Most of us want others to recognize we’re good people. That, in itself, is fine, particularly if it causes someone to actually do good.
What’s not fine is collecting. Collecting is when a person gathers a variety of people around them to show how good and open minded they are. I’ve seen it in conservative circles around religious people who want to show how they are “reaching the world for Christ” – so they’ll hang around with a prostitute or drug addict to show they are doing this thing that others don’t find comfortable – witnessing to the people that make others uncomfortable. In liberal circles, it involves letting people know that you hang around with gays, trans people, blacks, poor, and others society excludes to some degree.
The difference between collecting and not is simple: a collector wants recognition. Someone who accepts diversity and isn’t a collector doesn’t need that recognition.
Trans people, unfortunately, are, too often, the targets of collectors (so are plenty of others, like autistic people).
Here’s a quick test. Let’s say you go to church and your pastor is a transwoman (that is, someone who does believe they fit the binary). How do you tell people about your pastor?
Do you say:
- I love my pastor, she has a really great way of explaining things
- -or- My pastor is trans, and that’s cool with us!
If you said “My pastor is trans, and that’s cool with us,” you probably are a collector. Seriously.
Here’s a few things you should keep in mind when talking about trans people:
- Most trans people have binary gender identity and expression, with the possibility of a transition time when they expression less binary – but that expression is often not a desired expression (they are doing it to make your life easier, but it’s not what they want – they know they are binary)
- Most trans people want to be recognized as the binary gender that matches their identity. They don’t want to be recognized as trans or as a third-gender.
Now, there are of course non-binary people and this identity must be respected too. But don’t assume a trans person is non-binary. They most likely are not, at least statistically. If you’re not sure, ask what their preferred pronouns and method of address is. If they give a binary answer, respect that.
Part of respecting their identity as binary (if that is their identity) is to not treat them differently than anyone else that has made the same choice. For instance, If someone was labeled as male when born, raised as a boy, and live as a man, they very likely still live as a man by identity – in the same way a transman is a man by identity. A transman should get the same respect I do and be treated as a man, not as a transman (which would be, essentially, a third gender, which isn’t what he wants if he identifies as man). Now, if someone doesn’t identify as binary, don’t treat them as if they are. But remember most trans people, like most non-trans people, are binary, and have no particular desire to dismantle the existence of gender. They just want their identity accepted.
So, with that in mind, the minute you tell someone your friend is trans, if your friend is binary (as are most trans people, albeit not all), you have essentially said, “I see a difference here.”
Now, there are some exceptions to this rule. The first and most obvious one is where your friend identifies as trans and doesn’t want to be simply known as their binary gender. Respect that too! But just because someone tells you they are trans doesn’t mean they might not rather be seen simply as, for example, a woman.
So, with the pastor example, she might be out and proud of her trans identity. However, it’s likely still far more respectful to refer to her as your pastor rather than your trans pastor! Most trans people want to be accepted in their identified gender as someone of that gender. Doing this is the most respectful thing.
If you do think you need to tell people she’s trans, then I ask you to think about “why?” If you are combatting prejudice or bigotry, it should be sufficient to say that trans people need respect and dignity without needing to name specific people. Certainly, it’s not advocacy but collecting the minute you try using your relationship with trans people not to inform your view, but rather to give credibility to yourself. Yes, it’s fine to say you have trans friends (if you do) and that they inform your view (but be careful, as you could easily say something bigoted or wrong and try to use your friends to justify it – “I know that you can call them a ‘tranny’ because I have trans friends” would be an example of this).
Respecting your friends is the biggest part of advocating for your friends. And this starts with treating them as they want to be treated. You aren’t advocating for them the minute you start referring to them as something other than their gender identity (which is likely not “trans” but rather “man” or “woman”). You’re saying “they are different.” Yes, there’s times that is okay, but it’s rarer than people think.
There’s lots of subtle ways to collect, too. For instance, someone might say, “I’m going out with a transman, so I guess that makes me pansexual.” No, it doesn’t. Pansexual, of course, is meant as a non-binary way of saying “I’m attracted to all genders”. It’s different from bisexual because some say bisexuality only includes men and women, and not intersex or genderqueer – or, in some people’s eyes, trans people. Of course plenty of bisexuals would differ, as would Kinsey if he was still around (Kinsey disliked the term bisexual because he felt it the word was nonsense unless the person was attracted to individuals who were, entirely in themselves, both male and female – he preferred the word “hermaphroditic” to what most refer to people who are bisexual (I haven’t seen people identify this way, and would think it would be confessed for someone attracted to intersexed people). In 1948, Kinsey and others said,
Until it is demonstrated [that] taste in a sexual relation is dependent upon the individual containing within his anatomy both male and female structures, or male and female physiological capacities, it is unfortunate to call such individuals bisexual
But, Kinsey’s objection aside, many bisexuals are attracted to trans, intersexed, and other genderqueer people (as are plenty of homosexual and heterosexual people). The most problematic part of the idea of pansexual including trans people, while bi does not, is that trans people are somehow different than men or women. Certainly, trans people who identify as non-binary are. But, for a trans person that doesn’t identify this way, they are not different. A transman is just as man as any other man is. Now of course not everyone is attracted to every possible person who has the “right” gender. A heterosexual man might not like skinny women, for instance. Likewise a heterosexual who dates a woman who had a hysterectomy is not suddenly pansexual – he’s still dating a woman, so unless he also has attraction towards people other than women, he’s straight. And a woman who is romantically and sexually involved with a man who lost his penis through an accident is not suddenly pansexual, at least not if she doesn’t have attraction to people other then men. You see, genitals (or surgical histories) don’t define gender. Or, for that matter, orientation. Sure, plenty of people might not be interested in someone who’s genitals were mutilated in an accident, someone who is sterile, or someone who is otherwise different than their idea of a perfect partner. But only being attracted to a specific idea of a “perfect” body doesn’t make someone straight or gay, and there are plenty of people of all orientations who prefer a certain gender but don’t necessarily require their partner to fit some stereotype of that gender.
So, I have to wonder, why would someone feel the need to tell me they are attracted to men, women, non-binary, and “also attracted to trans people?” The only conclusion I can come up with is that they don’t see trans people as other people, but as a unique category (and not just non-binary trans people as a unique category, but rather all trans people as a unique category). I don’t like that.
Now, if you are pansexual, that’s fine – you can say you find all genders, not just men and women, potentially attractive. I don’t have a problem with that (as you’re telling me that you also find non-binary people attractive, which is fine – of course many bi people would also say they find non-binary people attractive, but I’m fine with someone who wants to emphasize that). But you might be careful of how you describe it, unless you really do see all trans people as different. The minute you start telling me that you find trans people hot, I’m starting to wonder, “Do you see a transman as a man or something else?”
Again, you can’t grok trans people without groking the reality that most don’t want to be something other than the gender that matches their identity. Trans is rather unique compared to other minorities in this regard, as some people consider the ultimate success as losing the trans identity! Few other minorities would have sizable populations that want to disappear as a population and blend in completely with the majority society. But that is the case with many trans people, and respecting it means not forcing a battle against the binary upon them if it isn’t a fight they are interested in (that said, it’s fine to fight with anyone – trans or not – who doesn’t want to provide a decent world for people who aren’t binary – but that doesn’t need to involve erasing the binary to accomplish).
And the minute you start distinguishing trans people from non-trans people, you’re saying trans people are different than non-trans people. And that can be collecting (or just bigotry). Certainly, there are places this makes sense, but, again, it’s less often than people think.
Of course trans people aren’t the only people that are collected. I know in another community, the autism community, I’ve seen autistics used by autism organizations not to inform the organization (which may be run primarily by non-autistic people), but rather to build credibility. The autistic isn’t really listened to, but the organization gets bonus points for having an autistic person involved. “See, we involve autistic people.” You also see this when people go out of their way to mention a person’s race when it’s not really relevant. It’s probably a problem with every minority community.
Don’t collect, do respect.