Editor's note: Thoele Sarradet is a Dallas-based comic artist and poet. She spends her time reading books about mythology, wandering groves and practicing sword fighting. After many years of dealing with dysphoria and unpacking social stigmas, she came out as transgender through a ritual ceremony on her 21st birthday.
I write this as a white transgender woman who has predominantly worked in the service industry and as one who "passes" as cisgender. I state my background to recognize my privilege in how I'm able to navigate various social and medical situations.
I write this list with the goal of reshaping the acceptable narratives of what it means to be transgender. I write to reveal the diversity of the human experience. The society I've grown up in is predominantly transphobic. Public perceptions of us are changing as more positive media representation is being produced alongside with more of us coming out of the closet to shine our true selves. Even with these two factors in mind, we as a society still have a lot of learning to do when it comes to understanding transgender people, their experiences, how they relate to themselves as well as learning acceptable, dignified ways to interact with us. I write this to help inform a cisgender audience about how to avoid embarrassing themselves in front of a trans person going about their day.
Misconception 1: You can ask us anything!
We don't have the emotional availability to talk about our experiences with just anyone. We have the right to choose who we open up to. We have the right to hold our peace at the end of the day as we create a home for ourselves to rest, heal and celebrate. Our experiences do not need to be scrutinized, ridiculed, ruthlessly questioned by a potentially uneducated and unsympathetic or even hostile audience. You don't have to tell everyone on the street about your difficult experiences in life, nor do you have to relive painful memories for anyone — especially if you're in the process of healing. Neither do we, certainly if we're not getting paid for it.
Misconception 2: We all hate our bodies.
Some of us love our bodies, some of us celebrate our bodies. Some of us do, some of us don't, many of us are still healing our self perception in the context of a transphobic culture. This culture — through various means —has taught us we're unlovable, mistakes, abominations, etc. Wherever we're at with how we feel about our bodies is our business and that of the people we trust to share about our experiences. We're relearning how to love ourselves as we are and as we want to be. If you can acknowledge that, as a cis person you can learn how to love your body with where it's at too.
Misconception 3: All transgender experiences are the same.
Two people are sitting next to each other at a restaurant. They order the same dish; the two dishes come out at the same time. The first person enjoys its savory notes, the second person thinks it took too long to be prepared and hates how salty it tastes. Both people had the same dish, yet have very different experiences and perceptions. Apply this thought to people in transition. We come out at different ages due to life's circumstances. Some of us start hormone replacement therapy relatively early in our lives. Some people have easier access to medical resources to transition, some people don't. This doesn't de-legitimize their trans experience. Some of us took our time to understand our gender because there was so much for us to unpack. Some of us had a pretty good understanding that we were different from the others in our earlier days. To assume all trans people's experiences are the same ignores the beautiful diversity of experience. This simplifies how we can reflect on our experiences and critically discern how they affect us.
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Misconception 4: You can ask about our medical experience.
Our medical history is not up for casual conversation. Would you ask a stranger that you know is going through a painful cancer treatment, while they're going through the process, how they feel about it? Would you relentlessly bombard them about why they're doing it? Would you ask them if they have regrets about it? No, because that's invasive and terribly rude. The average reader probably doesn't understand the complexities of cancer and how to treat it, and probably wouldn't understand the pain and vulnerability of dealing with such a scary situation. Apply the same courtesy to trans people. We deserve privacy about our medical history. If we have laws in place preventing discrimination from medical history, why would it be appropriate to ask a trans person about their status in where they're at with their transition? Transitioning in any way — be it socially, medically or both — is difficult enough as it is; we don't need to be poked at with groundless questions, regardless of any innocent intention. Would you want to talk about your most difficult medical procedure with someone who's never dealt with more than a stomach ache? We don't need our choices to be undermined by an uninformed audience. We need compassion with what we're dealing with, and we have the right to choose who to share those difficulties with. Our choice to open up about ourselves is ours, as it is yours.
Misconception 5: We all want "the surgery" to "fix" us.
Last and most important: There's a misconception that we all want "the surgery" to "fix" us. This is a narrative that many cisgender people believe about our relationship to our bodies. This is an assumption about how all transgender people relate to their bodies and this is a narrative that expresses that transgender people are born broken. That we cannot be "fixed" until a doctor can "correct" us with a surgery. This assumption denies us the ability to accept and celebrate ourselves as we are now. Some of us want some form of a surgery, some of us don't. Some of us are ambivalent about it. We have the right to feel at home in our bodies with wherever we're at. We deserve to feel comfortable with our bodies. We deserve to find that peace by whatever means possible. Close family, friends, co-workers, community members, lovers, partners, bank tellers and anyone else can help this process by not assuming our relationship with our bodies. Any uninformed weigh-ins about how a cisgender person understands a trans person's body isn't helping or even relevant to our experience.