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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?

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