Editors' Note: Guest blogger Drew Cordes is a transgender woman from Albany, N.Y. She is a 2004 graduate of Vassar College.
The next time you encounter a transgender person, do not tell them "You're very brave" or empathetically smile while offering a knowing "You look good." We hate that shit.
We know in your mind you're trying to be nice; you're trying to let us know "Hey, I'm cool with transgender people. I support you." Undoubtedly, these comments come from a good place. However, you should know they land with mixed feelings at best, and resentment at worst.
While these statements are supportive on the surface, the subtexts contain things a trans person never wants to hear. The very first thing that occurs in the mind of a trans person when they hear compliments like these isn't "Oh, thanks! What a nice person," it's "Fuck. They know. They read me as trans. I'm not passing as well as I thought I was."
Granted, some of us know we'll never pass, and have made peace with that. Some of us aren't trying to pass. But you can't telepathically discern each trans person's personal approach to passing. Better to err on the side of caution.
In the same vein is "You pass very well." Well, obviously not if you just said that. Furthermore, why would we care what your thoughts on our passing ability are? I'm always tempted to respond, "Thanks! You're somewhat believable as a man yourself!" If we want to know your thoughts on our passing abilities, we'll ask. And as stated above, quite a few of us aren't concerned with whether we pass or not.
Personally, one of my most hated "compliments" is "You're so courageous." Why exactly am I so courageous? Because it must be difficult to be me? Because you couldn't possibly imagine what it's like? How taxing, how exhausting, how trying it must be to be me. Actually, I like me. It took me quite a while to be able to say that, but I do. There are a few things I'd change if I had a magic wand, but that's true for all of us.
Additionally, the "courageous" comment rings hollow for my experience, because as I see it, my path was anything but. I denied my feelings for as long as I possibly could. Only when I'd hit bottom, did I do something about it. I acquiesced when my options became either severe depression/eventual suicide, or take control and do whatever I had to do, even if I didn't like it. I see that as fairly cowardly. Essentially, I chose to transition when I had no other choice. So, do not presume to know our stories. Each one is different.
If you want to know what to do and what to say ... simply treat us like everyone else in your life. Is tapping a stranger on the shoulder to tell them "You look pretty today" something you normally do? Then don't do it if you spy a trans person.
As opposed to using these compliments to impart to us that you're accepting of trans people, just use the right pronoun and interact with us like any other person. We don't need to be told outright who's queer- and trans-friendly. We can tell by your actions and words.
Tell a trans woman who doesn't pass that you like and support her even though she don't pass -- she may be genuinely appreciative, and she may secretly resent you for shining the light on her passing ability. Treat that trans woman like any other woman and I guarantee you'll make her happy.