What not to say to a transgender person

Sometimes you think you’re going to handle a situation really well…and then you don’t.

ardhanarishvara_by_h_d200hb-d8410xm.pngThat pretty much sums up my first conversation with 26 year-old Sabah Choudrey, a British Muslim transgender activist who campaigns against racism in the LGBT community and creates networks and support groups for minority ethnic trans people. He was born and raised as a girl, and came out as transgender while at university.

I didn’t realise at the time that there are inappropriate questions to ask a trans person…like asking about medical intervention and hormone therapy. Things that are basically quite personal and sensitive…things you’d never ask anyone else you were meeting over the phone for the first time.

Ethnic minority transgender people are among the most vulnerable to discrimination.

They face verbal abuse from people on the street, rejection from their families, discrimination in the workplace and the stigma of not conforming to the gender they were assigned at birth…so are often subject to ridicule.

Many people don’t personally know many or any transgender people; so we rely upon the stereotypes and clichés we carry in our minds.

Anyone I’ve spoken to who has come across someone trans – speaks about them as if they were the ‘star cross-dressing attraction’ of gossip at the family wedding…something highly unenviable.

When I meet Sabah the following week for a coffee, he speaks candidly about his journey so far and touches on many insightful themes, including the idea that we all have femininity and masculinity within us.

Though he dresses like a man, he doesn’t reject all his years growing up as a girl, and describes himself as feeling like both a man and a woman… in his own words he is ”a happy in between just being trans”.

Even though it may seem that a super liberal mindset is required to understand and accept non-conforming gender identities, eastern traditions have long spoken of the masculine and feminine energies we all carry within ourselves as part of the natural order of creation.

To me it seems the struggle for transgender people, especially those from ethnic backgrounds – is simply to be seen and accepted as normal by the people they are closest to, as well as by society…

not to stick out like a sore thumb and be the focus of unwanted attention…to get on with life with the gender identities that suit them best.

Is that too much to ask?

Listen here to the edited interview with Sabah that was broadcast on the BBC Asian Network.

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