Founder’s Note: When I first started HelloFlo, my ambitions were small. I wanted an easy way to simplify periods. Since starting this journey almost 2 years ago, my business and mission have changed significantly. The reason is that I heard from you – the HelloFlo community. This community is diverse. There are 10 year old girls writing into Dr. Flo, 42 year old women entering peri-menopause, and single fathers trying to connect with their daughters. And there’s another group in this community that doesn’t get a whole lot of attention – women and men, boys and girls, who are transgender and living in bodies that don’t always feel right to them.
One person like that is a young man named Cal. I was first introduced to him about a month ago and wanted to be able to provide a place for him to tell his story. As a 42 year-old cis woman, I am the first to admit I don’t know much about the experience of transgender youth and adults. But I believe it’s my responsibility to learn. I hope you’ll join me on this journey and welcome Cal into your life and into our community.
When I first came out as trans, I encouraged people to ask me questions. Gender is something we’re all still learning about, and I’d much rather people ask me questions than make assumptions. So here are some of the things people asked me.
Is it okay to ask what someone’s preferred pronouns are?
Absolutely! In fact, I always feel relieved when someone asks what my pronouns are. The important thing is to be respectful. For instance, you wouldn’t want to say: “So like, what are you?” or “Ummm, are you a boy or a girl?”
Instead, you should totally say something like, “Hey, what pronouns do you go by?” or “How do you like to be addressed?” In many LGBT+ spaces, when you first meet someone, you say, “Hey, what’s your name and pronouns?” I’d love it if in the future, that became standard for all introductions.
It’s important to note that figuring out what pronouns you prefer can be an ongoing process, so sometimes people might not have an answer. And that’s totally okay. Just check in with the person every now and again to see if their preference has changed.
How should I react if I mess up someone’s pronouns?
Calmly. We know it can be hard to switch your language when you’ve known someone as one thing for several years. We know you’re trying, and we appreciate it so much. But breaking into hysterics and screaming, “OH MY GOD I’M SO SORRY I MEANT THEY NOT SHE WOW I’M SUCH AN IDIOT YOU KNOW I LOVE YOU AND SUPPORT YOU SO MUCH—I HOPE YOU CAN FIND IT IN YOUR HEART TO GRACE ME WITH YOUR FORGIVENESS,” isn’t necessary. A simple, “She—oops I mean they ” will suffice.
Doesn’t this person seem kind of young to know this about themself? What if this is just a phase? What if they regret this later?
When it comes to identity, it’s important to focus on the now. This person’s feelings are very real, and right now, they feel like whatever gender they told you they are. You have to respect that.
If, in the future, this person decides that they don’t feel like that anymore, is that really so bad? Yes, it’s a little annoying to change your language again, but this person’s feelings are more important than a small inconvenience. A small change for you will mean a world of difference to them.
Okay, I can understand this person knowing their identity, but shouldn’t physical transition happen later in life? You’re making irreversible changes to your body—isn’t that a lot to decide when you’re a teenager?
Yes, HRT is a huge decision, regardless of age. But suicide is also a huge decision, and the reality is that 41% of transgender people attempt suicide at some point in their lives. I asked my mom why she didn’t question my decision to start hormones, and she said: “I didn’t want to think about the alternative.”
First my child says they’re genderfluid—are they gonna say they’re a dog next? Or are people gonna start coming out as toasters? Will my child demand toaster/toaster’s/toasterself pronouns?
No one does that. No one. I promise.
Being around transgender people makes me nervous because I’m afraid I’m going to mess something up and offend them.
I understand that gender is new territory for a lot of us. Honestly, my biggest piece of advice for interacting with transgender humans is treat us like people. Because, well, that’s exactly what we are. We laugh, we cry, we spend too much time watching 90s sitcoms on Netflix (okay, that might just be me). If you’re unsure about something, ask us about it in a polite and respectful way. We’ll be happy to answer, and then move on with our lives. Because while being trans is a big part of who I am, it’s not all there is to me. And while I definitely love talking about it, I also love talking about books, and movies, and what I had for lunch yesterday. I am more than just my gender.
You’re throwing around a lot of new terms and all of this is overwhelming and scary.
That is okay. Take a deep breath. All of this was new to your child at some point too. And your child was also scared, most likely. You know what’s awful? Feeling trapped by language that doesn’t fit who you are. Feeling dehumanized every time someone calls you something you aren’t. It feels wrong. A lot of these “new” words like genderqueer and nonbinary provide relief. Knowing that words exist for people like you is amazing. It lets you know that it is possible to feel comfortable. To feel normal.
And in the end, that’s all your child wants. They want to feel comfortable, and they want to feel happy. And I think that’s all any parent wants for their child too.
Okay, but any advice for keeping track of all these words?
Yeah! Thankfully, the internet has a lot of amazing resources, like the transgender umbrella, and TSER. Overall though, I recommend a healthy dose of patience, and time. You’ll get there. It’s all gonna be okay.
Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.