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Trans-Etiquette? So, What’s That Look Like Anyway?


Remember that whole business back in the 80’s, for those of you who remember the 80’s that is, where people liked to get one ear pierced and one side was decidedly “the gay side”? If it ever was a real thing – a way for gay people to identify each other in a secret code kind of way – it probably didn’t last long simply due to the prevalence of the knowledge making the use as a covert message impractical at best. As an aside, I will say that the one earring thing was a whole lot better than those big ass table leg sized pegs people are piercing themselves with now. Anyway, I think the trans community needs something like that.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spotted someone I was sure was trans and realized I had no idea what the etiquette is in that situation. My temptation is always to go right up to them and say ‘hey’ and all. There are a few things stopping me from this. The first is that I might be dead wrong, and how embarrassing would that be? Not necessarily for me, but I’d hate to totally ruin some woman’s day by accusing her of being a tranny when she’s not.  Introducing crippling appearance based anxiety in people is really not my thing. Second, where I’m very open about myself, I have to stop and consider that whoever I may approach may not be and find having to talk to me publicly and draw attention to themselves mortifying. Especially if I lead in with, “So, you pitching a tent when you woke this morning, sister?” I would never say that, but still not good.Finally, is being trans enough of a conversation starter between two strangers?

I’m going to address these out of order as per my usual confusing way of doing things. I think the strangers reason simply doesn’t wash. People go right up to complete strangers all the time if they think there is a common bond, no matter how superficial. This happened to me all the time in the Air Force. Every time I wore my Buffalo Bills sweatshirt to the BX, invariably someone would rush over and either explain excitedly that they were from Buffalo or felt the need to console me on some ancient history Super Bowl loss. We would then compare where we grew up specifically and narrow down to degree of separation. I don’t see any reason why trans folks can’t do this. The population is small enough where we are bound to know some people in common. Meeting Buffalo exiles in Virginia made me feel less lonely, and so does meeting other trans.

Avoiding making a cisgender woman cry is a fairly compelling reason. I think there are ways around this though. No one has to go and ask someone if they are trans, but it can’t hurt to engage in a friendly bullshit conversation to see if they willingly reveal themselves. If they are not trans, it clearly won’t come up. I suppose there is always the danger that she’ll intuit that you came up to her out of the blue because you might believe a connection exists stronger than the fact you are both buying Cracklin’ Oat Bran and the implied desire for regularity improvement. If you have to do this, try to pick something that someone would expect to be approached with but not creeped out by. I know I shouldn’t have to say this, but please don’t ask her when she is due or you are really looking down the double barrel of wrong.

The not outing other trans folk is a pretty strong prohibition. While some of us don’t mind having someone with a similar story wander over to compare notes, others would much prefer to go about their day assuming they are never being read, even by one of their own tribe. This is something we really have to expect because any one of us can fall into that category in the future, or simply depending what side of the bed they woke up. Now, I shoved my bed right up against the wall to avoid this, but not everyone has the luxury. The problem is that there is no convenient way to tell the difference between a clearly impassable trans and one who simply thinks she is. Yes, yes, I know some of you are going to feel compelled to tell me you are 100% and never, ever read and that’s really wonderful for you. It is.

I still wonder if trans etiquette can be improved upon from the current model of pretending we are all fooling each other. I’m not saying we go super overt like wearing “Ask Me About My Genitals!” tee shirts, but something subtle, yet recognizable only to each other. From here we need to take the conversation off line, or all the cis people who wander over are going to be texting each other, “if u c some 1 w/ a pink n blu bracelet, they r TRANS!!!”, before we know it and ruin the whole gambit. Let’s think on this and discuss. Honestly, wouldn’t it be nice to have a little real world secret society type solidarity?

About michellelianna

I'm a transgender woman now in the maintenance stages of transition having all the electrolysis and surgery one can reasonably be expected to undertake. While busy exploring my new world, I took to blogging about it with dubiously popular results. I don't have quite as much to say as I used to, but I'm not quite done yet either.

21 responses »

  1. It’s awesome designed for me to have a website, which is good in support of my knowledge. thanks admin

  2. What’s up everyone, it’s my first pay a quick visit at this site, and piece of writing is in fact fruitful
    in favor of me, keep up posting such articles.

  3. I am transgender, m2f, and I never consider myself passable. I do enjoy the double takes that people give me, and the look of disbelief mostly by women. I just love it! Love & Light.

  4. Jessica McIntosh

    I feel the same way and have wanted a way to subtly broadcast I’m trans and open to talking about it. I tried to get one of these but the store is dead. I’ve been looking for something else since that would go with most outfits. I usually just wear a butterfly pin or necklace.

    • Honestly, I love the butterfly idea! It’s uncommon enough that it wouldn’t lead to many embarrassing mistakes, as long as the word got out to all trans that this meant it was OK to come up and say hi. Thanks for commenting Jessica!

  5. I guess you covered about everything so all I want to add that it is interesting that the word “etiquette” comes from French, and literally means “tag or label.”

  6. If you recognize me as trans, don’t give any indication. Treat me the same as any other woman. I will do the same for you. If you want to meet other trans people, go to a support group meeting. Maybe I will see you there. You are more than welcome to ask me questions there.

    • Absolutely! It does make me wonder though if aside from needing a ‘come talk to me’ sign, we also need a ‘for the love to Pete, not here!’ one as well. Of course not indicating is kind of the default position anyway, so maybe we just keep that as is. Thanks for commenting Miranda!

  7. Dunno. Years ago when I started my transition I sometimes thought that way, but 3 months in a trans hostel in Sydney knocked it out of me. I discovered that, that just having “one thing in common” was a guarantee that I had anything meaningful in common with them! I was abused, ripped off and almost driven to suicide by the other folk there. Personally I think it’s a bit of an allusion.

    And I seem to recall a passage in one of Anne Bolin’s books where she was researching trans folk and a a friend dropped round to have a chat. The friend saw a woman there with large hands and assumed they were trans, when in fact they had a mild case of Acromegaly!

    In practice I’ve found the way to get around this is to be “obvious in oneself”. If they want to make contact (whether trans or not) they will.

    • That sounds like a horrible experience Elsie! I’m so sorry that happened to you. You are so right about that – one thing in common in no way means there will be anything else whatsoever. I agree,we should but the burden of approachability on ourselves if we wish to be approached and save others who do not from the emotional pain of that happening. Thanks for commenting!

  8. It’s such a conundrum. I’d love to have some trans friends around… at the same time, I’d rather not have my passability delusions shattered by getting “spotted” (even though I’m pretty sure anyone with any interest in these things can tell at a glance). I suppose a passive but voluntarily worn “I’m approachable!”-signal would make sense then…

    • I can relate to this. For all my openness, there are days when I would way rather go about my life under the assumption that I’m not being clocked at all. I don’t think this actually ever happens (where I’m not), but it’s much easier to think that way sometimes. 🙂 Thanks for commenting Ang!

  9. Anything but the PE Tee if you please.


    • I hear ya. I’m more hip to the rubber bracelet, but the idea of button to wear with some snappy phrase is pretty cool! Maybe, “I’m a friend of Kate B.” Or how about a little highway sign that says, “Pass with Care.” Actually I do think this one,73991148 is fairly discreet. If anyone asks what it means you can just say you support Pastel Rights!

      • Yeah, definitely don’t need the shirt. I did wear my silicone Support GENDA bracelet for close to a year, but not one person ever asked me about it. After that I gave it up because I constantly picked at it and it didn’t seem to be doing any good at all. Love the button idea though sister! 🙂

  10. I have SO wished for this! Can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people I thought were trans and wanted to connect but there was no good way to do it. Or at least, let them know somehow that I was trans, so that they could share their identity with me if they chose, but I didn’t know how to do that either without looking like a weirdo. The “trans sign” would definitely have to be something that can be put on and taken off, because there are some situations where I’d be fine with someone who knew “the code” coming up to me, but there are other times when I definitely wouldn’t want it.

  11. … forgot to mention that it happens with recognising trans guys, too, but seems much harder to make up my mind unless he has some facial hair …

  12. ohmagawd! i live in a tiny place with no other known trans people for at least a thousand miles. but we get a lotta visitors and every once inna while i see someone who does indeed set off my transdar. if i’m (as what’s-his-name) walking nearby and pass near them, i might softly say, ‘hiya, sis!’ and walk on, then after a bit turn and see if they’re lookin back. ain’t happened yet, but i live in hope!
    … and how about that thing where we are constantly checking out the hairlessness or trimmed eyebrows or nails of guys we see on airplanes or on the street?

    (btw, i got both ears pierced cos i couldn’t remember what the protocol was?)


  13. Holy Cow!!! I have so wished for this!!! I was at a professional convention in Washington DC and I saw a gal in the vendor hall that I fervently believed was trans (smidge overdressed, big hands, killer legs and slim hips…). I caught a glimpse of her name tag and rushed off to try to find her in the directory so I could email her. Yeah, probably not the best idea, bit of a stalker feel to it… I was just about to transition at work and would have LOVED to talk with someone in my work world who “Had Gone Before!” I saw her once after at a meal but there were a bunch of people at her table. And the big rub was how to break the ice! I was there in boy mode and didn’t look at all trans, well unless I popped off my Tevas and showed my killer summer pedicure. I just love a couple of nice toe flowers for sandal season! I fantasize that we might have done some mutual recognition if I was presenting Femme but I honestly don’t know if it still would have been enough. ‘Cuz like you say, there are lots of folks who would be MORTIFIED if you walked up and clocked them. Heck, I’m getting closer to that myself every day!

    We need to find something, a Pink Essence T shirt, I love the rubber wrist band but they never fit me, a butterfly tattoo on the elbow, secret handshake, a pendant with a picture of Marci Bowers or Kate Bornstein. Big hands and slim hips just aren’t straight forward enough. I’m from Idaho and there are lot’s of Cis Cowgirls who fit that description. Or how about a pin that says, “Feel the T* ” or “Ask me about my E?” Let’s figure it out so we can find each other at the next convention and then go get a latte and talk about life!


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