JennerSawyerarticle
 
I made it through the first 11 minutes and 4 seconds of the Jenner-Sawyer interview.  From a societal perspective, I saw a typical interview.  The questions were exactly the inquiries Americans have been demanding for weeks now.  The answers were informative, candid, and personal.  
 
From a personal, trans perspective, this interview was extremely triggering.  In this interview, I saw every single time I ever came out to well-meaning friends and family. I saw the demands I face every day from a normative society that tells me I must justify my life and make myself relatable (in a completely level-headed and intelligent way) in order for my needs to be accepted by the general public.
 
4.1% of the entire population has attempted suicide.  An alarming 41% of the transgender community has attempted suicide.  If you did not react to those statics, I’m going to ask you to reread them and let it soak in for a minute. 
 
Let me go ahead and let you in on a secret:  Life is not always pretty.  Imagine living a life for decades, going with the flow, doing what was expected of you, and having that life feel entirely counterfeit to you.  This is the exact type of situation that causes real life emotional trauma; the type of trauma that Jenner struggled to explain in the interview.  But did Sawyer acknowledge that trauma and ask questions that help to heal and provide validation?  No.  Sawyer chose the questions that the vast majority of society demands when someone comes out as transgender.  Sawyer sided with American society.  “Give me explanations.” “Are you sure?” “Why now?” “People think this is just a stunt for attention…” 
 
Curiosity does NOT equal entitlement.  
 
We live in a world where we can demand information.  The Internet is at most of our fingertips and we can ask any question we want at any given moment.  But I think that we forget people are not required to render thousands of answers in a split second just because we inquire.  Curiosity may be a very strong feeling, but trauma cannot be undone.  Your words, your questions, hold power.  Society is to blame for the trauma that we continue to face.  And if you refuse to learn how to respect us and uplift us, you are a part of the inflicted trauma.
 
I can promise you, that in the process of living an authentic life, every trans person has faced self-conflict.  And this self-conflict is way more of a battle with societal expectations than it is internal conflict.  Being honest with yourself is one of the hardest things you could possibly do.  And if you believe that process does not leave scars, then you are sadly mistaken.  Coming to terms with your identity is sure to leave fear, stress, grief, confusion, guilt, and shame.  And to be met with society, demanding relative information and explanations will only leave us more insecure and vulnerable.  It is very possible by the end of questioning your entire life that one may be left with emotional turmoil.  Are all transgender people emotionally unstable?  Absolutely not.  But can you blame us if we have a hard time articulating our feelings or justifying our lives?  Society did not provide us with language to understand ourselves, nor did it educate us on how to explain what we are feeling.  
 
So, here are my tips in the event that someone comes out to you as transgender:  Start off by first acknowledging that they have probably been struggling with this for a while.  Then, realize that they are trusting you with this extremely sensitive and personal information; feel free to let that fact humble you.  After these steps, now is the perfect time to convey your unconditional support and love.  Some validating questions you can ask are, “What does your support system look like at this point?” “Are there any resources or information I can help you find?” “What can I do to support you on your journey?” “How can I be respectful in referring to you?” “Would you like me to advocate for your name and pronouns when people make mistakes?” 
 
DO NOT ASK: If they are sure about this, if they are going to get “the surgery,” if you can give them pointers on how to pass as their gender, if it is just a phase, if they can explain why they are making this choice, or any question that would cause them to have to win your approval in some form.  
 
If you care at all about the trans community, if you validate the struggle that all of us have faced, if you can see that society is constantly battling us, then think hard about the questions you have, how you word them, and what your intentions are behind those questions.  You have the power to drag us down or empower us to live healthy functioning lives.  I challenge you, society, to do better by us.  
 
MTUG supports you, Jenner (and all transgender folks struggling to come out, find support, and be authentic), and we will continue to fight for the future of the trans community.
 
Rae Larson is Secretary and Co-Founder of the St. Louis-based Metro Trans Umbrella Group
 
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