What Not To Say When Discussing Transgender People

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When discussing transgender topics, it’s important to avoid slurs and handle questions with tact. Luckily, this handy little poster offers a good primer on how to do both.

Words build thoughts and thoughts create actions. Thus, every word helps lay the foundation for empowered trans people and trans equality worldwide.

Via Unicorn Booty, Thumbnail image via maureen lunn

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  • Fitz

    Handy little templates wont replace using your head.
    Boiler-plate language rules don’t work for a lot of reasons. Just
    “do onto others..” and you will be fine.

  • Cam

    The “Why Transition if you’re going to be ‘gay/lesbian'” question I actually remember from a talk show YEARS ago.

    This was a former guy living as a straight man, who had been in therapy for YEARS and finally his therapist said…you know what? You’re a lesbian.

    He went through the transition and seemed happy.

    Just thought I’d share that because who would ever believe that one of those old talk shows like “Sally” ever helped with anything?!

  • JayKay

    I’m sorry, I just can’t process this much leftist gendyr-warrior nonsense this early in the morning.

    By the way, I’ll stop using tranny and he-she when they stop using “cisgender” and all variations.

  • Fitz

    @JayKay: Do you think you can handle just treating people as well as you like being treated? That should be enough.

  • slanty

    Does anyone else think that image is very funny? I think it has something to do with the mouth.

  • W.P.


    I’m just glad there’s normal-gendered, normal-sexuality* people out there who don’t stoop to your level.

    (*Cis, straight people)

  • chink change

    If they want to stop the he/she label like the image says, shouldn’t they avoid using a male/female combination symbol?

  • slanty

    @chink change: Yes, but I guess that would mean having a neuron to fire.

  • evanb

    I take issue with the poster’s unnecessary and self-serving statement-of-fact that “Transphobia is closely related to homophobia and biphobia.” Sure, it’s related, in the sense that it’s a “phobia” about another group, but they might as well have dropped in racism (“racephobia”?) and sexism (femalephobia?) and ageism (wrinklephobia) too, since they are also irrational “fear and hatred” of entire groups based on a single common factor. This is just another example of the trans community lumping together anything related to sexuality and calling it all the same, in order to coat-tail on others’ struggles and visibility. In my opinion (which may be hastily withdrawn at any time), transphobia is more related to racism than to homophobia, insofar as both directly refer to someone’s reaction to an individual’s outward physical appearance, without regard to the person him- or herself. Homophobia and biphobia (never heard of that one, but I suspect the “-phobia” part of it is just plain ol’ homophobia for those times when the bi person is same-sex-oriented) is more related to social disapproval of private actions (although some homosexuals may also experience discrimination based on appearance of course).

    In any case, can’t we all just get along without instruction sheets?

  • Henry

    @evanb: I don’t think transphobia is similar to racism. Racism is prejudice, but a phobia, by definition, isn’t prejudice. It’s just a fearful reaction.

  • Vicki

    I am very concerned to know all of the rules when talking about transgender issues so that I can break as many of them as possible. These deranged activists are incapable of functioning in society. They are virulently homophobic and their primary means of persuasion is intimidation. If there is anything I can do to piss them off, I want to do it.

    If they want me to follow their rules, then the price will be to get their T off of LGB. Adopting LGBT is the single greatest mistake the gay movement has ever made.

  • JRL

    @Vicki: Ahhhhhhh…. That takes me back to the time when straights felt the same way about us….

  • Henry

    That takes me back to the time Charles Rozier didn’t post on gay sites at all, before he had an interest in stalking gay people or persistently harassing gay people, before he posted under the name Vicki, ewe, missanthrope, inoits2, etc etc. He sure has a lot of time on his hands, doesn’t he?

  • ponies!!!!!!!!!

    I love trannies, I don’t care what y’all say. They’re some of the strongest people out there. As a gay man, I think we should all be inclusive, we should all love each other and stop worrying about picking apart everything one of us says to try to find an enemy, all it does is distract us from what we should be doing, fighting for OUR rights. Our rights as a community. Not our rights as gay men, or lesbians, or bisexuals or trans people, but of all of us. Together.

    Let’s not forget we were there fighting with the african american community and feminists in the 60s. We were all one group for a time. That, of course, has changed…but we don’t need to splinter off. These things affect all of us.

  • j

    @ponies!!!!!!!!!: Truth. Anyone out there who really thinks that being trans (at least in a social sense) is different than being gay was thirty years ago needs to check themselves. I’d happily stand side by side with a hundred “trannies” than I would even one of you disgusting, vile and bigoted misanthropes. You get what you give!

  • evanb

    @Henry: I agree with your definitions, but I stand by the comparison; the (inaccurate) verbiage was just taken from the poster. Let me rephrase: “The discrimination suffered by trans folk is more similar to racism (a reaction to an individual’s outward physical appearance) than to homophobia (a socialized fear of a specific behavior type).”

  • Ginasf


    Evab… I think this is an off-topic discussion, but…

    When a gay boy gets beaten up or ridiculed because he doesn’t throw a ball the right way, or because he giggles or screeches when he laughs, or because he styles his hair a certain way, is that about his sexual preference or because of his gendered behavior or appearance? Transphobia is NOT just about appearance, it’s about anything that’s gender variant which could include one’s voice or the way someone styles their hair or does their nails, a woman having facial hair or a butch haircut. Homophobia and transphobia aren’t exactly the same but they have a huge overlap and to pretend they’re totally distinct from one another is, IMO, an over-simplification.

    @Ponies… I believe your statement that you love trans people but if you really love us, really, truly love us, you won’t call us all ‘trannies’ no matter how right that seems to you. Part of respecting communities is really listening and being open to what they’re telling you. And it goes the same way with trans people listening and being open to gay men. That’s where real respect grows from. PS. if you have friends that want to be called “tranny” then cool, call them that individually, just don’t call us all that. ‘Kay?

  • Q

    Why is the term “Tranny” offensive? Just because you say so? I get why “shemale” is offensive, that’s pretty clear, but the word “Tranny” doesn’t seem to have any loaded meaning (certainly not like “faggot”), it just seems to be a descriptor. What’s the issue? Instead of screaming at us that the word is offensive, you should take a second and explain why so we understand…

  • Pandora Harrison

    @Vicki: I am bisexual and transgendered. I just came out to my family a few weeks ago, I finally feel the self loathing and hatred lifting. We are all human beings just trying to make it through this life as whole, healthy and happy as possible. Regardless of one’s religion or lack their of, I know that the one thing we can be sure of is that in this world, all we have is each other.

  • Por Supuesto

    Maybe I’m wrong (trying to learn how to not be offensive, please enlighten me if I’m wrong). “Tranny” is not offensive when applied to someone who is indeed a tranny – that is, a transvestite. Tranny is short for transvestite, a drag queen, so in that context (eg, the famous restaurant “Trannyshack” in San Francisco), used without malice, the term is acceptable. Transgendered people are not transvestites, drag queens/kings or cross-dresses hence it is always offensive to call them that, it makes the term a slur against them because the’re not in a costume and they’re not “impersonating” the “opposite” gender like a drag queen is.

  • redmont

    @Por Supuesto: That’s honestly how I’ve always seen it. I’ve never once said or thought the word tranny in an offensive way or with one bit of malice. Maybe I’m just a naive country boy living in the city now…but like you said, in San Francisco there’s a great place called the Trannyshack. Me and my friends collectively talk about going to see the “trannies” and we say it with excitement because it’s always a fun night.

    If I see someone actively dressing and coming across as a different sex outside of that system of entertainment, I call them by whatever gender they’re expressing…if someone is dressed and behaving as a man, I refer to them as him regardless of what they have under their clothes. Same thing with people dressed and behaving as women whether they have vaginas or not, I call them she. It’s not very difficult to understand.

    I feel like the only time you should be asking about what’s in their pants is when you actually want to get into their pants. Otherwise, why does it matter to you?

  • ponies!!!!!!!!!

    @Ginasf: Why are you so hostile about it? I dunno if you’re actually hostile but your response to me seems like you’re trying to make me feel dumb or naive. I say trannies specifically because I’m told not to, just like I say faggots, dykes and pretty much anything else. I have friends who don’t mind, but I don’t call them that on an every day basis. I call them my friends. What I’m saying is it’s a huge distraction to get caught up in the words, especially since we have free speech in this country. Nobody has any right to tell someone else they can’t say a word simply because they don’t like it. Sure, one can censor themselves out of courtesy, but once that’s done, do you know what you have left? The gutter. All you’re left with at the end are the people who use that word as a hateful word, and it becomes a slur. The idea of re-appropriating slurs is to reduce their power. By being offended at it, it only gives it more power. I know words have a history, and that history is carried with every utterance, but that same word has a future that has yet to be carved out for it, and we all have the power to change what that future will be by doing nothing more than starting it.

    As I said before, being offended is just a distraction. You can get caught up in terminology, but I feel that ultimately it’s the sentiment that counts. There’s a whole lot of love and support out there, and a million different ways of saying it. The more we worry about the exact words that are said, the less we are going to be able to see that love and support.

  • B-Rock

    @evanb: Homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny are intrinsically linked, because they’re all related to gender prejudice – specifically the idea that being feminine is less than – and gender transgression: that everyone should adhere to a strict, socially-defined binary code of appearance and behavior. Like Ginasf noted, “queer”, “faggy”-acting boys and men face a lot more discrimination than butch ones who are simply gay – even among the gay community.

    @Henry: “I don’t think transphobia is similar to racism. Racism is prejudice, but a phobia, by definition, isn’t prejudice. It’s just a fearful reaction.” – that’s because homophobia and transphobia aren’t actual phobias in any medical sense, they ARE prejudices. People with phobias aren’t hateful toward what they fear, and they certainly don’t seek out the object of their fear to do it harm: they cower away from it, they lose control of themselves, they sweat, they pass out, they’re terrified. It’s unfortunate that we got stuck with words in english like homophobic and Islamophobic and xenophobic, because it puts the bigoted person in this passive, afflicted position. Sure, maybe this is all just semantics, but can you imagine someone being called an Afrophobe, Judeophobe, or gynophobe? No! They’re racists, anti-semites and misogynists! It’s clear from those terms that it’s completely socially unacceptable and that society expects them to change their view.

  • Ginasf


    I’ve heard everything you’ve said dozens of times before. It’s always been said by people who seem to think trans people have no right to determine what THEY wish to be called. I would never call a gay man something he found offensive (and that’s his right to reclaim it or not… his right, not mine to determine that for him) No one’s being hostile (well, maybe you are, a little), I just want the same courtesy. Reciprocal courtesy.

  • Steve

    I can almost sorta understand transgenderism, gender is a societal construct and therefore transgenderism only exists as an outward expression of “fuck societal constructs”

    But transexuality makes little to no sense to me. Sexuality is a hard and fast physical things. Either you’re male or you’re female (not taking into account intersex and the like). Saying you’re “a man trapped in a woman’s body” or vice versa just plays into and reinforces gender norms and other heteronormative bullshit. Why do we need boxes to squeeze into? Can’t we all just be people?

    I’ll be Steve and I’ll wear heels and makeup and suck dick and play video games and do science and read nerdy books and listen to music too loud and everyone else can be themselves and do what they like and love their bodies the way they are.

    Why change yourself to fit someone else’s definition of who you are?

  • Henry

    I’m pretty sure this poster is inaccurate and nobody says “you’re such a tranny.” If somebody gets called a tranny, it’s because they’re transsexual, not because they’re “such” a transsexual. I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean or how it makes sense to call somebody such a tranny.

  • JRL

    @Steve: “Why change yourself to fit someone else’s definition of who you are?”

    That isnt the case. When I transitioned, the only thing about me that changed was my physical appearance (and I was a lot more open/comfortable with people). Nothing else changed. My clothes didn’t change, hobbies didn’t change, interests didn’t change. It’s not like I had a stroke, realized who I truly was and changed my job and intrests to fit into some stupid stereotype.

  • ponies!!!!!!!!!

    I apologize, I didn’t know I was speaking to trans royalty here. I take it you choose which names are okay and which aren’t for the entirety of the trans population? You can be naive all you want, but forbidding someone from saying something is called giving them power, which is the last thing you should be giving to bigots. If you want to live your life constantly angry about a word, then so be it. I choose to live peacefully, and I know you believe me to be hostile (though you and all your parentheses and condescending tone aren’t helping), but I have no ill will towards you or anything. I’m just trying to let you know that being angry or being defensive isn’t the only way to live your life.

  • ponies!!!!!!!!!

    derp, that comment above was supposed to be @Ginasf:

  • redmont

    @JRL: I get what you’re saying. I’m not trans myself but my buddy described it to me in vivid details. Where you don’t feel comfortable in your own body, though everything else may be right. That is, you’re behaving as you like, you’re working where you like, you enjoy the right things, everything is “right” except for one glaring, huge, personal thing…your body. You don’t want to be a femme guy because you don’t feel like a femme guy, you feel like a woman. *cue the shania song* No but seriously, I mean I can’t imagine how difficult that would be. Not to say this is ANYTHING like transgenderism, but it’s the closest I think I’ll ever get to experiencing it — I’ve gained like 30 pounds since getting into a relationship and I feel so uncomfortable in my body. I don’t like it, and I need to work it all off and stop being so comfortable. Sure, it’s just weight, but it’s messing with my self esteem, my relationship, etc it becomes a big thing. I can only imagine to feel like that about your gender, it must feel like suffocation, and even though everything else may be “right”, that one wrong has the ability to make everything else feel wrong too.

    I may be off entirely, and feel free to let me know if I am. But yes, from what I’ve heard, it’s definitely not a whole life/personality/hobby change. Chances are, if you are friends with someone before, you’d still want to be friends and do most of the same things as before.

  • DB

    @Ginasf: Gay boys do not throw balls differently than heterosexual boys or ‘giggle and screech’ when they laugh. What 1930 homophobic stereotypes are you following? I would expect such lies and stereotypes from the Family Research Council but not from a commenter on a gay site. You obviously have no idea about the definition or nature of sexual orientation.

  • Steve

    @JRL: That isn’t what I meant at all. I was talking about invasive, inadequate surgeries that mangle perfectly fine sexual organs. That’s the part I don’t understand.

    Think about it, if someone was never exposed to any kind of gender rules, never even exposed to the concept of gender would they, could they, feel like their gender didn’t match up. Gender roles are just bullshit from religion and a patriarchal society.

  • JRL

    @Steve: “inadequate surgeries that mangle perfectly fine sexual organs. That’s the part I don’t understand”

    I find it strange that that’s the part you don’t understand, because that’s what it’s about (for me, anyway) It’s got nothing to do with gender roles, I already said I don’t want o fit into someone else’s definition of what a man should be or what a man should like and do. I just genuinely believe that I should have been born with a dick. Thats it. That’s all it’s about, and that’s all it will be about. Like I’ve sated before it has nothing to do with fitting into a certain gender norm, all I want is to be happy with who I am, and the way I was before I was very unhappy.

  • DB

    @B-Rock: B-Rock, you are proving evanb’s point that homophobia and transphobia are NOT related. Gay people and heterosexual people both dislike ‘queenie’ or ‘flamboyant’ men (whether heterosexual or gay). This has nothing to do with sexual orientation or homophobia. It is related to gender-related behaviors. Homophobes are prejudiced against people because they are gay (i.e. they are attracted to, in love, dating, or married to someone of the same sex). Homophobes hold inaccurate and bigoted stereotypes about gay people (e.g. that gay men act ‘queenie’ or flamboyant).

  • JRL

    @redmont: That’s exactly how I feel. I’ve never been able to put it into words, but that’s right on the mark.

  • redmont

    @Steve: Dear Steve. Thank you for your idealism?…but we live in a reality.

    Let’s even throw out our society. Transgenderism is present AROUND THE WORLD in each region’s native societies. The societies that you would probably called barbaric were known to revere these individuals.

    Writings of trangender women all the way back to Ethiopia 2,000 years ago
    The Lakotan wí?kte
    The Navajo nádleehé
    Most African healers, shamans, mid-wives and “witch-doctors” were routinely transgendered
    The Indian Hijra or Punjabi Khusra

    These people exist well outside of the rules of gender in our society as well as predate our society entirely. Not only that, but in most cases, transgender individuals were revered. Demonizing them as you do just because we now have a procedure that can help them live a more fulfilled, realized and personal life, is extremely narrow-minded.

  • Mykell

    @ponies!!!!!!!!!: Gina is saying that the people targeted by slurs should get to decide when and if to take them back. If you are not trans, you do not get to choose. Even if you have trans friends who encourage you to help them take the word back, you cannot decide for Gina whether or not she should be offended or not.

    @Steve: Everybody has a mapping of their body in their brain and having a physical body that does not match the map of the body is extremely stressful. Recent research suggests that transsexual people probably have maps matching the bodies of their target sex, not the one they were born with. If this is true, then changing one’s body has nothing to do with gender stereotypes and everything to do with internal, hard-wired self-image. This may explain why “butch” transsexual women and “femme” transsexual men still transition despite gender stereotypes.

  • Steve

    @redmont: Firstly I haven’t got a problem with transgenderism as I’ve already said. And I don’t really have a problem with transexuality either, I simply don’t understand it.

    I’m well aware historically many transgender people were revered. Not that I think that it is necessary, everyone is just people and revering people is weird.

    I’m not exactly sure why you felt the need to inform me this way. And I probably would call them barbaric but I call quite a lot of things barbaric, it’s just reality.;)

    Demonize? Hardly, when I demonize something I usually make comparison to bad things.

    @Mykell: Can you link the science on this? Sounds a little far-fetched to me but my mind is open to the possibility.

  • Dennis


    You nailed it. Trans activists desperately want to convince us that we are bound to them at some defining level. But we aren’t. The only thing they have to argue is that some bashers confuse gay and trans, mostly b/c they rely on stereotypes of gays as wannabe women. The proper gay response to this nonsense is to mock it, laugh at it and correct it. But certainly not to embrace the lies and misunderstandings of bashers and define ourselves around those lies.

    LGBT is nothing more than the institutionalization of lies that are believed by gaybashers. The trans activists know this. But because they need gay money and gay political capital, they are happy to let LGBT flourish as long as we gays are dumb enough to let it.

  • Pandora Harrison

    @Steve: From an anthropological point of view, gender itself is not a social construct, but rather the way we as a culture choose to express it is. If I were born out in the bush in a third world nation, I likely would have still felt like a girl as of age 5 or 6. If in that culture, females wore a particular type or style of clothing and took on certain gender based roles, that may be a culturally based artificial expression of gender, but it is still the expression of gender based on a particular truth for many. For instance, as a child, does me wanting to be a mommy (which is a different perspective than the male father role) and not a daddy, an artificial construct? I don’t accept that it is. I accept that gender itself is something more innate than the way our culture chooses to express it.

  • Pandora Harrison

    From an anthropological point of view, gender itself is not a social construct, but rather the way we as a culture choose to express it is. If I were born out in the bush in a third world nation, I likely would have still felt like a girl as of age 5 or 6. If in that culture, females wore a particular type or style of clothing and took on certain gender based roles, that may be a culturally based artificial expression of gender, but it is still the expression of gender based on a particular truth for many. For instance, as a child, does me wanting to be a mommy (which is a different perspective than the male father role) and not a daddy, an artificial construct? I don’t accept that it is. I accept that gender itself is something more innate than the way our culture chooses to express it.

  • JRL

    @Dennis: Can’t tell of being sarcastic, or just really ignorant.

  • Pandora Harrison

    @Dennis: “mock it, laugh at it, and correct it”. This one boot black that’s not shining your jack boots. I pity you for your hate and insecurity. Maybe you just like to dom people on posting boards?

  • Interesting

    research is thin (due to lack of funding) but the little that’s done is that there is likely a biological reason for trans women and men as there is for being gay


    The core problem I believe is that people refuse to look things up that takes about a couple of minutes to look up if they were truly curious to understand

    We live in a strange time. We have this technology that essentially would allow anyone who is ignorant to find out whatever they want to find out. Yet they choose not to do so. Its strange.

  • Geoff

    So… being a bisexual Dominant Transfag, I don’t care if someone calls me a “tranny”, a “Fag”, or a “rugmuncher”. Bring it on- let the world see what and ignorent, closed minded moron you are. I’ll tell you what, bigotry and transphobia tell a lot more about the idiots who perpetrate them then they do about me. Hey- you think I suck? You want to kick my sorry ass? Guess what? I was in the military and know tae kwon do and how to box, so again, I say “bring it on”, SMILES. I will tell you this, the only thing that bothers me about being trans- the fact that when people think about transgendered folk, they think about Male to Female, not about the other way around. “I’m here and I’m queer, so listen when I’m speaking Motherf***ker” The thing is, transpeople have been around for THOUSANDS of years- The native american Indians called us shaman, medicine people, and two-souls. We were honored and respected for being fully in touch with our masculine and feminine energies, we were seen as wise and spiritually gifted. That is my heritage. You know what I think transphobia comes from? It comes from peoples innate feeling, that I know something they don’t. And you know what? they are right- I do. Some people are wise enough to see this and respect it. Others are emotionally immature and unable to conceptualize a reality which is different from that which they have always known, and so they react like frightened children punching and kicking at imagined monsters in the dark. So let the children punch and kick. I will walk away and continue on my search for a higher level of self-knowledge, for a higher level of spiritual independence. Say what you want, cast you slurs, they have no effect. One thing you should never, ever do however- is get in my way.

  • Raquel Santiago

    Even with items like this, mistakes are going to happen, long as its not said intentionally should be ok, but not with everyone. Each person is going to respond differently as well as act differently, its open to individual interpretation. That said, respect if is of the utmost importance. Being only transgender, i feel that the most important issue is pronoun usage.

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