A reader writes: “I’m a queer cis femme, and I have a number of close friends who, over the past few years, have come out as trans (FtM). I consider myself a strong ally, and I have had no problem adjusting to their preferred names or pronouns, but there is one issue that I am unsure about.
“In many cases, these friends and I share mutual friends and/or acquaintances who may or may not know of a trans friend’s past. When telling stories about various adventures or experiences with a trans friend who, at the time, did not identify as trans, which pronoun should I use?
“I don’t want to accidentally ‘out’ them to people who don’t know (or don’t need to know) the whole story, but I also want to stay true to my friend and true to the story. If we did something together – let’s say, went camping – then should I say, ‘She and I went camping last summer’ or ‘He and I went camping last summer’?”
The best thing to do, particularly if you are talking about relating stories about this person when he is not present, is to ask the person. You will need to ask each one of your friends, individually and privately, what he prefers if you happen to be talking about him to others when he is not present, particularly when those people don’t know that he has transitioned.
However, as a general rule when talking about a trans person’s past, whether he or she is present or not, the following two things apply:
1. Always use the pronoun that the person currently uses, even if everyone in the room knows that he or she is trans. For example, when referring to a trans man friend, you would say, “He and I went camping last year,” “He and I grew up together,” or “I’ve known him since he was five.” The same rule applies with trans women. You would always use “she,” regardless of the time period you are talking about. If the person uses a pronoun other than “he” or “she,” then use that one.
There’s nothing more aggravating than reading a news story about a trans person and seeing that the writer uses both pronouns to refer to the person, as if the writer’s sole purpose was to confuse the public: “She was a nuclear physicist prior to her transition from female to male, and then he became an astronaut.” Huh? No, he was a nuclear physicist prior to his transition from female to male, and then he became an astronaut. Continue Reading »