General Question

rockfan's avatar

Is it insensitive to ask a person if they're transgender?

Asked by rockfan (9347points) November 18th, 2017 from iPhone

I made a friend in my art class, and I’m pretty sure that she’s female to male transgender, but she still goes by a female name in our class. I tried to looked her up Facebook (I’m positive that she has one) but couldn’t find her – there’s a chance that she uses a male name on Facebook. Is it insensitive to ask what pronouns she uses on Facebook, simply because I want to make a friend request?

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30 Answers

SavoirFaire's avatar

Why not just sidestep the whole thing by saying “I tried to find you on Facebook, but I couldn’t. Do you use a different name there?” Plenty of people use a variation on their name or even something made up. Or if even that seems a bit too forward, you can just say “Hey, are you on Facebook?” Then it’s on them to say yes or no and to tell you how to find them. Basically, just approach it the way you would if you didn’t suspect them of being transgender. They’re just a person you want to be friends with on Facebook but couldn’t find their profile.

Aethelwine's avatar

What @Savoir said is exactly what you should do. Some transgender people may not mind the question, but many others may be hurt by it.

I have a teen who is transgenger and he would prefer to be stealth. He doesn’t want to be labeled. It depresses him.

Patty_Melt's avatar

It depends on the situation.
You ask your question about transgender, but then claim your reason is to find them on fb. I don’t understand how the two relate.
Lots of teens use a fake name on fb. Some do to keep safe from predators. Some do to keep the account secret from their parents.
To ask just because you are curious, is none of your business. If you were friends enough for them to tell you, they would when they are ready.
If it were someone hitting on you, then I would think you have a right to know. Otherwise MYOB.

Aethelwine's avatar

Thank you for being mindful and asking this question, @rockfan.

Thammuz's avatar

I’d say asking is a no-win situation.

It’s like asking a woman if they’re pregnant but without the 50% of neutral outcome.

If you ask a woman if she’s pregnant she will:
a) be pregnant and not have a negative reaction, or
b) not be and you’ve essentially called them “fat enough to have another human inside of you”.

So, 50% negative, 50% neutral outcomes, nothing to gain by asking.

If you ask a person if they’re trans they can either:
a) actually be trans, in which case you essentially told them they are not passing enough or
b) not be, in which case you told them they look like a non-passing transsexual

Literally not even a neutral outcome, avoid the question unless you plan to have sexual relationships with this person and are concerned regarding which type of genitals you’ll have to deal with.

imrainmaker's avatar

Why do you wanna know? If you want to add him as friend on fb ask him for those details. What difference will it make if he’s transgender or not?

JLeslie's avatar

I thought @rockfan was in college?

I’d say with young children I’d be careful, but with adults usually I don’t think it’s a big deal to ask a question like this, even if it’s just curiosity.

In America we ask, we are you from, where is your family from, what’s you’re religion, and other identifiers, or things we are curious about. Some cultures find this to be rude, but we are getting to know each other. 95% of the time the asker is not stereotyping, or judging, but making conversation and getting to know you. I’ve asked people if they were gay, I guess that’s similar to asking if someone is trans? Maybe transgender is different, because they want to be seen as the gender they live as, and maybe the other gender doesn’t exist anymore? I don’t know. As an outsider, I think there is a time that maybe they are transitioning, but then eventually they just simply are the other gender.

I will say that in my opinion shame rots the soul, and I feel people should be able to feel good about themselves, and not feel they have to hide anything. Being transgender is not something people should feel ashamed of, it just is.

I remember wanting to ask my BIL if he was gay, and when I mentioned it his sister, she said she wouldn’t ask, because she wouldn’t want to offend him. She made me quite uncomfortable. See, I don’t find it offensive to be gay. No wonder he stayed in the closet until his late 30’s. He also changed his first name when he moved to America so people wouldn’t think he was Hispanic. He has spent a lifetime of hiding. That’s depressing to me.

If you think it might be a problem then don’t ask. When in doubt go the route of kindness.

With this particular Q, I’d say you can just give your Facebook name and ask them to friend you up. Leave it up to them if they friend you or not.

stanleybmanly's avatar

If you are in a position where you have to guess, I would think it likely that the answer to your question is yes it would be insensitive to ask. Better to simply ask “can I find you on facebook?”

MrGrimm888's avatar

Short answer is yes. I am positive that some would find the question, at least awkward.

Good comments above…

flutherother's avatar

Are you male? Are you female? Are you transgender? All very insensitive questions. Are you on Facebook? Not insensitive.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@rockfan There are many good suggestions in this thread. Skip the transgender part and ask if they’d like to be friends on FB.

@JLeslie You cannot know where a person is in the process of coming out if they are LGBT. Coming out is an individual process, and it’s none of your business.

JLeslie's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake I didn’t claim to always know. I said always better to be kind. With my BIL I think it would have released him from his burden. He spent a long time worrying about coming out to me. He came out to me before anyone else in his family. He knew I was the safe one. Why? Because I constantly hinted I knew. Because he knew I was with gay people all the time. Instead of him planning and worrying how he would tell me, in one uncomfortable moment if I had asked him straight out maybe the months and years would have been cut short at least with me. But, I don’t know for sure. I didn’t do it, but sometimes I think I should have.

I NEVER encourage people to come out who aren’t ready or believe their family or friends will be awful to them. In fact my friend’s son’s boyfriend decided to come out to his parents and I said I felt it was a mistake at this time. Long story.

Thing is I’m safe, rockfan is safe, we aren’t going to care if someone is gay straight, trans, white, Asian, Muslim, Christian, American, Canadian, etc etc.

Aethelwine's avatar

@JLeslie It is a big deal for many adult trans people, especially college age who just may have come out or maybe they haven’t yet. @Thammuz explained it well. Many transgender individuals want to be stealth. In my support group for parents this question comes up often. How do our high school and college age children handle going to school when they want to be stealth? Do they tell no one? Do they tell a teacher or two? It’s a very stressful situation for them. They don’t want to be special. They just want to be themselves.

If this person is transgenger he more than likely would have asked the school to use his preferred name and pronouns and not suffer through being called their birth name and pronouns they don’t align with.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Wow. Nothing more to add here! Let us know if you find them on FB.

marinelife's avatar

Yes, that would be an insensitive question. How would you like it if someone asked your gender or sexual preference?

ragingloli's avatar

Unless you want to engage in sexual activity with that person, yes.

Aethelwine's avatar

This had some very helpful information.

“Coming out” to other people as lesbian, gay, or bisexual is typically seen as revealing a truth that allows other people to know your authentic self. The LGB community places great importance and value on the idea of being “out” in order to be happy and whole. When a transgender person has transitioned and is living their life as their authentic self—that is their truth. The world now sees them as who they truly are. Unfortunately, it can often feel disempowering for a transgender person to disclose to other people that they are transgender. Sometimes when other people learn a person is trans, they no longer see the person as a “real” man, woman, or person they are which, of course, is not the case. Some people may choose to publicly discuss their lives in an effort to raise awareness and make cultural change, but please don’t assume that it’s necessary for a transgender person to disclose that they are transgender in order to feel happy and whole.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@Aethelwine Thank you for posting that passage. It’s very helpful.

@JLeslie You do not know what’s best for others. It’s none of your business whether they choose to confide in you or not.

marinelife's avatar

@JLeslie You might be in a much smaller group than you think if you think it is OK to ask people
“what’s you’re (sic your) religion, and other identifiers, or things we are curious about” and ” I’ve asked people if they were gay, I guess that’s similar to asking if someone is trans?”. Those are very personal questions which no one has the right to ask about on casual acquaintance. Anyone would be well within their rights to say “That is a very rude question, which I choose not to answer” or “That is none of your business.”

Here’s what Miss Manners has to say about it.

JLeslie's avatar

@Aethelwine I can completely understand the transgender person wanting to simply be accepted as the gender they live as. It makes perfect sense. As I said, once a person is transitioned, to me they just are that gender, no need to refer back to what the person used to live as, unless the person themselves wants to for some reason.

Going back to the Q, I don’t see any reason to know gender to friend someone on Facebook. However, I will say our language unfortunately uses he and she and him and her a lot, so it’s good to know someone’s preference if it’s not easy to tell how they identify.

I also think it’s good for transgendered people to not be easily offended, and I say that to everyone, not just transgendered people. Too often we (I use the big we) are so PC we are disgusted with people when they mean no harm. When people ask me if I’m jewish I don’t assume they are antisemitic, when people ask where my husband is from I don’t assume they are bigots, when I thought that a friend of mine was a lesbian she wasn’t offended, when my gay BIL’s thought one of our friends (we all know him) was gay, he didn’t care, when I assumed a new friend was straight, he corrected me to tell me he didn’t have a wife, but rather a husband. But, I have the luxury of living in circles where most people don’t care.

Being transgender might be in a separate category than most of the other things I named, I’m certainly willing to accept that. The transgendered people I have known didn’t seem very uptight about it, but I didn’t know them very well. The two I did know, who I saw on a daily basis, I worked with. It was in the Cosmetics industry, and they were all glammed up, not just trying to discreetly blend in. They looked more like a stereotypical transvestites.

I wouldn’t just ask a stranger out of the blue anyway. I was referencing my BIL, and people I have worked closely with, etc. even then, it’s not out of the blue, it depends where the conversation is going.

Always better to err on the side of not asking if there is any reason to think it might be a bad idea.

@marinelife’s link says to just respond “that’s personal” I guess people can just do that when an inappropriate question is asked. I understand the feeling. I can’t tell you how often people ask why I never had children. I hate that question.

JLeslie's avatar

@marinelife One thing I’ll point out is when the question is asked, and it’s true, it still seems to affect the person the same way whether they don’t answer or not. I get your point believe me, that probably best not to ask, but the person being asked, Well my concern is if they have shame then I hate that. Sometimes it’s a personal or private matter, but sometimes the person would prefer to be able to be open and free and proud and feel just as legitimate as the next guy. The elephant in the room is uncomfortable too sometimes.

Aethelwine's avatar

Just an fyi- please don’t use transgender as a verb ― “transgendered.”

Transgender person is appropriate. Not transgendered person.

JLeslie's avatar

^^Got it. Thanks.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I also think it’s good for transgendered people to not be easily offended” Telling people how they’re supposed to think and act @JLeslie? They’re humans, first and foremost. They might be the kind of human who is easily offended.

Hey @JLeslie , Are those your real boobs or did you have surgery?
Have you had a face lift recently, or some sort of plastic surgery?
Are you really as old as you look?
Are you really a female???
I’m just curious, so that makes it OK.

Dutchess_III's avatar

BTW….I think the easiest way to answer this is never ask someone something if the answer just might be “No.”
“Are you transgendered?”
“No. 100% female. Why?”
“Cuz you look like a guy.”

“Are you pregnant?”
“Oh. You’re just fat. I see.”

It could be construed as very insulting.

JLeslie's avatar

^^I’ve been asked if my boobs are real. It didn’t upset me. They happen to be real, but it doesn’t matter. I’m asked where I’m “from” constantly, probably at least twice a month. Or, people just guess a country, usually because they are from that country (everything from Poland, Latvia, Russia, and a few others) or sometimes because they hear me speak Spanish they think I’m from Latin America.

I can’t tell someone how to feel, obviously, but people can be in a frame of mind to feel better. When you offend someone by accident (I mean you, not the greater all encompassing you) because you didn’t word something well, or you were ignorant about something, but truly mean no harm, do you want the offended party to be traumatized for hours, weeks, months, about it, or do you want them to understand you meant no harm and you are open to learning? Should they hold a grudge? Hold the hurt? Obviously, it matters what it is. An insensitive question? I can’t stay hurt or angry very long if their intention was without malice. It takes too much energy. People actually hurt me or my people? Enact laws to stifle equality and freedom? That’s worth being up in arms.

@Aethelwine Corrected me, which I appreciate, and I’m glad she said something instead of bitching or sulking to her friends. Other people might have done just that. Looking at every minuscule thing to decide I hate transgender people, when I have said a ton of things on this Q supporting them, and that I see them the same as anyone else. Oh, AND, my answer to the Q was for @rockfan to offer her own Facebook name and say she’d like to be Facebook friends if her new friend is interested. I drifted off too much in my initial answer with my experience with my BIL, and the children of a couple of friends of mine. Tried to make a point that was too much of a tangent I guess. I think @Thammuz made great points.

By the way, you used the word transgendered—see above.

Funny, a woman I met Wednesday started telling me about her eye lift. Not that I had asked though. I wouldn’t have asked.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@JLeslie, you are not the world’s gate keeper. It is not your place to tell others how they should feel.

JLeslie's avatar

I’m not telling, I’m suggesting it as a way to handle the shit in life that comes at us.

Aethelwine's avatar

@JLeslie @Aethelwine Corrected me, which I appreciate, and I’m glad she said something instead of bitching or sulking to her friends. Thank you. Gailcalled taught me how to appreciate corrections without getting upset. I knew you would know I meant well and I only wish to educate since this subject is dear to me.

Mariah's avatar

I’ve enjoyed this discussion a lot.

One thing that I don’t think has been brought up is that being outed as trans is not just uncomfortable but in some ways outright dangerous. Trans people are often victims of hate crimes. If you ask the question, they don’t know if you’re asking innocently or if you’re a bigot who’s going to attack them and then claim the “trans panic defense,” which is a real thing that can be used to plead not-guilty to the murder of a trans person, in America, in 2017. So asking such a question might make a trans person uncomfortable not because they’re being “PC” but because it makes them feel physically unsafe.

Another factor is that if you ask someone if they’re trans based on their appearance, you’ve basically just told them that they’re not “passing.” For many trans people, the inability to pass as their true gender is a source of dysphoria that can make them very upset or suicidal.

I agree that in this specific case there are MUCH easier and kinder ways to find this person on Facebook than to ask them if they’re trans. And in general, don’t ask people if they’re trans.

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