By Tyler Ford
My name is Tyler Ford, and I’m a queer, transgender writer and advocate. Ever since I came out as trans on national television on “The Glee Project” three years ago, I’ve received tons of questions and calls for advice about being LGBTQA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Asexual)-identified, and about life in general. I’ve carved out a space here to share my life experience with you, and to discuss any fears, feelings and curiosities you may not feel comfortable talking about with anyone else.
So let's get started with the questions!
When is it OK/is it ever OK to out a transgender person in conversation -- when they're not around? I run into this question a lot because I have a friend who, like you, uses the pronoun "they." When other people see posts or hear stories involving this friend, and use a gendered pronoun, am I supposed to correct them?
It is never ok to out someone as transgender without their consent -- not only does it take away their agency, but it can be dangerous and cause real harm to the person being outed.
This is something you need to discuss with your friend, because there is no “one size fits all” answer. Everyone has different boundaries and what makes one person comfortable could compromise another person’s safety.
Is your friend out to everyone they know? Are they only out to certain people? Talk with them about whether they would like you to correct other people on their pronouns. Ask them if there are people in their life who they cannot come out to, or have not come out to yet, and what pronouns you should use to refer to them in those situations. Ask them how they feel about you talking to strangers about them. Are there certain terms they want you to use? Do these terms change depending on who you are talking to? These are some of the things you can only find out through having an open discussion with your friend.
On the other hand, when talking about trans people who are publicly out (like myself or Caitlyn Jenner -- or maybe your friend, should they tell you this), you should always correct people who are using incorrect pronouns and terms. This can be as casual as “Tyler’s pronouns are they/them.” If they don’t understand or don’t know how to use them, you can educate them further, but talking about trans people is not always a huge teaching moment.
If you know a trans person who is stealth (someone who is not out as trans, but moves through the world as a gender different from the one assigned to them at birth), it is never appropriate to out them, or to allude to their trans status.
Example: If you are old friends with Jason, who is trans, and you introduce Jason to someone else, it is up to Jason and only Jason whether he will tell this new person that he is trans. You should never open the conversation with, “This is Jason, my trans friend." By introducing him as your "trans friend," you are outing him against his will as well as reducing him to a single characteristic that does not define who he is (and that is, frankly, not anyone's business).
Why not just introduce Jason the way you would introduce anyone else? “This is my friend Jason. We went to high school together.” From there, he can decide what he wants to tell this new person about his life. If he never tells this person he’s trans, that is his decision and a valid one at that.
The bottom line is: Communication and consent are of the utmost importance. Check in with your trans friends about their boundaries in order to learn how to best support them.
What do you think media can do to increase and improve the representation of marginalized people?
Give us the space and the platforms to be able to share our stories and our work. And hire us. We need our voices boosted and amplified; we don’t need people to speak for us. As marginalized people with real talent, we should be both behind-the-scenes and in front of the camera in order to tell our stories accurately, and in order to get more of our stories out there. Our work is as worthy of time, money and resources as anyone else’s.
If people keep asking, “Why aren’t there more trans people in media?” without analyzing their own behavior and how they are leaving us out -- whether intentionally or not -- we will not get far. The world is not lacking in talent of underrepresented people; rather, the media often fails to provide underrepresented people with the opportunities to showcase our talents.
And where are all of the trans people playing trans roles in TV and film? Imagine if a trans woman played Jared Leto’s Academy-Award winning role in “Dallas Buyers Club” instead of Jared Leto. People rarely cast trans folks in cis roles, so when cis people are cast in trans roles, what is left for trans actors?
We also need more people of color playing the roles of characters of color. We need more disabled actors playing disabled characters. We need LGBTQA+ writers writing LGBTQA+ roles, as well as LGBTQA+ consultants working behind-the-scenes in media and beyond. To make representation a reality, we need the tangible support of everyone who already has an established position working in the media. Saying, “I support you” is not enough -- we need people in power to extend their hands to lift us up to where we need to be.
Thanks you for trusting me with your questions! If you have questions or need advice, send your concerns to me via Twitter and Instagram @tywrent. Tag your questions with #heytyler! For longer or more private questions and concerns, you can message me at facebook.com/heytylerford. Your questions will be posted anonymously.