Invisible Disability Stigma

If your reflex is to imagine a wheelchair user when you hear or read about people with disabilities, there are several poignant issues that can pass you by. There are plenty of disabilities not readily apparent to the onlooker, these are termed “invisible disabilities” or “hidden disabilities”. They include some chronic pain conditions and mental illnesses, to name just two broad categories. For some people, the visibility of their disability fluctuates with the severity of symptoms on any given day.


Not everyone with a disability, visible or invisible, is prevented from working. For those who are however, most developed countries provide a State benefit of some kind. A recent post discussed the design of these benefits.


People with invisible disabilities are often subjected to harsh judgement for not working. The reason they don’t work may not be common knowledge and some people may assume they are long-term unemployed by choice or doubt the validity of their disability because it’s not apparent to them as casual onlookers.


Amidst the criticism from relatives or acquaintances, there is also the dreaded question from strangers; “What do you do?” Anyone who has ever been unemployed for even the shortest length of time knows the discomfort this question can cause. For those with invisible disabilities, the choice is between deception, deflection or facing potential judgement as an indolent fraud.


Disability is not shameful, but social stigma is humiliating.


The decision to grant state disability benefit involves the consideration of their full medical file, communication with their own doctor and any consultants, in some cases an interview and/or a home visit (which may or may not be announced in advance).  After all of this, the benefit was granted. Yet, these people still face suspicion from people who have no access or right to that wealth of personal information.


There are systemic issues that unnecessarily expose people to these social difficulties. The following section provides some examples from just one sector of the public infrastructure, public transport. However, it’s important to note that people with invisible disabilities face well documented challenges and prejudicial preconceptions in many areas of life, including healthcare, education, employment, socialising and even parking. Parents of children with invisible disabilities also encounter negative attitudes and judgements.


It becomes clear that two problems exist. The root problem is this; people with invisible disabilities face prejudice and social stigma. The secondary problem is that many areas of public infrastructure are entirely insensitive to that experience.


Public Transport

Some governments provide free public travel passes to people with disabilities, visible and invisible, in order to supplement the State benefit or meet additional needs. Passengers with disabilities usually have to display these passes either when purchasing a ticket or in lieu of one.

For those with invisible disabilities, having to proclaim their disability status in public can expose them to prejudicial hostility and social exclusion or disapproval. So long as this remains the case, these passenger transactions should be made as smoothly as possible and restricted to the necessary personnel. Disability is not shameful, but social stigma is humiliating.


Readers can investigate the travel passes and tickets provided to persons with disabilities in their own territory and compare them to the suggested layout below.

I’ve witnessed the queue-halting scrutiny of a travel pass when the passenger has no visible disability. And I have heard drivers demand identification from persons they had assumed were not the rightful owners of such passes because their disability was not visible.


To verify the authenticity of a pass is part of their duty and rightfully so. However when it comes at the expense of a person’s privacy and results in public humiliation, I have to wonder if there’s not a better way?


In the ideal world, all free travel passes would superficially resemble common forms of travel card, being similar in shape and size, though clearly marked for drivers/conductors as a free travel card. In addition, a photograph should be included on the card, rather than requiring the passenger to produce separate photographic identification on demand. This also reduces the prevalence of travel card theft and subsequent fraud.


Furthermore, such travel cards should be compatible with electronic turnstiles and entry points, if any exist within the infrastructure. This removes the necessity for persons with disabilities, visible or invisible, to request assistance from staff. For those with invisible disabilities, requesting special assistance not only separates them out from others, often unnecessarily, but it also forces them to disclose their disability to any travelling companions. While invisible disabilities are still publicly regarded with such suspicion, that disclosure to people who are not in official positions, should be a choice.


Finally, tickets provided to persons with disabilities should superficially resemble other tickets. Some governments mark these tickets or colour them differently, to ensure that drivers or conductors are aware that this passenger may have additional needs. However, if the differences are so distinct, some passengers with disabilities will feel they have to hide their tickets, or even purchase standard tickets, just to maintain their privacy in the company of others or avoid judgment.


It becomes clear that two problems exist. The root problem is this; people with invisible disabilities face prejudice and social stigma. The secondary problem is that many areas of public infrastructure are entirely insensitive to that experience.

Related Resources:

Invisible Disabilities: “The challenges of identifying and disclosing disabilities that others can’t see” – Psychology Today.

Invisible Disability in the Workplace – Yonge Street Media.

Living with an Invisible Disability – [Video] One man with an invisible disability dispels myths and discusses his first-hand experiences prejudice and stigma.


Deafness and Hearing Loss

Deafness, re-imagined in a cultural and social vacuum, would not be a disability. But deafness in a hearing world is disabling. Not all of that is directly related to the inability to hear.

A recent post briefly referenced the social model of disability. It used this neat summary:

“The social model of disability identifies systemic barriers, negative attitudes and exclusion by society (purposely or inadvertently) that mean society is the main contributory factor in disabling people.” –Wikipedia

Rachel Kolb’s TEDx talk never explicitly references the social model of disability. Nevertheless, some of the information Ms. Kolb provides, particularly the surprising statistics on outcomes for deaf children born to deaf parents compared with those born to hearing parents, can be seen as evidence of our society disabling people in unexpected and completely unnecessary ways.


I also want to suggest this video which provides excellent advice for hearing people on how to communicate with deaf people and those who are hard of hearing:


Learn More

If you have an interest in learning more about this topic, there are plenty of resources out there, it’s not just limited to video media. Youtubers however can offer some insight by uploading advice, examples of daily life and their personal experiences. Just bear in mind that no one person is representative of an entire community.

The playlist below provides a sample of those videos. It ranges from people delivering personal experiences and opinions, to explanations of assistive technology that people may use. And if you’re wondering what assistive technology means in a broader sense, here’s a video for that too.


Related Links:

Rachel Kolb on Lip Reading – Standford Magazine

Better interactions with transgender family members, friends and acquaintances

This piece discusses some Trans* issues, it deals predominantly with transgender people who identify as male or female and choose to undergo medical intervention to various degrees (for example hormone therapy and surgery). However many aspects will apply to people who are not opting for medical treatment of any kind.

For those who aren’t completely familiar with the topic, please read this rough guide to the terminology.

Whether it’s from a cisgender family member, a friend, colleague or new acquaintance, transgender people often hear uncomfortable remarks and questions. Much of this is well-meant curiosity or advice. However, it can overstep the boundaries of person’s privacy and it quickly stacks up as each friend and relative has a harmless question they want to ask or another piece of advice they want to give.

These are some of the things transgender people regularly hear and often find uncomfortable or offensive. Some of them may seem obvious intrusions but others are less obvious. Please do read all of them.

What Not to Say to a Transgender Person and Why

If you’re completely new to this then please note that it’s considered disrespectful and often hurtful to refer to somebody using the wrong pronouns (eg. he, she, him, her) or their former name. It may take time to feel natural but please do try and if you slip up, correct yourself and then move on without drawing any attention to it. They will appreciate it.

“You should [blank] to look/sound more male/female” or “If you want to “pass” you should [insert gender stereotype here].”

Your friend, etc. already has a wealth of internet resources to help them in this area if they wish. Any behaviours or choices you notice that are not traditionally male/female are probably intentional choices for which they have their own reasons. Just as many cisgender people do not conform to traditional gender roles for their own reasons.


“You look like a real man/woman” or “You look just like a man/woman”

This makes it seem as though you believe your friend etc. is impersonating a man/woman rather than simply being themselves and living according to their gender identity. If you want to go one step further than simply omitting this statement, consider instead broadening your own concept of what a man or woman is, ie. She is a woman. Specifically, she is transgender woman, though you needn’t add that modifier any more than you need to specify when someone is a cisgender woman.


Similarly, “I think of you as a [gender identity].”

This isn’t something that cisgender people are told, singling out your transgender friend, etc. to tell them as much suggests that you think of them as anything but their genuine gender identity.


“What do you have down there?”

I’m sure it’s obvious to most people that this is an inappropriate question to ask anybody, transgender, cisgender or otherwise. Unfortunately, transgender people are often asked variations of this question. And because some people will go on asking questions like this, it’s even more important for friends and family of transgender people not to add to these invasions of privacy with less obvious but similarly uncomfortable remarks. So please, read on!




“Have you had the surgery?” or “When are you having the surgery” or “Are you having the surgery?”

Firstly, not everyone opts for surgery. There is also no set number of surgeries. Some people opt only to have one surgery but they could go further along the medical route if they chose. There may be as many as five or six surgeries required in addition to surgical revisions to improve results.  Secondly, let it be a person’s choice whether or not they share this information with you, as well as how and when they do so.


“Are you going all the way?”

See above.

“What size are you going for?” or “Here’s how I think you should get your [body part] done” or “Take it from someone who’s had [body part] all their lives.”

This is pointless because all surgical decisions must be made in conjunction with a medical consultant. And unless you are that medical consultant, this really isn’t your business. Transgender people frequently deal with their genitalia being discussed as though it were public property or a matter of public interest – please don’t add to this for them by being one more person who does so.


“What’s it like now that you’ve had [blank] surgery?”

Surgeries and their outcomes are private, a person may or may not be pleased with the outcome. If someone wishes to share that information with you, they will. But allow it to be their choice. Consider instead asking them how they’re feeling and recovering after their surgery. This shows genuine concern without appearing voyeuristic and overly curious.


“What will you do when you have [body part]?” or “How will you feel when you have [body part]?”

Just how uncomfortable this is will depend on the body part. If it relates to having sex, the question may come off as voyeuristic and feel like an invasion of privacy.

In addition, your friend is unlikely to feel any more “like a man/woman” than they already do. They will most likely feel relieved, it may make their life easier and so on. But when you ask this question, they may believe that you think of them as being other than a man/woman until they’ve had this surgery.


“I bet you/your partner are really looking forward to that!”

This may be a joke to the speaker but again, transgender people frequently hear others discuss their genitals and their sex lives as though they’re public property. In addition to this, the statement implies that a couples’ sex life cannot be satisfactory or complete until a certain surgery or without a particular body part. Commentary on other people’s sex lives, even as a well-humoured joke, is generally inappropriate. Negative commentary usually causes offence.


“A sex change”

Avoid the phrase “sex change” surgery or “a sex change”. Firstly, because what is meant by this term actually takes more than one surgery and extensive hormone therapy. But more significantly because this term is outdated and harkens back to a time when Trans* people were considered “freaks shows” and later as fodder for poorly made talk shows. An attitude which unfortunately still partially informs how society regards transgender people today.


Comparing surgical procedures to “superficial” cosmetic procedures

Surgeries that do not directly affect a person’s physical health but rather alter their appearance in some way are deemed to be cosmetic surgeries. To deem all of these surgeries “superficial” however would be to drastically understate the effect that they may have on a person’s mental health. This is not limited to surgeries that a transgender person has as part of transitioning. However, those surgeries are of the utmost importance to their mental health. As such, they should be regarded as health care and not as luxuries as these comparisons are often intended to suggest, nor should their importance be trivialised.


Asking transgender people these types of questions is just as inappropriate as it would be to ask a cisgender person about their genitals or sex life.



“I know someone who cross-dresses.”

These are different two situations and different experiences. Crossdressers don’t necessarily have any conflict between biological sex and gender identity. Referencing cross-dressing is likely to make the other person feel as though you think of them as merely adopting the guise of a particular gender when in fact they identify as that gender.


“I know someone who performs drag.”

Referencing drag performance is likely to make your friend, etc. feel that you think of them as a male/female impersonator who needs to “act” as something other than they are. Whereas in fact, by living according to their gender identity, they may feel that for first time in their life, they no longer have to act.


“Is that like a transvestite?”

No, it’s not. The term transvestite, while still used by some, has largely been abandoned due to negative connotations. It also refers to an entirely different experience, see the two paragraphs above.


“I know how you feel, I cross-dress or am a transvestite.”

If you are versed in terminology and involved in the wider Trans* community or consume Trans* media or content, it’s possible that you will have some areas of common interest. But the experiences and feelings are different. It’s important to remember that the other person permanently feels like, and identifies as, their particular gender.


“I know someone who’s gay..”

This a very different thing. Gender identity and sexual orientation are completely unrelated. While both groups are minorities and are marginalised in society, their experiences will be different (though for some people, there will be an overlap – there is some information about sexual orientation and transgender people below). To an extent, the two groups share a community, but not every gay or transgender person chooses to participate in that community. This applies to all gender, romantic and sexual minorities – while there can be overlap, as there is among cisgender people and there is a common community, try not to lump these minorities together as though they’re one.


How does your partner feel about that?

Firstly, this implies that you assume their being transgender would be problem for any partner or potential partner. Needless to say, this may make your friend etc. feel that you are suggesting they are less attractive or loveable. Secondly, while many transgender people do experience relationship problems or divorce upon coming out, many others are able to transition with the support of a loving partner (if you are dating a transgender person, there are links related to that further on). It is considerate to let someone know that you’re there for them if they do experience difficulties of any nature, but zoning in on or prying into somebody else’s relationship is always inadvisable. This also relates to the next question.


“How did your family take it?”

Realistically, there is a chance that the person’s family (or social group, colleagues etc.) reacted negatively to their decision to transition. If so, is that really anybody else’s business and is it likely that they would want to discuss something which may be quite hurtful? As with so many other things, let it be their choice if, when and how they discuss it with you.

“We’re not your soap opera,” quips one Youtuber in discussing this question.

Also be aware that in some circumstance, this question can suggest that you prioritise the impact it has had on their family, over the significance that coming out and transitioning holds for your friend, etc. It make it seem as though you believe your friend, etc. has done something negative or inflicted something awful on their family. When in fact, their alternative to transitioning may be a life of unhappiness and possibly even one they find unbearable.


“This is very difficult for me.”

It can be very difficult for family members to come to terms with what appears to be a new identity. But know that your relative is exactly the same person they always were, you’ve just learned something new about them, that’s all. Their name and pronouns may change, but your relationship won’t and what is more, you have the chance to strengthen it by being supportive at a time when they probably need it and the chance to get to know even more about them as they get to be entirely themselves without reservation or apology, for the first time.

I would suggest that you seek resources to help you manage any difficulty you’re having in coming to terms with it. But avoid language that may make them feel guilty or ashamed or may give the impression that you prioritise the feelings you’re experiencing now over those they may have secretly and silently endured for their lifetime. Not to mention the feelings of apprehension they will be experiencing as they prepare to tell others and perhaps also tackle what can at first seem a daunting medical bureaucracy and intervention.


“Why did you choose your name?”

This may be fine for some people, but it’s best to let them tell you if they want to rather than asking them. If you don’t like the name somebody has chosen, it’s as well to keep that to yourself as it would be if you didn’t like a cisgender person’s name. Your friend, etc. is the one who has to live with the name, so all that matters is that they like it.


“You haven’t made it easy for yourself.”

This statement is based on the false premise that it is a person’s choice to be transgender. It is a choice to “come out” as transgender, it is a choice to transition (although the alternative may feel impossible and in-viable) but being transgender itself is not a choice. A cisgender man doesn’t choose to “feel” male, yet he does and he would continue to feel that way even if his body were surgically and hormonally altered. That’s his gender identity and he didn’t choose it. The same applies to transgender people.  Steer clear of this statement as it makes the transgender person responsible for something that is entirely beyond their control. And if they could feel comfortable and happy without going through the difficulties associated with being transgender, they most certainly would.




“How do you go to the bathroom?” or “Do you still stand/sit?” or “It’s okay, I sometimes sit.”

This just isn’t anybody else business. That’s it.


“Which bathroom do you use?”

If you want to reassure a newly transitioning or even a newly-hired transgender employee that they can use whichever bathroom they prefer, that can be a good idea. Do it discretely and leave it at that. Asking the question however, is different. It’s probably going to be considered an invasion of privacy. It’s also a surprisingly sensitive issue. Navigating public bathrooms can be a major anxiety for transgender people, particularly those who are transitioning.

We think of bathrooms as being sex-segregated but the truth is that judgements are made not based on anatomy, but on general appearance and presentation. Transgender people may face disapproving looks, comments, harassment and even violence if they are judged by others to be in the “wrong” bathroom. This can happen in either or even both bathrooms depending on how their appearance is perceived by others. This also happens to other non-traditionally presenting people, who are judged to be in the “wrong” bathroom.

If you see someone who you perceive as being in the “wrong” bathroom, leave them to it. As long as they’re in there for the same basic functions as everyone else and are doing no harm, it really has no impact on anybody else. They have probably made that decision to avoid endangering their safety and/or privacy, as well as their own personal comfort.


“How do you have sex?”

This is an inappropriate question to ask anyone and frankly, there is a huge amount of variation in how couples of all types have sex, whether they are same-sex or opposite-sex couples, whether they are cisgender, transgender or any combination or variation. Also, transgender people are no more or less sexually experimental than cisgender people. Once again, the fact that transgender people are asked questions like this provides more reason for those who care about a transgender person not to add to their sense of invaded privacy in other ways.


“Is that a wig?” or “Is that your real hair?”

Compliments can be nice. But comments of this nature about a person’s hair can make them feel self-conscious.


“What size are your feet?” “It’s a shame your hands are so small/big.” “Will your hands/feet/height change?”

Once again, comments like this may make your friend, etc. feel self-conscious.


“What do you do with your [body part]?” or “Do you bind your chest?”

Referring to body parts that a person may be uncomfortable with is generally a bad idea. People will sometimes have questions about various body parts, but this again belongs in the category of being nobody else’s business. If you absolutely have to refer to body parts, which is unlikely outside of medical scenarios, it may be better to use neutral terms such as “chest” and “genitals” rather than referring to body parts your friend etc. is uncomfortable with in terms that will increase that discomfort.


Requests to see or touch surgical sites, scarring or body parts are entirely inappropriate. Unless of course you’re a doctor and you have a good medical reason for needing to see or touch the site!

Asking people these types of questions is as inappropriate as it would be to ask a cisgender person about their sex lives, bathroom usage or body parts.



These are questions often asked or statements frequently made by cisgender people as they try to gain insight into or express an interest in the experience of a transgender person. This can happen both when a person is “coming out” and afterwards as someone learns that the person is transgender.


“When did you decide to become a man/woman?” or “How is it now that you’re changing into a man/woman?”

Transgender people identify as their preferred gender. Their body may be changing and the pronouns used to refer to them may change. Their name may change. But the one thing that isn’t changing is their personal identification as a man/woman. That is the thing that remains certain, while other aspects are brought into alignment with it. As such, words and phrases like “become” or “change into” or “used to be” a man/woman, are inaccurate and most likely hurtful.  As for the word “decide”, see “You haven’t made it easy for yourself” above.


“What’s it like to be transgender?”

When you frame this question so casually, it can suggest that you expect an equally straight-forward and easy answer. Being transgender is a part of how your friend, etc. experiences the world and everything in it. They have been transgender every moment of their lives. There is no way to sum up that entire experience and dispense it in one or two convenient sentences.

“There’s a person at my supermarket who is transgender” and similar statements.

Firstly this assumes that all transgender people are somehow automatically interested in the existence of other transgender persons and particularly those in the vicinity. If they are interested, there are online communities and meet-ups they can join and attend. However, the other alarming factor here is that the speaker has taken it upon themselves to mention someone else’s transgender status (with or without including their whereabouts), seeing that person as a topic for discussion. Your transgender friend, etc. may worry that you will use them in conversation or discuss their transgender status as a form of gossip.


“I saw Chaz Bono on TV” or “Conchita Wurst in the Eurovision” etc.

The latter is not transgender but rather a drag queen who like many drag queens, uses female pronouns to describe his female on-stage persona. That matter aside, transgender people are individuals just as cisgender people are. And while they may have this one particular thing in common with the celebrity figure of your choice, they may not like the idea of being lumped in with every other transgender person in existence. In addition, your friend, etc. may hear about it endlessly every time a transgender celebrity appears on television or a new reality show featuring a transgender person is aired. If so, they’ll likely be quite tired of hearing it. Likewise…


“I saw a TV show about a person who was transgender.”

While it might be valuable to watch a well made documentary, do bear in mind that the experiences of transgender people vary, as do their preferred terms and descriptions of their experiences. Those you see on television are not representative of the entire transgender population. Hence…


Anything at all about being “trapped the wrong body”.

While some people do describe their experience as one of being trapped in the wrong body, many people feel that while they may opt to alter some parts of their body, it is very much theirs. For these people, they are more likely to feel trapped by a multi-headed hydra of bureaucracy, a healthcare system, a society that awards them less respect and privacy than it does to others or in some cases a financially constrained situation that prevents them from getting the treatment they need.


On Preferred Language…

I have used the word “transitioning” throughout this piece. The word is frequently used by many people to describe the process of permanently altering their gender presentation to agree with their gender identity. However, not everyone will be comfortable with this word as it may be reminiscent of such terms as “becoming” or “changing”. As with all of this, take your lead from how the individual talks about themselves and what language they employ.

On related note, I have used the term “preferred gender” purely for explanatory purposes. Although it’s a common term, I would advise the term “gender identity” instead wherever possible.


“What was your name?” or “What is your real name?”

A person’s birth name is probably associated in their own mind with years of privately-held unhappiness and perhaps depression, as well as experiences that they may have found uncomfortable and even degrading, with or without being consciously aware of the reason, such as having to wear traditionally gender-specific clothing or attend single-sex schooling etc.

For some, that experience with all its degradation, discomfort, confusion, repression and fear can be encompassed by a single word, their birth name. Some people may tell your their former name, but never ask it. And incidentally, the name a person was assigned at birth is no more “real” than the name they have chosen. There is also a reasonable chance that their chosen name is now their legal name, but in the vast majority of interactions, that distinction won’t be relevant.


“Can I see a picture of you before?” or “What did you sound like before?”

These questions remind people of a time they may not have been particularly happy and does so by referring to areas that directly contributed to their unhappiness, that is, their appearance and presentation. As questions, these serve no function but to indulge idle curiosity. Equally, showing your friend etc. photographs or recordings of themselves in the past may make them intensely uncomfortable.


“Did you always know?” or “When did you know?”

Like a person’s birth name, the time referenced may be a very uncomfortable one for the person to discuss. They may choose to discuss it with you, but let it be their choice.




References to “when you were a man/woman” or “when you were [birth name]”.

This person has likely never felt they were anything other than their preferred gender. It may cause feelings of discomfort or humiliation to hear you refer to them this way. Thankfully, you can easily alter this statement to “before you transitioned” or “before you went for treatment/hormone therapy” depending on their own choice of terminology. However, is it really necessary to use their transition as the time reference?

And is the question or statement so important that it requires you to mention what was most likely an extremely uncomfortable and unhappy time in that person’s life, for that very reason? Some people may be fine with direct references to their history, but know that others will not, though they may not show it. As mentioned before, take your lead from how they talk about themselves and what language they employ.


“This is my transgender friend.”

Never introduce somebody as being transgender and never disclose or discuss their transgender status to others. Some people are very open about being transgender, but that is their choice and not everybody will feel the same way for a variety of reasons.


On using the right pronouns in professional writing..

While the entire body of terminology may be quite daunting, pronouns are pretty easy. Pronouns should always match the person’s gender identity and not the sex assigned at birth, even when you’re referring to the person pre-transition. This error is quite common in news articles where the subject is described as, for instance, a transgender woman and then referred to by her former name (which there is no need to mention at all) and using male pronouns. As mentioned previously, apart from being quite hurtful to many transgender people, it is also disrespectful. Furthermore, in this context, it misleads and miseducates the public, poorly equipping them for interactions with transgender people in their own lives.


Any use whatsoever of the words “tranny” or “shemale” or “he-she”.

Some people will use the word “tranny” to describe themselves, but the vast majority will consider it extremely offensive. Similarly, while the term “hermaphrodite” has been used by the medical profession in the past to describe people with intersex conditions, it is now largely considered a derogatory term. When you consider the material on this list and the length of the list itself, even a joke of this nature is just another unnecessary addition to the ongoing commentary, jibes, etc. that your transgender friend, etc. has to endure.


“Are you a man or a woman?”

Never ask this question, of anyone. It’s horrendously rude. If you know someone falls into the Trans* category and you’re unsure how to refer to them, you can ask what their preferred pronouns are.


“Wait, you’re transgender and gay?”

Finally, gender and sexual orientation are unrelated and same general rules of categorisation apply to both cisgender and transgender people. For instance, a transgender man (transman) who is attracted only to men is gay. A transgender woman (transwoman) who is attracted only men is straight.

Incidentally, the same categories apply in reverse; a cisgender woman attracted to a transgender woman is gay or bisexual etc. I could provide a vast range of examples by utilising different combinations of gender identity and sexual orientation, but these examples will suffice for now.

If you are dating a transperson and want to learn more from that perspective, here is a link to one of many relevant videos. This is one of several videos by the same Youtuber on that topic.

So the last item on the list is this: Don’t question whether or not there was any point in a gay transgender person transitioning, of course there was. They want to be happy, comfortable, healthy etc. and that’s independent of the sex of any person they’re attracted to or with whom they are in a relationship.

If you’re still confused by this, here is a NSFW Youtube video of a bisexual transgender man and a gay woman discussing the topic in a very light, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, fashion. It’s quite tame but I’ve marked it NSFW (not safe for work) because it briefly features two men in their underwear.


Remind me, why this is important?

I will also leave you with a video entitled “Cis Curiosity” by one Youtuber who talks about what it is like to be asked these questions. There are no shortage of these videos on Youtube. This particular video addresses the feeling of dehumanization that some transgender people experience having been asked these questions repeatedly and had their privacy completely disregarded on a regular basis.

“Bottom surgery” in this video refers to genital surgeries, as opposed to “top surgery” which refers to the chest. There is also a sterilization surgery required in many countries and optional in others.

If you made it here, I thank and applaud you. Now you’ve read it, please go ahead and share it.



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Better Interactions with Transgender Family Members, Friends and Acquaintances by EqualitySpectrum is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. This means that for non-commercial use you can easily share, copy or adapt it in any format or medium as long as you follow the few simple rules explained here.

A rough guide to some Trans* terminology

This is not intended as a stand-alone post but rather to work as a reference guide to supplement the post “Guide to better interactions with transgender family members, friends or acquaintances“.

The term “sex” here refers to a person’s biological status. Contrary to popular belief, in humans, sex is not determined by any one trait or feature. Determination relies instead on internal as well as external organs, the presence or absence of a Y-chromosome, hormones and the presence or absence of testes or ovaries. If these five factors agree in a typical fashion, a person is classified as either biologically male or female accordingly.

The term “gender identity” refers to a person’s own sense and subjective experience of their gender. This is what the American Psychological Association’s Definition of Terms calls “one’s sense of oneself as male, female..” etc. Though simplified, those are the standard definitions for these two terms and they are recognised as being distinct from one another, though not everyone is aware of the fact.

Transgender people are those whose gender identity does not unambiguously align in the typical manner with their biological sex (that is, the sex assigned to them at birth). Some of these people choose to undergo medical treatment to alter their bodies, others do not, according to what is right for them and their own needs.


Cisgender is the medical term for people who are not Transgender, people whose biological sex and gender identity conform with each other. The majority of people are therefore cisgender.


Transgender is actually an umbrella term because it encompasses a vast array of non-traditional possibilities, though the two most common are MTFs (male-to-female) and FTMs (female-to-male). These initialisms refer first to the assigned sex and then to the person’s gender identity.

Under this umbrella is the word transsexual. This is a very specific term used to describe people who opt for some degree of medical treatment. Some people reject the term transsexual, feeling that it is too often and too easily shortened to the derogatory word “tranny” or because they feel it may lead to others placing a greater emphasis on sex and sexuality when discussing their transgender status.


Transgender is often shortened to “trans” and it is sometimes used in this way to describe people who choose not to take medical action and by those who do opt for medical intervention but reject the term transsexual. To differentiate between the descriptive term for MTFs and FTMs who do or do not opt for medical treatment and the term as an umbrella which includes people of non-binary gender identity (people who don’t identify unambiguously as men or women), the categorical, umbrella term is increasingly written as Trans* with an asterisks.


In short, trans/transgender may mean a male or female identifying person whose biological sex is female or male respectively. Meanwhile Trans* with an asterisk refers to a broad variety of non-typical gender identities, including MTFs and FTMs, among many others.


The broad category Trans* also includes people who are born with interex conditions. This is a range of conditions in which a person is born with a sexual or reproductive anatomy that cannot be defined as typically male or typically female. Although these conditions are present from birth, they may not always be apparent. Exterior genitalia may appear to be one sex, while internal organs conform to another etc. Many people do not discover they are intersex until later in life or not at all.

This is not a complete explanation of terminology but hopefully it will be helpful to those who are unfamiliar with the language surrounding this topic.

If still you’re finding it at all difficult to understand, I suggest you have a look at The Genderbread Person 2.0 which explains some complex issues with clear language and a nice visual representation too.

Placing persons with disabilities at-risk of poverty

Absolute poverty refers to the inability to acquire vital means for survival, such as food, water, shelter and a minimum standard of sanitation. Relative poverty is an economic inequality calculated within the context of the society in which a person lives. It is usually given as a percentage of the average income for that society.

In the EU, a person whose income is below 60% of the median income (midpoint between lowest and highest) for their country of residence is said to be “at-risk-of poverty”. Whether or not they will experience (relative) poverty will depend on a number of factors such as the just how far below that 60% threshold they are, possession of assets, if any and of course, how long they’ve been at risk of poverty.

“Generally people who have been below an “at-risk-of poverty” line for several years are likely to be in a more extreme situation than those who are only in such a situation for a short time.”  – European Anti-Poverty Network

In addition, the EAPN highlight implications and aspects of poverty that go beyond a mere financial statement, such as indebtedness, inadequate housing and poor living conditions, ill-health, educational disadvantage and unemployment etc. Many of these things are enough to put someone into poverty, but they are also the effects of being there.

With all that in mind, let’s consider Ireland, a country with whose at-risk of poverty population is roughly in line with EU averages. To be at-risk of poverty in 2011, a single person’s annual income after tax would need to be lower than €10,889 (to see exactly what goes into this calculation see

Like most developed countries, Ireland provides a disability payment to those whose disability prevents them from working. Following a means test, the maximum weekly amount for a single adult receiving Disability Allowance in Ireland is €188.00 giving an annual total of €9,776.00

This is the same amount provided to an unemployed single adult over the age of 26, in a means tested payment called Jobseeker’s Allowance. That payment is not intended to be sustainable in the long-term.

Low but financially viable payments to the temporarily unemployed are designed to provide incentive towards finding employment. While persons whose disability has been found to prevent them from working, have no means of improving their situation by finding employment, they must remain at-risk of poverty.

And at this point I must repeat myself, or rather, I reiterate the EAPN:

“Generally people who have been below an “at-risk-of poverty” line for several years are likely to be in a more extreme situation than those who are only in such a situation for a short time.”  – European Anti-Poverty Network

I want to add that Ireland is not alone in this, I am quite sure that this problem exists elsewhere in the world.

Public awareness of these situations is often quite low as people are not always willing to talk openly about their finances, some may not wish to discuss their disability in-depth and public attitudes to people on social benefits have not always been kind. In particular, people with invisible disabilities (something I will be posting about soon) face a lot of harsh criticism from outsiders who know very little about their disability.

Sexual Assault on Public Transport

Sexual assault on public transportation is a prominent issue, though there is considerable evidence to suggest that the majority of instances are not reported. Recently two South American countries have been in the news on this issue.

The first story can be read here: Can Undercover Cops End Sexual Assault on Public Transportation?

That story comes via Slate and Juliana Jiménez Jaramillo.

The launch of the small task force in Bogotá, Columbia, gave rise to a variety of reactions with some commentators questioning just what constitutes sexual assault in crowded conditions where physical contact of some kind may be inevitable. According the Miami Herald however, the officers “said they’re looking for more clear-cut cases — when there’s intentional grabbing and groping.”

The operatives are predominantly, though not exclusively, female and this has cause some to question how ethical the small-scale operation is and whether officers are being used as ‘bait’ or a form of entrapment. Entrapment requires an officer induce a person to commit an offence that they would otherwise not have committed. An officer’s physical appearance or simply being female, hardly constitutes inducement to commit a sexual assault. In addition, Bogotá’s police force has highly publicized the operation in attempt to deter such behaviours by forewarning potential perpetrators that there may be legal consequences for their action.

Neighbouring country Peru recently considered a similar operation, but abandoned the idea a short time later, fearing that it would subject their female officers to undue risk. Head of the Terna Group police force, Jañovi Chuquiyanqui reportedly stated that, “No lady of any profession or occupation should be touched.” Chuquiyanqui also said that he remains committed to tackling the issue.

For more information on this topic in general, I suggest this article by Ann Friedman, which also highlights some interesting socio-economic factors.

Stella Young: Inspiration porn and the objectification of disability

Stella Young delivers a brief talk on the way that society objectifies people with disabilities – it might surprise you.

This talk, concise and humorous, adds some much needed realism to our perspective on disability.  The video focuses on physical disabilities that are readily visible to others; this visibility is essential to the production of what Ms. Young cleverly calls inspiration porn.

I hope to publish something very shortly regarding invisible disabilities. The social model of disability that Stella Young refers to in her talk will play a role in that future post and so I leave you with a succinct definition:

“The social model of disability identifies systemic barriers, negative attitudes and exclusion by society (purposely or inadvertently) that mean society is the main contributory factor in disabling people.”


UPDATE: Promised post entitled “Invisible Disability Stigma“.