15 Things You Should Never Say To A Trans Or Gender-Nonconforming Person

This story was originally published on June 16, 2016, and we're bringing it to your attention again in honor of Transgender Day Of Visibility.
Imagine if, upon meeting you for the first time, an acquaintance started questioning the intimate details of your life. You’ve barely said "Hello," and this person is on to asking how you have sex, what your genitals look like, and whether or not your family hates you?
Unfortunately, this is a common experience for those who are transgender or gender-nonconforming. There is still a ton of misunderstanding around non-binary identities, which leads to some very stressful daily interactions for trans and GNC folks. (Don’t even get me started on pronouns!)
Don’t want to be part of the problem? The first step in being an ally to the trans and GNC community is doing some homework. To help you do your part, we’ve put together 15 things you should never say to someone trans or GNC. Here are a few basic definitions to start you off:
Transgender (or trans) is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth.
Gender-Nonconforming (GNC) describes some people whose gender expression is different from conventional expectations of masculinity and femininity.
Cisgender (or cis) is a term for people who are not transgender.
The gender binary is a socially defined code of acceptable behaviors which classifies gender into two distinct, opposite, and disconnected forms of masculine and feminine.
The gap between what we learned in sex ed and what we're learning through sexual experience is big — way too big. So we're helping to connect those dots by talking about the realities of sex, from how it's done to how to make sure it's consensual, safe, healthy, and pleasurable all at once. Check out more here.
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Most people don’t have just one moment when they realized what their gender was. It’s something that happened gradually, a sum total of their life experiences to date, and may still be evolving now. It works the same if you’re trans or gender-nonconforming. And though we’ve all dreamed of Labyrinth-era David Bowie looking into his crystal ball and giving us an identity epiphany, life disappoints.
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In other words, Can I remind you of a time in your life when you were unhappy and not yourself? Often, bringing up the past can cause distress to trans and GNC individuals (like most trauma survivors). Keep the conversation current, and honor your acquaintance’s self-expression. Curiosity is not an excuse for voyeurism.
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Actually, non-binary gender expression is not a new thing. Gender expansiveness has a long history in many communities around the world, including two-spirits in Native American culture and fa'afafine in Samoa and New Zealand. These identities are not only deeply spiritual, they also pre-date Shiloh Jolie-Pitt by more than a century.
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For trans and GNC people, shifting their identity is not something taken lightly. Living their true gender exposes them to a disproportionately high amount of violence and harassment, and yet is often the only option for living authentically. Implying that someone has made this life-altering decision to be "cool" erases the fact that it is a survival necessity.
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Trans and GNC people may adopt new pronouns, and some folks use pronouns outside of the traditional gender binary (like ze or zir). Using someone’s chosen pronouns is an essential way to show that you respect them.

Often, there is an adjustment period, and you will make mistakes. That’s okay! Just correct yourself, move on, and don’t make it about you. Committing to using your trans/GNC acquaintances’ preferred pronouns is a meaningful and critical act of support.

One last note here: Never assume pronouns! It is always better to ask first. For bonus points, include your own pronouns in your introductions as well.
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Don’t assume that GNC people are pre-transition. Most GNC folks aren’t interested in taking on a gender identity as defined by the traditional male/female binary. GNC folks might have shifting genders (genderfluid), no gender (agender), non-binary gender (genderqueer), or something else entirely.
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For this topic, it’s better to wait for a trans or GNC person to bring up the subject than for you to ask. And if they do bring it up, proceed cautiously and respectfully. You’re likely to broach some raw topics and difficult feelings, so tread lightly!
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Psychologists agree that a child has a sense of their gender (or lack thereof) by age 2 or 3, and that chosen identity expression is necessary for survival. The best way to support a young trans or GNC person is by upholding an affirming environment that allows them to thrive.
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You know how some people always ask Google-able questions — like, "How many ounces are in a gallon?" — while holding a smartphone in their hand? Asking someone to explain gender identities is like that, but way more annoying because it’s personal. Trans and GNC people already have to navigate a world of misunderstanding every day — don’t ask them to be your gender cheat-sheet.
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Some trans and GNC folks may have gender-affirming surgeries (there are many types); others may express their gender via their clothes, hair, taking hormones, wearing makeup, or any or none of the above. There is no singular act that validates gender identity.
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Non-binary gender expression is not a luxury or an academic notion reserved for a select group of people. But while there are trans and GNC folks of all types, trans women of color face the harshest discrimination and violence by far, including the highest rate of murder ever, just this past year. Equating trans or GNC identity with the Ruby Rose archetype (thin, white, and gender-fluid) only negates this reality.
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Most trans and GNC folks have worked hard to move beyond their assigned gender and to be acknowledged as such. Suggesting that their gender identity (or lack thereof) is "just a phase" discounts that work. You are the authority on your own gender, not anyone else’s.
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This falls into the "ask yourself first" category. If an acquaintance asked you a question about your vagina, how would you respond? Don’t be creepy and reduce your trans and GNC acquaintances to pieces.
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Because gender is a social construct that can be defined individually, there is no finish line. Every time we shave, walk, dress, move, or speak, we are contributing to our gender presentation. Asking someone when they will be "finished" implies that they are currently not enough. Will I ever truly finish plucking my eyebrows? Doubtful. (Sigh.)
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Sometimes, a gender identity shift is seen as "successful" only if a person transitions from one binary gender to another, leaving no discernable evidence when it's all through. Hopefully, you’ve learned by now that there is no "one way" to be a man, or a woman, or anything else between or beyond. Assessing someone as successful because they are "passing" (as cisgender) means that others are failing, and you can’t fail at gender.
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Looking for more ways to honor Transgender Day Of Visibility? Meet Hannah, an inspiring transgender woman living in Harlem.