Calpernia's List of Bad Questions to Ask a Transsexual Person
Yes, despite what you’ve been told, there is such a thing as a bad question! I’ve been in the public eye for more than a decade, and get asked shockingly inappropriate personal questions all the time. Most of them could be answered easily in the questioner’s own mind by thinking about it for around one second. What they’re usually really asking is, Do you know that I am judging you? And the answer to that is yes. This list may seem a little… angry, perhaps. But after so very many years, I would gamble to say that few people would handle these things as diplomatically as I try to do. If you’ve never asked me (or another person who has gone through transition) these questions, sit back and enjoy the list. If you have, don’t worry about it too much now, just think about it more next time. I am a Southerner through-and-through, so if you query me in person as to whether I minded that time you asked one of these questions, I will probably say, “No! Of course not!”, but I really did. I really, really did. Here are the ones I hate being asked the most, and in the spirit of the old MAD Magazine “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions”, here are some responses to them:
I know this question is on your list of Bad Questions, but I really want to know one of the things on the list! That “don’t ask” stuff doesn’t apply to ME, does it?
YES! For goodness’ sake, yes it all does apply to you! You’re probably the person who gets into the 11 Items or Less line at the supermarket with 20 items, aren’t you? All the same rules apply to you as to everyone else!
Don’t be offended when I ask you this, but…
Any question following this phrase has always been offensive. In every case.
Did your surgery hurt?
They’re using this new thing called anesthesia that pretty much covers the pain thing. Idiot!
What is/was your “real” name? What was your “old” name?
This one is a biggie. My real name is Calpernia Addams. What are you really asking here? Think about it. Most people ask this because:
- They don’t “really” consider me a woman, and while they’re willing to humor me by calling me Calpernia, they want the “truth” about who I am
- They “really” consider my current identity to be a fabrication
- They want to have something they can hold onto and “prove” that I’m “really” something other than what I seem. People use old names to hurt and control women who have transitioned, mocking them and using the name to keep them in their place. At best, it’s a rude question, and although you may be morbidly curious, don’t ask. There are things I wonder about you that I don’t ask, trust me.
- But everyone knows that Marilyn Monroe’s old/real name was Norma Jean! What’s the difference? Revealing Marilyn’s birth name doesn’t do anything to change her core human attributes like gender in a person’s mind. She’s still a woman by either name. Revealing the birth-assigned name of a person who has transitioned immediately invalidates or questions their gender to the average person.
- But so-and-so told me their old name! See the answer to “Can I see a picture of you before?”.
If someone ever uses my birth name, whether it’s a reporter in an interview, someone from my past or even a family member, I know that no matter what they say, they are specifically and maliciously trying to hurt my feelings and dismiss my identity. That is what you are doing when you apply a male name to me, I hear it the same way I’d hear you saying, “You suck and I want you to feel pain and unhappiness” while looking me directly in the eyes. We are “done” immediately once you have gone there. It’s been too many years for me to be seriously damaged by this, but it will still piss me off that you specifically and maliciously tried to make me feel bad.
Again, why? To satisfy your morbid curiosity? I know you look great now, but can I see a picture of you when you were a fat kid? Can I see a picture of you at the most humiliating, miserable moment of your life? Whether it’s to get a “Golly Gee!” sideshow look at a before and after, or to see what you consider the “real” me, it’s rude whether you mean it that way or not. So another woman who transitioned showed you hers and had no problem with it? Well, for many women who go through transition, any kind of approval or validation comes few and far between. Some are so eager to please, so lonely and otherwise rejected, that they will do or tell anything to get a pat on the back. And for some people who go through transition, it’s really about the process more than the result and they have an entirely different project going on than I. Some few women are selfless enough to share their before and after photos in controlled settings to inspire other transitioners or illustrate surgical outcomes for women considering similar procedures, and I do applaud that. But this isn’t a game, magic trick or sideshow for me, it’s overcoming a lifetime of miserable deformity to become who I really am. My painful struggle is not fodder for general entertainment.
There are plenty of terrible pictures of me out there, I’m the first to admit, and there will be plenty more to come, ha ha. Transition was not an easy process for me. I was not great looking before I began transition, and I had some pretty awkward early years. Heck, any attractiveness I have nowadays is strictly in the eye of the beholder.
I anticipate that as I continue my work in the public eye, there will be people from my past who are eager to show photos of my bad times. There are always some people who want to hurt others, and poison their achievements. So when those pictures ever do come to light, remember that you are looking at a very lonely, sad person struggling desperately to find the girl that they have always longed to see in the mirror. Every bad wig, harsh makeup job, cheap outfit was an attempt to feel beautiful when I was not beautiful. And if you ever chance to see a photo of me from when I had to try and live my life as a boy, know that the person you see was drowning in misery and self loathing and desperate unhappiness. These images will probably all someday come to light, and it will hurt and embarrass me a little, but I will survive that new meanness and continue on with my life.
As with the old name above, anyone sharing these pictures or a media outlet presenting these pictures in connection with discussing me should know that while I have certainly weathered worse cruelty, I will consider this a direct and malicious slap in the face, and we are “done” when it happens.
(Anything about my sex life)?
Absolutely none of your business.
(Anything about my genitals)?
- Absolutely none of your business. Would you ask any other business associate, new friend, actress or writer anything about their genitals? If you say yes, then you are weird.
- This is a favorite question from men, gay and straight alike. My brain tends to shut off as soon as I hear it. Usually the words “cut” and “off” are involved in these questions. Only because I know that not everyone is as up-to-speed on things as I am, I will say this:
A surgeon does not “cut off” a transwoman’s genitals during vaginoplasty. The idea that they would is actually kind of stupid, and if I thought that someone believed I had had my genitals “cut off”, I’d have to assume they thought I was insane. A good surgeon inverts and reshapes the existing tissue and nerves to create a working, sensate vagina/vulva.
As a side note, womanhood is not defined by the lack of a penis. For example, people think “cutting off” someone’s genitals or having vaginoplasty “makes” someone a woman. If you remove a man’s penis, a man who knows in his heart that he is a man is still a man, just one without a penis. Likewise I have considered many of my trans friends women, both before and after they had vaginoplasty. If you must define people by their genitals, then I think most non-trans women would prefer to think that the presence of a vagina is a defining characteristic for them, NOT the absence of a penis. For trans women, whose flesh has betrayed them, most seek self understanding from their feelings about their “soul” or “mind”.
No you can’t see it. Yes, I do mind if you ask me probing sexual questions about it within the first 20 minutes of our acquaintance. Don’t ever ask probing sexual questions about it unless we are dating or you have just bought me a steak dinner (Sizzler doesn’t count).
Do you date straight guys or gay guys?
Stupid question. What makes a gay guy all hot and bothered? Think Brad Pitt, Abercrombie & Fitch models, their football coach. Muscles and manliness and penises and so on. Do I look like any of those people? Do I have any of those attributes? Now, what makes a straight man aroused? Angelina Jolie, Victoria’s Secret models, their sister’s girlfriends. Long hair, soft skin and breasts and so on. Do I look like any of those people? Well, not even on my best day, but I’m more like them than I am like the guys I mentioned. Do I have those attributes? Yep. I have nothing a gay man wants from a lover. I have everything a straight man wants from a lover. So do the math.
Are you a man or a woman?
Think about it. Asking this question to anyone is going to insult them. Whatever they are. Don’t ever ask a human being this question.
** NEW ** Are you a tranny?
(Conversation with a gay/lesbian person in a gay/lesbian space such as a bar or event)
Them: Are you a tranny?
Me: What? Why on Earth do you ask that?
Them: (Petulant sigh) Girl, it’s just a question. Are
you or aren’t you? (unspoken: as a gay person, I am entitled to “go there”)
Me: I’m genuinely curious, why do you want to know? Why would you ask anyone
Them: Don’t get all bitchy, girl. I was giving you a compliment, you’re
Me: So your compliment was that I’m so pretty you could tell that I’m
a “tranny”? Go
I am not “ashamed” of having transitioned, it’s a historical fact in my life. My real problem with this question comes down to motivation. When a gay person (who doesn’t know me from other things) asks me this question out of the blue, it’s a subtle, bitchy way of telling me that they know my “secret”, that I’m not “getting away with anything”. It’s usually asked in the way that someone would ask “Oh are you wearing a girdle? You look so slim!” There’s always the possibility that a breathless, freshly-hatched fag hag might excitedly try out her newly developing trans-dar by attempting to confirm any blip she senses from me, in a genuine attempt to locate a fun new friend, but I can’t encourage negative behavior even when well-intentioned.
I think of you as a woman.
Not really a question, but it had to be mentioned. Saying this means you don’t, really. You’ve never said this to your mom, sister or female friends.
…”Tootsie”, and I feel like I really understand what you’re going through!
I’ve seen “Dumb and Dumber”, and I feel the same way about you.
…”Silence of the Lambs” and I wouldn’t want a transsexual teaching my children.
I’ve seen “American Psycho” and I wouldn’t want a heterosexual yuppie teaching my children.
…transsexual porn, and I think you’re hot/gross!
I’ve seen MILF porn, and I think your mom is hot/gross.
Hey, I know you’re in line to see the latest Disney movie with some friends and a date, but I just wanted to bring up your boyfriend’s brutal murder and the subsequent media circus.
Please don’t do this to me any more. It has been eight years, and I sincerely want to keep my thoughts on Barry to myself nowadays. Discussing it briefly in an interview is one thing, but it is not casual social conversation. I know that the movie Soldier’s Girl has touched the hearts of many, many people just as it’s work and performances touched mine. I do appreciate everyone’s kind sympathy, and I don’t blame people for wanting to express an appreciation for the film. I would only ask that you consider the moment (GLBT event: Ok but keep it brief, Birthday party at Chuck E Cheese’s: wait for another time) and not get too deep into it. Most questions are better answered in my Soldier’s Girl section of this site.
I used to know this person who was a transsexual back in (wherever) named (whatever). Do you know her?
I used to know this person who asked a lot of dumb questions back in your home state. Do you know them?
My hairdresser is a transsexual/the checkout girl at my gas station is a transsexual/etc
To be honest, I don’t really care. Do you tell a new Asian person you’ve just met, “The girl who does my nails is Asian!” I get that you’re trying to show that you’re cool and aware, but I’ve done the tolerant nodding thing on this for enough years that I think I’ve paid my dues on it and can stop listening. Let’s talk about other things!
My advice: Take me at face value. Treat me the same as you’d want your sister or Mom treated by a stranger. And watch your manners! I am not a curiosity for you to poke at, laugh at, marvel at or judge.
- Bachelorettes & Birthday People! Something Different! Drag Queens, Live Singing & Burlesque GODDESS Show!
- Video Released: “Likin’ Big Dicks” (Like a G6 Parody)
- NEW MUSIC: “Likin’ Big Dicks” (The Gay Parody of “Like a G6″)
- Get a Bad Questions T-Shirt and Help Deep Stealth!
- 4 Day Fundraiser #2! A Night on the Town with Calpernia & Andrea!
- Wow, Rent "Transproofed" on YouTube for only $2.99
- Calpernia Interviewed at San Jose State University
- Hey LA: You already killed gay marriage. Lay off RuPaul.
- UNREAL: The Music Video
- Bid on Calpernia's Shepard Fairey Print for Equality!