In the past six months or so there seems to have been quite a spike in people asking me, and others in my immediate circle, about hormones and surgery. It's often preceded by "Can I ask you a personal question?" or "I'm not quite sure how to say this, but..." That makes it clear that people are aware that what they are about to say might be considered rude but aren't sure how else to ask.
Here is a quick guide to help.
Rude Ways to Ask About Hormones and Surgery
- I'm just curious, have you had "the surgery?"
- I'm surprised how you don't look very different from other people of your gender; how long have you been on hormones?
- I just can't stop thinking about it, can you tell me what your genitals look like?
- Can you give me details about your body that I can use to further my pet theories that invalidate your experience of your gender?
- I'd like to imagine what it would be like to have sex with you. Can you tell me more about what you look like naked?
- In order to maintain my belief that there's a huge gulf between what a man is and what a woman is, I really need you to confirm for me that it took unnatural and extreme measures for you to look that way.
Of course some of the above examples are what people appear to mean rather than what they might actually say. You may notice that what makes these questions rude is less about the information being asked and more about why you are asking. Personal curiosity is rarely a valid justification for asking about sensitive and private medical information and details about a stranger's genitalia.
The key to asking without being rude is having a valid reason for asking and stating it clearly so that the person you are asking does not have to wonder. Read the examples below and see if you can spot the difference.
Ways to Ask About Hormones and Surgery Without Being Rude
- I have a strong desire to transition myself, but thinking about it makes me nervous so I have a hard time doing research online. As a friend, could you tell me about your experience with transitioning?
- I'm a doctor working with a trans patient and am woefully underprepared by a cissexist medical training system. Would you be willing to share your knowledge with me as a paid consultant?
- The doctor would like to know what medications you are on and if you've had any major surgeries in the past three years so that we can make sure it won't lead to complications with your current medical care.
- I don't actually need to know about your experience personally, but since you are the professor in my sexual health course, could you incorporate trans experiences of health and sexuality into your curriculum?
- I happen to have a bunch of quality dilators, binders, gaffs, packers, and breastforms hanging around. If you could use any, let me know.
Think it through: if you are in a situation where it would be rude to ask a cis person about their genitals, it's probably rude to ask trans people as well. So make sure you have a valid reason.