Cis People Problems: Discussing Gender Identity without Being a Jerk

Some would say gender identity is more fluid and complex than it’s ever been. Others would counter it’s always been complex, but social progressives have created a climate in which more people are free to talk about (and act on) gender transitioning. If you’ve been comfortably cis your whole life, all this talk of transitioning, gender fluidity, and general trans-culture may have you wondering what the hell is going on.

It’s natural to want to ask questions when something confuses you. But questions about gender identity are deeply personal, and only appropriate subject matter for the most intimate discussions. While we all want to believe we are tolerant and accepting of people, and most of us are to the best of our ability, chances are we’ve unknowingly asked a question with the potential to embarrass, inflame, or pry into something that’s really none of our business. You want examples? Okay, here goes.

–What the hell does “cis” even mean? Why is it necessary to have the term?

Okay, that’s a reasonable question unless there’s underlying hostility. If you find yourself thinking something like, “Hey, I’m normal. Why do I need a term to describe the fact my gender and my biology line up?” what you’re really asking is, “Why don’t we just assume my way is the normal or correct way to be, and label everyone who isn’t like me.” Sounds pretty dickish when you put it that way, doesn’t it?


–I don’t understand how you can feel like a different gender than you are. Explain it to me.

It’s normal to ask about something you don’t understand. But your desire to know doesn’t obligate anyone to sit you down and explain it to you. In this context, “I don’t understand,” can easily be interpreted as, “I don’t believe you.” “Convince me.” Nobody owes you an explanation for their sexuality or gender identity (which are two different things, BTW), nor do they have to justify their position to anyone simply because they were asked. Moreover, the gender a person believes themselves to be IS the gender they are. Biology is secondary.


–I just can’t imagine being the opposite gender, how is that possible?

Lucky for you, you don’t have to imagine it. It’s not happening to you. But if you’d really like to take a crack at it—let’s say, you’re you. With me so far? You’re you, but you look at yourself in a mirror and see the opposite gender. Now what do you do? That’s the question transgender people face, how they answer is personal and private until they invite you to know more.


–Pre-op or post-op?

This question is incredibly offensive, mainly because you just asked someone to describe the contents of their underpants. Unless you’re paying them $2.99 a minute, that question is out. Moreover, this question equates said contents of said underpants with the “truth” of someone else’s gender identity. Not cool.


–What do you people do in bed? / How do you “do it?”

Transexuals really do get asked this question by virtual strangers, unbelievable as it may sound. We’re all a little curious about the sex lives of strangers—but c’mon. The only people you should be asking this kind of question are those with whom you’re in a potentially sexual relationship. Hopefully you won’t use a loaded phrase like “you people.”


–Which bathroom do you use?

If you believe any of the right-wing claptrap about rapists pretending to be transgender in order to commit assault, you’re probably not reading this article anyway. Sadly, the answer to this question probably has more to do with intrusive local laws than the truth of someone’s gender. But unless the person in question has asked for your assistance in the restroom, this is none of your business.


–So what does this mean? I can’t even ask a question now?

Sure, you can ask anything you want. Just don’t be surprised if the person you’ve asked thinks you’re an intrusive jerkbag. That said, there are probably some questions you should be asking if you’re confused.


–What should I call you?

Say you grew up with a boy named “Bob” who is now a woman named “Robbie.” Asking how she would like to be addressed is reasonable and polite. Once you have the answer, be sure to call Robbie by her correct name. Same goes for pronouns. If “Francine” goes by “Frank” now, referring to him as “she” is going to make you look way behind the times, and pretty rude.


–Is it okay if I ask about…

Like any personal topic, some folks are more willing to discuss their gender identity. Asking whether a trans person is open to being your trans-tutor is acceptable provided you accept and respect their answer, even if it’s not the one you wanted.


Did we forget a vital aspect of discussing gender identity? Did we completely miss the mark? Tell us all about it in the comments. It’s the only way we’ll learn.

Additional Image: twanzphobic since forever



Wednesday Lee Friday
Wednesday Lee Friday
Wednesday Lee Friday was born November 24th, in Royal Oak, Michigan. It was a Tuesday. After deciding against being a ballerina, an ichthyologist, and a famous singer, she decided to become a novelist just before starting kindergarten. Wednesday went to college in Olivet, Michigan where she majored in theatre and broadcasting for some reason. Wednesday Lee Friday is a four-time published novelist, podcaster, horror fan, and former phone sex gal. Wednesday eats true crime for breakfast, knows enough Dothraki to buy a horse, and is a Simpsons Superfan. Look for her novels, anthologies, and audiobooks wherever you usually buy those things.