Q: Are trans people trying to erase and de-legitimize intersex people?

A: No. Trans people and intersex people are distinct groups with different needs, but we have some common interests, as well as some overlap in membership (that is, there are some people who are both trans and intersex).

For trans people, a common problem is denial of access to types of medical care, such as hormones and surgeries, that are both helpful and desired. For intersex people, a common problem is non-consensual medical treatment designed to bring their bodies into line with other people’s expectations. (Note that performing an unnecessary surgery on someone without their consent is a human rights violation.)

But trans and intersex people also have common interests, such as:

  • that medical treatment be provided on the basis of informed consent, not as an attempt to make our bodies conform to someone else’s arbitrary stereotypes
  • being treated as individuals with points of view, rather than as amusing theoretical examples
  • recognition that we are all human beings with a right to bodily integrity
  • an end to body-shaming

Sadly, there are some trans people who try to appropriate intersex experience in order to make their gender nonconformity seem more legitimate. This is understandable but ultimately counterproductive. It’s also very understandable why intersex people would find such behavior upsetting.

Gender variance is legitimate whether or not it has a biological explanation. Trans and intersex people have plenty of room for common ground and mutual understanding. We shouldn’t let ignorance, foolish binary assumptions, and respectability politics drive a wedge between us.

Further reading

Q: Do people transition in order to become more attractive to the opposite sex?

A: No. Transitioning is a personal choice, and often has little or nothing to do with making oneself attractive to potential sexual partners. People may transition to alleviate psychological and physical discomfort, ease social interaction, and/or prevent harassment and violence.

True, some people might transition partly to have the kind of sex or sex life that they want. (After all, transitioning can help a person feel more comfortable in their own body.) But sexual attraction need not be between people of “opposite” sexes or genders at all.

The data suggests that most trans people are not exclusively interested in attracting members of the “opposite” sex. In the 2015 US Transgender Survey (USTS) only 15% of respondents labeled themselves as straight or heterosexual. (A heterosexual trans woman is attracted to men, while a heterosexual trans man is attracted to women.) Nor are most trans people exclusively attracted to the same sex; only 16% of respondents to the USTS identified as gay, lesbian, or same-gender-loving.

Trans people, even those who are heterosexual, may not want to look like stereotypical cis men and women. Not all trans men want to be muscular, hairy and overconfident, and not all trans women want to be hyperfeminine, curvy and nurturing. 35% of respondents to the USTS were nonbinary, meaning that they did not consider themselves to be fully men or fully women.

Trans people find gender stereotypes in society. We did not create those stereotypes, and many of us intensely dislike them. A trans person might choose to perform heterosexual masculinity or femininity; it is the prerogative of the individual to decide how to perform gender. But the desire to attract members of the opposite sex is not generally a primary reason to transition.

Q: Is it always obvious when someone is trans?

A: No. If you’re confident that you can always tell… pause for a moment to ask yourself how you could possibly know that. Suppose you were wrong, and you didn’t notice that somebody around you was trans. How would you notice yourself not noticing?

People are known to make mistakes in both directions. Nickelodeon fans, who watched Michael D. Cohen’s acting for years, did not know that he was trans until he told them. Cis women have been harassed in California, Connecticut, Michigan, and Texas because someone mistakenly thought they were trans.

Cis people have no independent way of judging whether they can tell that someone is trans. Trans people have more relevant knowledge to draw on: we notice how cis people treat us, and how their behavior changes based on their perceptions of our gender. Trust us: you can’t always tell.

Q: Are you afraid that transitioning will prevent you from having biological children?

A: Not all trans people want biological children. (Not all cis people want biological children either.) Some are happy to adopt; some don’t want children at all.

Some trans people already have biological children by the time they transition.

And it’s possible to have biological children after transition. It’s possible to freeze eggs and sperm before beginning a transition. Trans men, and other trans people who were assigned female at birth, have been known to give birth and even nurse their babies.

Q: When are you getting The Surgery?

A: When people ask this question, they are usually asking about genitals. They imagine that being trans is about one surgery that replaces a penis with a vagina (if the person in question is a trans woman) or a vagina with a penis (if the person in question is a trans man). It’s not clear how this template is meant to apply to nonbinary people, who do not aim to be either men or women.

There are a few things wrong with the question. First, it’s considered rude and invasive in most contexts to ask people about their genitals. If you’re not someone’s partner or their doctor, you really don’t need to know.

Second, being trans doesn’t really work like that. There are several different kinds of genital surgeries, and many trans people seek them out and benefit from them, but these surgeries don’t have the central importance that cis people imagine them to have. You perceive the people around you as women or men based not on their genitals (which you usually can’t see), but on subtle cues that are mostly controlled by hormones and grooming choices. So a trans person doesn’t have to get genital surgery in order for others to treat them as the gender they want to be treated as.

The 2015 US Transgender Survey shows a significant proportion of trans respondents who don’t especially want the genital surgeries that cis people think of as the relevant surgery. 73% of trans men did not want or were not sure if they wanted a metoidioplasty (which constructs a penis from the clitoris), and 78% did not want or were not sure if they wanted a phalloplasty (which constructs a penis from other parts of the body). Meanwhile, 34% of trans women did not want or were not sure if they wanted a vaginoplasty or labiaplasty (which constructs a vagina or labia). The numbers of nonbinary trans people wanting genital surgery were even lower.

The medical realities of being trans are complex. Fortunately, you almost never need detailed medical information about the people you’re interacting with. If you’re looking for a better conversation opener, you might try chatting about the weather, or your local sports team.

Further reading

Q: If we allow trans women into bathrooms, locker rooms, rape shelters, and prisons reserved for women, aren’t we just opening the door to predatory men?

A: Claims like this are anti-trans propaganda: The “bathroom debate” in the media is a relatively recent political tactic, and these claims falsely assume that trans women haven’t already been using women’s bathrooms the whole time. 

Trans women are not men, and there is no evidence to support the claim that trans women are likely to be sexual predators. The idea that being trans is a sexual fetish or perversion is a harmful and completely inaccurate stereotype. Trans women just want to pee in peace. 

But if we allow trans women to use women’s bathrooms, wouldn’t predatory cis men take advantage of the situation by pretending to be trans women? 

Why would they need to? There’s no good reason to think predatory cis men would be discouraged by laws or rules prohibiting trans women from women’s bathrooms. (Many multi-stall public bathrooms don’t have locks, and there’s no magic force field that repels men.) 

Overall, there’s no evidence that allowing trans women into women’s bathrooms leads to an increase of sexual violence in those settings.

Just as importantly, keeping trans women out of women’s spaces puts them at risk.

In general, trans people (especially trans women of color) are particularly vulnerable to violence (including sexual violence, domestic violence, and assault and murder) and to poverty and homelessness

Bathrooms and locker rooms: Not allowing trans people to use the facilities where they feel most comfortable makes them vulnerable: They might risk outing themselves, which can lead to stigmatization and violence; or they might be forced to be subjected to unnecessary dysphoria, to risk medical problems (by avoiding using the bathroom), and/or not to participate in certain activities (for instance, a trans student who feels unsafe using the bathroom at their school might skip classes to avoid this conflict). 

Shelters: Shelters are an important resource for vulnerable people, and it’s important for vulnerable people to be able to access them safely. 

Of 27,715 respondents to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey,

  • 12 percent had been homeless in the past year, and of those, 26 percent avoided staying in homeless shelters because they feared they would be mistreated as a transgender person. 
  • Of those who had stayed in a shelter in the past year, 70 percent reported some form of mistreatment, such as being forced out, harassed, or attacked because of being transgender.

Jails and prisons: This is a complicated issue, but it’s pretty common knowledge that a lot of violence happens in prisons, perpetrated by both inmates and officers. Trans women are much more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of such violence, and this is exacerbated when they are incarcerated in men’s facilities, where their nonconformity is more apparent. 

Of the two percent of survey respondents who had been incarcerated in the past year,

  • 20 percent reported being sexually assaulted by facility staff or other inmates. This rate was five to six times higher than the rates reported by the U.S. incarcerated population overall. 

Further reading

Q: Many women are rape victims. Won’t they be traumatized if they have to be near trans women?

A: No. While trauma triggers vary (and can include foods, smells, and locations), and it is in principle possible that somebody, somewhere, might be triggered by the presence of a trans woman, there is no general association between trans women and rape trauma. (Contrast rape jokes, which are generally triggering to victims and should be avoided.) Why would you presume that kind of connection between trans women and rape?

Most of the time, people have no way of knowing whether those around them are cis or trans; someone who can’t reliably recognize trans women can’t reliably be triggered by their transness.

Panicking about trans women isn’t an effective way to support survivors of sexual assault (regardless of those survivors’ trans status). A better idea would bet to support RAINN by volunteering, donating, or fundraising. Survivors, perpetrators, and bystanders come in all genders, but if you are specifically a man looking to support women, this thread has a bunch of helpful suggestions.