Last week at Halfway Hall I ended up sat opposite my College Chaplain and, of course, it did not take a very long time for the inevitable subject of gender to come up. Having had a few glasses of wine and being surrounded by my incredibly supportive classmates, I ended up speaking very openly about some of the many issues facing trans students at Cambridge. Along the way, I had to explain a number of concepts to the Chaplain. This prompted him to ask if I, as a transgender man, find myself constantly explaining things to people and being responsible for representing the trans community in conversations.
When I was first starting to come out, something that was mentioned in a lot of the videos I watched, and articles I read, was that it is not our responsibility to educate people. We should not be expected to be authorities on trans issues, and shouldn’t feel we have to answer the many questions that will be directed towards us. If people really want to know something they can Google it.
I’m glad this is the advice that a lot of young trans people are getting. It can so often feel like we owe others full explanations and answers to all their questions, in exchange for them calling us by our names and using our pronouns. In reality, we may not know the answers, or may not want to talk about it. There might be subjects that make us feel very uncomfortable and the questions people have can be very personal. We might be tired of having to explain the same things over and over again and wish people wanted to talk to us about, y’know, anything else.
Personally, I enjoy the opportunity to educate people about gender diversity and the issues facing the trans community. I’m glad to know that I don’t have to answer people’s questions if I ever don’t want to, but most of the time I do want to.
It’s great that people want to learn more and if I can help them that’s fantastic.
Whenever I come out to people, either directly or indirectly, I try to make sure they know they can talk to me about it and ask questions. The main questions I get are things like, “Can I tell your uncle?” or, “Should I correct people’s pronoun use?” Often people want to check if I’ve changed the spelling of my name. Sensible, practical questions that I’d much rather people asked than didn’t!
Occasionally, people ask more general questions. I’ve had a friend ask me what ‘cisgender’ means, after they heard someone using it, which then turned into a more general conversation about gender diversity. People have asked me to tell them more about pronouns when they’ve heard me using some they aren’t familiar with. Sometimes, like at Halfway Hall, conversations turn to gender and once I begin bringing up some of the issues faced by the trans community, people often want to know more. I’m wary of talking too much about the topic, particularly with friends I spend a lot of time with, but I’m also glad of the opportunities to increase awareness.
We’re all at Cambridge to learn and I’m happy to be able to share what I’ve been learning with others. I dream of a time when I won’t have to explain things like gender diversity, or why gendered toilets are problematic, but in the meantime I’m glad people want to ask questions and are willing to find out more.
Frances O’Sullivan (GR. Columnist)