Within the last month or so I’ve begun the absolutely, honestly, completely enjoyable process of coming out as a non-binary trans person to friends, family, coworkers, teachers and school administrators (among others). The super fun part about this is that there really isn’t a manual or guidebook (I’m currently trying to pitch “What to Expect When You’re Coming Out to as Trans To Every Single Person You’ve Ever Known In Your Entire Life” to a variety of publishers.) and I think that I speak for many trans people when I say that the result is that we end up having to blindly grope our way along. My own current “methods” around coming out are based on what I’ve learned from fellow trans people who’ve shared their experiences with me but hearing the experiences of others can only go so far.
From other people’s experiences in coming out I knew that invasive personal questions were coming but knowing the future didn’t prepare for exactly how invasive and personal these questions would get. In the interest of helping you avoid asking questions that will likely get you verbally crotch-punched here’s a (probably incomplete) list of things I’ve been asked-
What’s the significance of your new name?
No. You never asked about the significance of my given name or why my parents chose it so you don’t get to ask about the name I now use. I get that’s it’s an interesting novelty in your life but you can’t ask me about this. If I want to tell you I’ll bring it up (Actually this can apply to basically everything brought up in this list.)
How are your parents dealing with this?
When it’s friends who know me and my relationship with my parents than this question actually makes sense but when you’re my professor or coworker then this question is wildly inappropriate. Me coming out is not an invitation for you to poke around in such an intimate relationship.
What surgeries are you doing?
What the everlasting fuck? Did we learn nothing from Katie Couric’s debacle? Go sit in an iron maiden and think about your life choices.
So are you straight now?
First of all you seem to not get the concept of non-binary. I guess if I was only sexually into other non-binary people I could identify as straight but that’s not really the point. The main point of why this question is bothersome to me is that I don’t see how me coming out opened up other aspects of my various identities to your perusal.
When are you going to come out as a trans woman?
Alright so this question is usually not asked in such a direct method but it’s hinted at in various other questions, coded in questions about narratives and progressions and timelines and full of hints that they’re privy to a secret I’m not yet ready to share with the world. Let me tell you that if I ever identify not as non-binary but as a woman then I will tell those who need to know and until then fuck you.
There are important and legitimate questions that one can ask me. Those are the questions that assist and accommodate me; questions like “Would you like to make an announcement to the class about your name and pronouns?” or “Are there times were I should use your old name/pronouns?” These questions don’t have to do with prying into the intimate details of my life but rather deal with our exact relationship or the context of that relationship. If you ever feel a question is too personal or embarrassing it probably is and I’d encourage you to seriously think about the root of why you wanted to ask me (In case you’re wondering, idle curiosity is not a valid reason.)
I hope that for all the cis people reading this piece you’ll be reminded that trans people are not obligated to answer your questions. I’ve frequently found myself answering questions from the above list because I felt a pressure to do so. This pressure didn’t always come directly from the inquisitor but often from the greater social pressure to be a “good” trans ally to cis people and the knowledge that cis people can get aggressive when things don’t go their way.
Before I end I’d like to remind the reader that trans people are not identical and each one of us will most likely have our opinions about questions but I’m not writing just for the cis people in my life. I’m writing to encourage (demand?) any cis people reading this to examine the ways in which you interact with trans people (particularly trans feminine people) and power dynamics that can be at play. We don’t owe you anything and this most fucking definitely includes intimate details of our lives.