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The year 2020 has been anything but pleasant. With COVID-19 majorly amplifying the general state of pandemonium and depression the world seems to be in these days, with the world all gradually coming to term with the fact that this might be the new normal, hopes of good news seemed bleak. Imagine then, how heartening it was when we heard of Elliot Page's coming out as trans. Congratulations, Elliot!
Coming out as trans is a fraught experience for many. The anxiety over being accepted by people close to you, family, friends, workplaces, is tough to navigate, there is also an increased risk of assault on trans persons. So, it was somewhat of a surprise when Netflix immediately updated their credits and artists' page with Elliot's name and pronouns. This quick response from media companies and online platforms signifies some recognition. Even Wikipedia updated Elliot Page's page but still chose to display the deadname in the 'Born' section where the stats are given.
While Wikipedia's rapid response in updating the page and profile is commendable, their usage of the deadname - in the born section is inessential. In the context of trans persons - why highlight a name which they do not identify with and have actively left behind? Why should anyone want to know the name Elliot was given at birth? This is just the beginning of many problems which trans persons face when they come out.
Source: Wikipedia Page of Elliot Page
When a trans person comes out, they are subjected to scores of questions some of which are intrusive and are triggering. Coming out of a celebrity invites even more. One of the questions asked about Elliot Page is related to his performances as a cis woman in previous shows - How is a trans man playing cis roles? Why not? When cis persons can play trans characters (The Danish Girl, Boys Don't Cry, Superdeluxe and Laxmii), why cannot trans persons play cis characters?
Of the other more common questions, one of the common ones quite crudely assumes that all trans persons will go or have undergone surgery. That is not only offensive but also untrue. While many trans persons opt for gender affirmation surgery, that by no means is a standard or proof of someone being trans. A person says they are trans, that's it. They do not have to pass standards or live up to society's gender-binary based expectations. A famous author recently expressed her fear that if transwomen use washrooms for women, it might increase the risk of sexual assault on women.
Here, the author discriminates against transwomen by stating that they're not women at birth. This idiotic position is frequently taken by trans exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs for short). Gender, unlike an average TERF's logical processes, does not function in binaries - it is a spectrum. Secondly, sex determination is not as black and white as it sounds - there are multiple factors which determine that and then too there might be variations. Read about how gender is assigned at birth over here .
Coming back to the author, another assumption is that transwomen will perpetrate violence on cis women - this is baseless, there is not only any evidence for this but, on the contrary, the risk of assault on transwomen using washrooms for men is quite high. Therefore, these slippery slope arguments and, baseless assumptions perpetuate harmful and false stereotypes about trans persons.
So, what should you do if someone you know comes out as trans? Here are a few things you must take care of when supporting a trans person who has just come out to you:
1) Do not refer to them by their deadname - the deadname is the name which is no longer used by them.
2) Do not ask them about whether they are transitioning or gender affirmation surgery, speaking about it to you is their prerogative, not yours.
3) Don't assume someone is a transgender person just by looking - in fact, don't assume the gender at all.
4) Don't ask their history and inquire about "when did they realise," etc.
5) If you are generally curious about trans identities or want to know more, remember, the search engine is your friend - google it. Your questions, no matter how innocent or well-meaning might trigger bad memories or emotions.
6) Don't act as if it is not a big deal - it takes a lot of courage to come out.
What you can do instead:
1) Congratulate them and thank them for sharing it with you.
2) Tell them your pronouns and also ask which pronouns they would prefer and always use those when talking with or referring to them.
3) Work to make your office space, home or other settings safe and inclusive for your friend. This includes speaking up for their rights and pushing for reforms.
4) Give genuine compliments - not ones which emphasize that they are trans or were assigned a different gender at birth.
5) Make sure that washrooms and other gendered amenities are accessible to them based on their choice and comfort.
6) To be a great ally and to properly support trans persons, we must keep educating ourselves and be considerate towards people. Sensitivity, understanding and empathy go a long way in making the world safer for people of marginalized identities - so keep at it.
Cover Image Courtesy: Elliot's Instagram Page