According to a survey done by Harris Poll, about 16 percent of Americans report (knowingly) having met and spoken to a transgender person, up from 8 percent in 2008. It is well established that talking to, and getting to know an LGBT person makes people more open to their differences and more likely to be an ally. I am contacted by so many people struggling to understand what it is to be transgender, and who just want to ask questions to help them learn more. So this past week, I opened up my twitter inbox for questions and got some really thoughtful responses! I will share the questions and my answers here, and possibly make this an ongoing series. Thank you again to everyone who sent questions! Please leave me some feedback in the comments, and if you have a question, feel free to ask!
Q: I am new to transition and hoping to get hormones soon. I am going to ask my doctor this, but do you have to take them forever? You look great and I love your beard, how long did it take to grow it? Since you look so good, are you able to quit hormones?
A: Thank you for the compliment, and the beard was a long time coming! It took me about 15 years to get it to fill all the way in! Genetics play a large part in that, so results are not the same for everyone. I'm not a physician, but according to my endocrinologist, since the human body needs hormones for various things, I will most likely take testosterone throughout my life.
Q: I am not sure how to ask without sounding daft, but are there cases where a transgender person is attracted to the opposite sex or is it always the same sex?
A: I am actually asked this all the time! There were a couple of other responses asking whether some transgender people are gay or lesbian, so hopefully this will answer all of the variations of this question. A lot of people get gender identity and sexual orientation confused, but they're actually completely different. Sexual orientation is who you're attracted to, while your gender identity is your own sense of self -- whether you are a man, woman or somewhere outside the gender binary. So just like cisgender people, transgender people can have a sexual orientation that is gay, heterosexual, bisexual, pansexual, etc. I would suspect that the numbers pretty closely match the ratio of cisgender people when looking at what percentage are gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc.
Q: If you dated women before you became trans, are you still considered gay?
A: I did date women prior to transition, and continued to be attracted to women after transition. I do not consider myself a lesbian. I'm a man who is married to a woman. I actually never felt comfortable with the label lesbian, even prior to transition. I knew from a very young age that I identified as a boy, so to me it never felt like a same sex attraction. I am also not quite comfortable with the label heterosexual. I am married to a woman, however, we both feel more comfortable just being considered part of the Queer community.
Q; When did you transition and how did your peers react? And if you were in school at the time of your transition how did your school respond. Thank you again!
A: I started identifying as a boy around the age of 4, and from that time on, dressed and carried myself as such. My outward appearance and mannerisms didn't sit well with my peers in middle and high school and I was bullied throughout. I actually formally started my transition at the age of 27, and my friends at that time were split. My best friend, fortunately, was very supportive and still is to this day. My family, however, had a little harder time with it, but eventually came around and were also quite supportive. I consider myself very lucky because many transgender people face the loss of friends and family.
Q: My brother came out as trans last month. I've had a sister my whole life and I'm cool with that. Parents too. From your perspective, what are things your family did that made you feel comfortable transitioning, or things they could have done better?
A: What a great question! I actually had a few questions very similar to this one. First of all, thank you for being a wonderful ally! Our allies -- especially family -- are more important than they realize. Transition isn't easy, and having a strong support system is crucial to our well being, and makes the challenges we face a little less traumatic. The biggest thing for me, especially early on, was being called 'brother' by my siblings. I transitioned after losing both my parents, so I didn't get to experience it with them. Every time one of my three older siblings referred to me as their brother, or 'little brother' it made my heart swell. Such a simple thing can be so reaffirming. I know in the early stages of your loved one's transition, it's easy to slip up on pronouns, name, etc. and that's understandable -- but work really hard on this one, because I promise you, it means the world to your brother to be called by his chosen name, and hear you using male pronouns and terms of endearment. Other than that -- just be an active ally and fight alongside him!
Q: How did you tell the hardest family member? My trans daughter wants to tell her grandmother.
A: I chose to tell my close friends and family by a personal letter, accompanied by a great FAQ about learning a loved one is transgender. I started my transition 20 years ago -- when really no one was talking about this. It was much more misunderstood then and I wanted to make it as comfortable on my loved ones as news like this could possibly be. I felt that the letter and the FAQ would do a good job explaining it, and that they would have time privately, to process the information and do any research they needed to -- before having to face me. I got great feedback from everyone on the FAQ, and most said that it really helped them understand better. I can no longer find the FAQ I used online, but here's a great one from GLAAD's website, also notice the link at the top for Tips for Allies of Transgender People -- both are awesome documents!
Q; Are you ever scared that someone will recognize you from all your publicity and try to hurt you? I'm not asking to be mean, I am a fan of yours but just wonder if that crosses your mind.
A: At first I felt a little apprehensive, and I get plenty of nasty messages and have even received a couple threats. I deliberately choose to live my life as fearlessly as possible -- not just where this is concerned, but I don't like to give fear any of my energy. I do get recognized, but so far, everyone I've encountered that have known me from my activism have been very supportive. As with most 'haters' -- it's easy to sit at home behind a device and say awful things to people you don't agree with. It's a whole other thing to be nasty to someone face to face. I'm not naive, I know there are bad people out there, but there are so many more wonderful people to focus my time and energy on.
Q: I hope this isn't out of line, and I'm not trying to be rude but I'm just curious if you've had THE surgery...
A: I do believe that you aren't asking to be rude, but asking a transgender person about their surgeries and what they have/haven't done is really never a good idea. I hear that a lot, THE surgery, but the thing is, there isn't one defining procedure. I was a man before a scalpel ever touched my body. Yes, I made some changes to my exterior to better match my identity, but those procedures didn't make me who I am. And not all transgender people choose to even have surgery, and that doesn't negate their identity at all or make them any less trans. We run into this quite often, many times by people such as yourself, who are just curious and trying to learn -- but more often than not, it is used as a measuring tool to judge our validity.
Q: Have you ever been attacked in a public bathroom?
A; As a kid, I was bullied in bathrooms all the time. As an adult, prior to transitioning, I was stared at and verbally attacked in bathrooms several times. Since using the men's bathrooms for the past 20+ years, I've had no incidences in a public bathroom.
Q; My friend is transgender and we were both wondering when you should tell a person you're interested in dating?
A: That's a really good question, and one I get a lot. I don't know that there's one right answer though. I can only speak to my own thoughts and experiences. For me, especially because I transitioned at a time when you didn't hear a lot about transgender people, I felt more comfortable being right up front about it. I didn't want to deal with telling someone later and being rejected, or having an awkward situation. It was much easier to just disclose early on and if they didn't like the idea, we moved on. I've also known plenty of people who felt it was better to go on a few dates and get to know a person, then tell them. I've seen that work out ok too. I think you just have to decide how serious you are about dating a particular person and how well you already know one another and choose the best course of action for that situation. I certainly don't recommend trying to hide the fact that you're transgender -- for a multitude of reasons, especially if you're entering into an intimate relationship. It's not fair to either of you. I know there are some who will disagree with me -- but that's a whole other topic of conversation. This is just my .02.
Q: Do you ever speak about your experiences? I would love to come see you if you do!
A: I don't do as much as I used to -- but would love to do more public speaking for sure. Prior to moving home to Texas last year, I was quite active on the college speaking scene. I've done panels, Q&As and presentations and really love connecting with people and helping them understand transgender people better. Should I start doing presentations again, I'll update the blog!
Q: What is the one thing you want people who are opposed to transgender people to know?
A: Only ONE? Wow. Well I guess if I only get one, I would want them to realize that just because they don't understand, or even accept transgender people -- we exist, and we're human. And we have the same rights as anyone else -- or should have. You don't have to like it, and you don't have to agree with it. But we deserve the same respect as anyone else you meet.
Thanks again to everyone who took the time to ask these great questions! Let me know in the comments, if you want more Q&A in the future!