As Kellie Maloney has experienced, when you're transgender, strangers think it's OK to ask intimate questions – it's not

For the fantastic gains that transgender people have made in human rights and social acceptance, we still have a very long way to go

Famous boxing promoter, Kellie Maloney, recently came out as transgender. She did so as a pre-emptive move, because it had become clear to her that at least two newspapers were going to out her without her permission. It’s a familiar threat that transgender people face. Last year, mixed martial arts fighter Fallon Fox was similarly forced to out herself under essentially identical conditions. Why does this happen?

The obvious answer, perhaps, is that transgender people’s lives pique people’s curiosity. More so if it is seen as newsworthy, something that invites spectacle. This almost always comes at the cost of the trans person’s right to privacy, and indeed their safety. Outing a trans person can open up that person to a number of harms from hate mail (physical and digital) and threatening phone calls, to physical threats and even violence. And, of course, this can coincide with losing friends, family, and employment. All of these are real, widespread possibilities, even in jurisdictions that have legal protections for trans people.


For the fantastic gains that transgender people have made in human rights and social acceptance, particularly in the last few years, we still have a very long way to go. Employment and housing discrimination is still widespread. In many American states, discriminating against someone for being transgender is still fully legal. However, outing someone who’s trans is considered harassment in many jurisdictions where discrimination based on gender identity and expression is prohibited, such as in Canada (particularly Ontario).

In a recent video interview, Maloney revealed that she felt a sense of relief about being out and, in an important sense, finally free to pursue her transition. I can relate to that experience. When you’re out, there isn’t the worry that you’ll be outed and the accompanying sense of panic that can produce (along with the many attendant potential harms).

But being out has its own costs. There’s often a bigger sense of safety to not being out, particularly for public figures.

Referring to transgender people’s past

One important issue is how to refer to a trans person’s past after a transition. I’m asked this question frequently. The short answer is that it depends on the preferences of the person in question: how do they want people to refer to their past? For some, they’re fine with people using their previous pronouns and even name (if they’ve changed their name as part of their transition). But many prefer their past to be referred to with their current name and pronouns. For example, if this is Maloney’s preference, people should only refer to her pre-transition past as “Kellie” and “she/her/hers.”

In general, the safest rule-of-thumb is to assume that the person wants their past referred to only with their current name and pronouns. Mistakenly referring to someone’s past using previous names or pronouns can be deeply hurtful, because it implicitly invalidates their identity. People who haven’t had to battle this often have a difficult time appreciating just how hurtful it can be.

Transgender people aren’t open books

Another frequent question I get involves what one can ask a trans person. For example, it’s common for people’s curiosity to get the best of them, and they’ll ask deeply personal questions. Perhaps the most common inappropriate question is whether a trans person will get or has had “the” surgery. I’ve written before about the barriers that trans people often face in seeking important healthcare. What’s important here is that not all trans people seek the same forms of treatment and that what treatment they do seek is deeply private information that should be left between them and their medical team and perhaps their closest family and friends.

I’m often amazed that, for example, otherwise polite people, who would nearly never walk up to an acquaintance or complete stranger and ask if they’ve had an abortion (or some other similarly private, personal medical information), will blithely ask a trans person whether they’re planning to have genital surgery. Curiosity isn’t a justification for this. If a trans person wants to initiate and to open up that conversation with you, then fine, but don’t think that it’s okay to ask these sorts of personal, private questions – it isn’t.

Since the visibility of trans people is a relatively new phenomenon, it’s understandable that people are intrigued by trans people’s experiences. People are often confronting a trans person for the first time (that they know about at least – they may well have already encountered a trans person and had no idea). People are curious. But unfortunately, this often translates into a trans person being seen as a living library on all things transgender. Trans people often face a barrage of questions: When did you know? Will you change your hair? Do you want me to take you shopping? How did your family react? How did your colleagues respond? Do you still like men/women? What’s involved with a transition?

These are all reasonable questions, in the right context. But those contexts usually involve more intimate conversations between friends and where the trans person has made it clear that they’re open to talk about such things. These questions are generally completely inappropriate between acquaintances and especially strangers.

Think to yourself whether you’d feel comfortable being asked parallel questions about your own life. I suspect that most of us would rather not face such questions, often day-in and day-out, as trans people do.

Dr. Rachel McKinnon is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the College of Charleston

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.        The Conversation
Lois Pryce... Life Without a Postcode. Lois lives on a boat with her husband.. Registering to vote in the election has prooved to be very difficult without a fixed residential post code. (David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Steven Fletcher scores the second goal for Scotland
cricketBut they have to bounce back to beat Gibraltar in Euro 2016 qualifier
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

    £6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

    £12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

    Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

    £32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

    Day In a Page

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing