the micro-aggressions. Yes, it is possible! In other words, I was teaching about having and respecting healthy boundaries for everyone. This means, boundary wars are not required automatically. Even if one feels their boundary may have been violated, it is OK to just send a reminder in a kind manner.
Perhaps we can imagine another conversation:
Person 1: utters an unspeakable question...
Person 2: (a deep breath..) Thanks for asking, that's a great question
Person 1: (phew, I was so worried that this may not have been appropriate)
Person 2: I really appreciate you asking, but honestly, at this point, I am not confortable answering this....perhaps sometime in future I may feel different about it
Person 1: Oh, OK, I hope that I didn't ask the wrong thing here..
Person 2: No, it is fine to ask...I hope you understand where I am right now...
OH! By the way. Healthy boundaries are not limited to trans discussions. I am pretty sure that most of us can all use a lesson in having healthy boundaries...
Thanks for asking!
Grace Stevens transitioned at the age of 64 and holds a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology. She is the author of No! Maybe? Yes! Living My Truth, an intimate memoir of her journey to live authentically. Grace is available for speaking with Live Your Truth: Discover Paths to Improved Performance. Visit her website at: http://www.graceannestevens.com/. Follow Grace on Twitter: www.twitter.com/graceonboard .