These Three Simple Words Show Us How to Address Transgender People
Call. Me. Caitlyn.
With a simple statement, Vanity Fair explained to the world the golden rule of engaging with anyone when you may not be quite sure how to address them: Ask them how they identify, and respect it. That is, if they don't tell you up front, like Caitlyn Jenner did this morning.
Today, almost exactly one year after Laverne Cox' s monumental Time cover exclaimed American culture's "transgender tipping point," Caitlyn Jenner — with a "C," folks — introduced herself to the world:
Yet the media's reporting on Jenner's announcement — with allusions to "formerly Bruce Jenner" and use of male pronouns — illustrates culture's lack of knowledge about, and, arguably, sensitivity towards, trans lives. People like writer and trans activist Janet Mock simply weren't having it:
Upworthy writer Franchesca Ramsey spoke some much needed truth:
Even Jenner herself admitted to Vanity Fair interviewer Buzz Bissinger that she is not yet fully accustomed to the change when it comes to her name. "I don't really get hung up," she told Bissinger, after he apologized for calling her "dude" and using male pronouns. "A guy came in the other day and I was fully dressed — it's just habit, I said 'Hi, Bruce here,' and I went, 'Oh fuck, it ain't Bruce,' I was screwing up doing it."
Jenner will continue to make waves through the Vanity Fair issue and the premiere of her E! docu-series, which will continue to expose us to her experiences, as well as the lives of other openly trans people.
There's no doubt that in the last five years, the visibility of prominent transgender people has many people still learning how to respectfully address their trans friends. As Jenner illustrates, even she has to get used to such a significant change in her life.
"If you must ask which pronoun the person prefers, start with your own," GLAAD advises in its tip sheet for trans allies. "For example, 'Hi, I'm Dani and I prefer the pronouns she and her. What about you?' Then use that person's preferred pronoun and encourage others to do so. If you accidentally use the wrong pronoun, apologize quickly and sincerely, then move on. The bigger deal you make out of the situation, the more uncomfortable it is for everyone."