Category Archives: Etiquette

Viewpoints: Dealing with Ignorance or Bias

In a recent post I wrote briefly about the fact that, sadly, many trans* people face discrimination, or bias on a regular basis. We all have different ways of handling these incidents: from internalization or quiet protest, to confrontation or outright rage. Over the years, I’ve thought a great deal about how to address these situations in the most polite, yet effective ways possible. I thought I would put my thoughts here, in the hopes that they may help someone. Please note (of course), that these are only my thoughts and my ways to address situations: they may not be right for everyone. These methods and thoughts are my own, and suit my communication style. By no means do I believe that these thoughts will help everyone, in every situation. If you have other methods, or thoughts, please feel free to post them below.

As always, I welcome all questions, thoughts and (polite) discussion.

The situations

Encounters with discrimination or bias vary widely across identities, locales, and individuals. Some situations of discrimination are blatant, whereas others are subtle or hidden; some occur on a frequent basis, others sporadically. It’s important to gauge the situation on an individual basis. For instance, how you deal with a teacher who refuses to use correct pronouns in every class is very different than how you may address a distant family member you see twice a year. When thinking about confronting someone about their bias against trans* identities, consider the situation: what will potential ramifications be, when and where can you address them, what communication styles are best, etc? Of course I can’t write on every possible scenario, and how to address it – I can’t even fathom every scenario – but it is important to consider it when approaching confrontation.

Stay Calm

In many situations, the bias or discrimination may catch you off base, and it is frequently infuriating. But try to stay calm. Take a few deep breathes, and mentally or physically remove yourself from the situation, even if momentarily, before you respond. Give yourself time to collect your thoughts. In the past, I have responded to situations in the heat of the moment – every time I have regretted it. I spoke without thinking, and was hardly articulate in my responses. I would advise to avoid speaking without thinking first. Retain your calmness, think, and then speak.

It’s What you Say AND How you Say it

Don’t speak with anger or defensiveness. Of course, I recognize that this is easier said than done. The way I had it explained to me is “if you speak defensively, you show your opponents that you have something to be defensive about.” You should never have to defend your identity. Speak with conviction, in calm, even tones, without defensiveness.

Avoid swearing (again, easier said than done). Swearing doesn’t help your position, or prove you any more passionate about your opinion. You can convey the same opinion without dropping any swear words.

Avoid sweeping generalizations: your opinion or experience with trans* identities may not be true for everyone in the community. Just as you may not agree with every trans* person, not every trans* person may agree with you. Use words and phrases such as “In my experience,” “In my opinion,” “I feel,” “I believe,” “I think,” etc. If appropriate, you may want to add a statement that explains trans* people, like all people in any community, may differ in their opinions on the matter.

Don’t focus only on the bad, and remember the good. The tragedy of many trans* lives are a common element in our narratives: the hate crimes, discrimination, violence, etc. But all of us have some good in our lives. Personally, I try to assert the bad, but celebrate, and if possible, highlight, the good elements of my life and identity. This shows our opponents that not everything in the trans* community is horrible or terrifying. When we focus only on the bad, we leave others around us feeling like everything in the trans* community is about hatred and anger. When, there are some amazing things in each of our lives, and good things are happening! If anything, I think it’s good to remind people that you are proud of your journey and/or identity. And you should be proud….don’t forget that!

Be prepared. Many of us know, before walking into a room or event, that we will likely be facing some questions, comments or outright disagreement. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Before walking into these situations, take some time to think about how you may want to address the issues. Maybe write something out, or talk it over with a friend, Sig-O or trusted family member. As silly as it may seem, try role playing, to prepare yourself. It may feel awkward at the time, but if something happens, the benefits of your preparation will be readily apparent. As always, it’s better to be over-prepared than under-prepared.

Think about language. Terms like “cis-gender privilege,” “non-op,” “SRS,” etc. are common within the trans* community. We hear/see them on a regular basis. But for those not in the trans* community, these terms are completely new and unknown. So think about language when addressing someone. Use language that they will understand, because then they will understand your message that much better. If you have the time and energy, you can educate a little about these terms (“…for someone who is not transgender, cis-gender, that may not be true. Cis-gender is the term used to define someone who is not transgender…”). If you’re not interested in education, than use the language that will be best understood by the person you are talking to.

Don’t be afraid to remove yourself from the situation. If the conversation is getting too heated, or you are feeling threatened, unheard or increasingly insulted, sometimes you just need to walk away. That’s ok. Politely state that you are uncomfortable, you have somewhere else to be, or that you can discuss this another time – whatever you need to say to defuse the situation and get out of there. Some people are firmly entrenched in their ideas, and sadly, no amount of conversation is going to change that. There is no shame in recognizing that, and saving yourself the heartache of fruitless bickering.

You have the right not be questioned. Disclosing your trans* identity, or coming out as trans* does not mean that everyone else has the right to ask personal questions about your health, medical procedures or sexual orientation. If someone is getting too personal, I like to say something along the lines of: “I’m sorry, but I don’t feel comfortable answering very personal questions about my body or relationship status. I would never dream of asking you questions like these, and I respectfully ask you to honor that same etiquette.” It’s hard to argue with words like “honor,” “respectfully” and “etiquette.” Once again, language is important, so rather than saying, “bug off,” I like to phrase this retort carefully, with an eye towards civility.

Weigh your options. Some people prefer to address negative comments or ignorance on their own terms. If someone says something that hurts you, you can choose to address the matter then and there, or, conversely, write them a note and deliver it later. If you don’t like confrontation, this may be a good option. Plus, it gives you time to word things carefully, run it by others, and think about what you want to say. Of course, this only applies to some situations, but it is a helpful option. Be aware, however, that sending a note may distill the message. The person you are addressing may forget the situation or comment they made, or take it less seriously because you waited to address it. However, as I said, this is an option that may be helpful for some.

Considerations for Transmen

This was a pretty trans*-centered post, so I have very little to put in my “considerations for transmen.” However, I would like to address one matter that I have been faced with, related to this topic. In one situation, I confronted someone about their derogatory use of the word “tranny,” and explained, calmly, why some people in the trans* community would see this as hurtful (personally I don’t like the word, and choose not to use it; I understand others in the trans* community defend it’s use, but that is another topic for another day). Nevertheless, the person I addressed stated that I was clearly experiencing “testosterone-induced anger,” and I should consider lowering my dosage. Often, transmen who are on T are faced with this attempt to discredit our disagreements – people point to testosterone as the source of our “unreasonableness.” As stated above, in these situations it’s important to remain calm and polite. You won’t help the matter by raising your voice or getting angry. Personally, I politely explained that my dosage was carefully managed by my doctor, who is amply qualified to do so, and that I was simply expressing my views and disagreement on the matter at hand. Then, seeing that I was wandering into the region of fruitless argument, I excused myself, but expressed that, if they wanted to discuss the matter later, I was more than happy to do so.

You may handle this situation, and the others discussed above differently. As I said before, these are just my thoughts on how to handle bias or ignorance in everyday life. As always, I welcome any conversation and polite discussion on the matter. Thanks for reading!

Cheers – Mason

Viewpoints: “Etiquette is Dead”

This morning I overheard a conversation, where one party asserted that etiquette, in the style of Emily Post and her colleagues, is dead. I was taken aback by such a final tone with which the speaker articulated their opinion: as if etiquette not only is dead, but rightfully so. Now, I understand some of the rules of etiquette are obsolete, and others are highly misogynistic in their characterization of women; I will be the first to say, throw those rules away. But many rules, and the spirit in which they are meant, are hardly dead, nor should they be. Some rules are in need of an update, to reflect new technology or situations; others have been forgotten by many, but are overdue for a return. I can hardly address each rule here, but I will discuss a few that I think are in need of a reminder. As always I will end with considerations specifically for transmen, and, more importantly, I welcome any questions or comments.

Be Fully Present in Conversations

A few weeks ago I attended a dinner with a group of colleagues; the gathering wasn’t formal, by any means, but neither was it highly informal. I was hardly shocked to see each person, at some point, pick up their cell phone and begin to text or scroll through something (a website, conversation, Facebook, Tumblr, etc). Mind you, this was consistently done in the middle of a shared conversation. What’s more, at no point did these individuals excuse themselves, or apologize for or explain their behavior.

Honestly, this action (cell phone usage during a conversation) tells me “your company or conversation is not important to me.” Now, of course, there are situations where it’s important to glance at your phone, respond to a text, or take a call: parents, clients, emergency situations, etc. I understand that; but there is a manner in which to do this that doesn’t convey to the group that you have more important things to do. A simple “excuse me,” or “I apologize,” shows that you know you’re being a little rude, but that you value the conversation enough to recognize your behavior. Also, checking your phone when you excuse yourself to use the restroom is another way to check in, without interrupting a conversation.

When in a group of friends, colleagues for family members, you are a valued member of the group. There’s something to be said about being present in the moment, with those around you, versus having  one foot in the virtual world (text messages and/or internet) and one in the physical world. Be present in your social gatherings – participate, converse, and listen –  and maybe put the cell phone on silent.

Bringing a Gift to a Dinner/House Party

Several months ago, a friend of mine was heading to a dinner party with an “old friend” (their words, not mine). They mentioned that they had to stop by the gas station to pick up a “quick bouquet of flowers,” to bring to the host. Now, this person had the right idea – you should always bring a host something, as a thank you for the invitation. But the spirit of the gesture was lost in their lack of thought or planning. How valued is this “old friend,” if you say “thank you” with last minute flowers purchased on the way there?

Now, not everyone has the cash to buy a nice bottle of wine, or elaborate floral arrangement for every dinner invitation – I know I don’t. This isn’t about money…it’s the thought, time and consideration you put into the gesture, that counts. Why not bake some fresh bread, cookies or other sweet treats (if you have the talent), or make something, if you’re handy/crafty (homemade soaps, picture frame, pottery, etc.)? If arts and crafts aren’t your thing, take a trip to a local antique shop and find something you think the host might like: a unique bowl, that you can fill with fresh fruits or fancy soaps, or a vase that you fill with flowers – hopefully not from the gas station. The point is, you don’t have to break the bank to leave your host feeling special and appreciated.

The Simple Act of “Thank You”

One of the most important phrases of the English language – thank you. And, sadly, it’s not said enough. What’s more, when it is said, sometimes it’s said so flippantly, it’s hard to tell if the speaker means it. So, next time you say thank you, THINK about what you’re saying, and MEAN it. Make eye contact, place emphasis in your words, and speak them with conviction.

Send thank you notes- often. Honestly, when was the last time you got something via snail mail that wasn’t a bill or junk? If you’re like me, then not often. Getting a handwritten thank you note says that the sender took a good amount of time to think about you, write their thoughts down, and send it to you. So, next time you attend a dinner party, receive a gift, or are simply thankful for something – send a note. It’s a small amount of time, and a few cents, that will have a large effect.

Considerations for Transmen

Obviously, these thoughts on etiquette apply to everyone, regardless of gender. However, for us transguys, I think they are especially important. Trans* people, in general, face a huge amount of bias and discrimination; many of us see this on an almost daily basis. I think there’s something to be said for putting your best, most polite, foot forward, even in the face of bias. Etiquette, in my experience, trumps biases in many situations. In other words, it’s harder to hold a bias against someone when that person is very polite, and has given you no reason to dislike them.

For some people, you may be the first trans* identified person they have had contact with (assuming you’re out, or they are aware of your gender identity). You may be acting as a figurehead for the community, in that person’s mind; I’m not saying that this is right, or comfortable, but it’s simply a fact.  How you act may represent the community as a whole. What kind of image do you want to portray for the trans* community? For instance, if you are the first trans* person someone is meeting, and you are rude or inconsiderate, that person may transfer that impression to all trans* people. Of course, they may not; however, I prefer to err on the side of caution. I try to be polite, considerate and respectful in any social interaction; not only does that benefit me as an individual, but it may be beneficial for the trans* community, as well.

Now, I want to hear from you: what trends have you seen in etiquette? Is there some impolite action that really “grinds your gears?” Do you have some thoughts on etiquette? I want to hear them.

Thanks for reading everyone.

Cheers – Mason       

Attire: Belts or Suspenders

After a brief pause in writing, due to midterms, we’re back!

So, you’re suited up, looking sharp for a day at work, or a night on the town: but how to keep those pants up? A belt or suspenders? Good question, and the answer depends on a variety of factors, such as the event type, time, attire, and  your general style.

First a few quick notes:

  1. A belt and suspenders should never be worn at the same time. There’s an old saying: “he’s a belt and suspenders kind of guy.”  Meaning, a man is so paranoid that his belt will fail, that he wears suspenders, just in case. It speaks of a man who refuses to take risks, for fear of embarrassment or exposure. It’s not a flattering metaphor, and an image you want to avoid.
  2. A lawyer once told me that if you’re going to wear suspenders, don’t do so with pants that have belt loops. The loops draw an observer’s eye, and it is more obvious that you’re not wearing a belt. So, if you’re going to do suspenders, have a tailor remove the belt loops. This isn’t true at all times: for instance, if you’re not going to take off your jacket, no one will see belt loops. However, if you’re going to make suspenders a regular part of your suit, you may want to remove those loops.
  3. No matter which you choose, belt or suspenders, make sure they match. Make sure your belt matches your shoes. With suspenders, make sure the leather ends (where they attach to your pants), match your shoes. Also, with suspenders, make sure the color matches your tie, shirt, or other color you’re wearing.

Now, which to wear? Generally for professional events (work, interview, career-related cocktail party or networking function), I would suggest a belt. Unless you’re over 40 years old, suspenders may look out of place. The belt is more appropriate for these types of events. That being said, if you’ve got the suit for it, and the sense of style – do it! I’m all for bringing back suspenders.

But suspenders can be worn in other places. When attending events where you can play with fashion, rock those suspenders, if you so wish: weddings, formal or semi-formal social events. Not only that, as you can see in some of these photos, suspenders can be worn in casual attire as well, for the truly dapper look (or Larry King – if that’s you’re style).

There are two types of suspenders: formal and working. Formal suspenders have button holes and attach to buttons inside your pants. Formal suspenders will need pants with suspender buttons (which can be sewn in by a tailor). These suspenders are appropriate for formal or professional wear. The ends of formal suspenders are shaped like a “Y” and made of leather (that should match your shoes, as previously mentioned). Working suspenders have clips (or alligator claws), which can be attached to the waistband of your pants. Working suspenders are appropriate for semi-formal or casual wear.

No matter how you decide to wear them, I say wear them with pride! Suspenders are a dapper, fashion forward accessory that I wish were more common. Help me out guys, and bring them back!

Considerations for Transmen

One downside for transmen with suspenders: if you haven’t had top surgery, suspenders may accentuate your chest. If that is a concern for you, I suggest sticking to belts for now. Also, suspenders come in a variety of colors and patterns. If you don’t want to accentuate your chest, stick to solid colors; patterns will draw attention and highlight any swell in your chest. Lastly, if you’re not very broad in the shoulders, make sure to get thinner suspenders, as opposed to the thicker width.

Thanks for reading everyone! Now that midterms are over, I’ll be posting more often. And please feel free to contact me with any questions.

Cheers – Mason

Etiquette: Offering Your Arm

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I wanted to post something with a little romantic twist. So here are my thoughts on offering an arm to a significant other (Sig-O), or other in need of assistance…

Here in Northern New England, we’re in the midst of yet another frigid winter. Ice is everywhere: steps, sidewalks, streets, and all places in between. More than ever, I am offering my wife, and others, my arm in assistance. Though it may seem trivial, I believe offering someone your arm can be a touching display of gentlemanly consideration. But, there are a few rules I have found in this small, yet meaningful, action.

To Whom Do you Offer Your Arm, and When?

This question depends on the circumstances. With my wife (or, for you, any Sig-O, of any sex or gender expression), I offer my arm on a regular basis when we are walking around town. I don’t offer my arm every day, at every instance; go with your gut on this. On date night, I offer my arm to my wife in every instance we are walking together for longer than a few yards, and anytime we’re walking up and down steps, or over a curb. Beyond date night, it depends on the situation, but I try to always offer my arm before steps and curbs. Keep in mind, just because I offer my arm, doesn’t mean that she always takes it. Sometimes she doesn’t take my arm, and that’s totally fine.

Beyond my wife, I offer my arm to anyone whose balance may be impaired. With elderly individuals, for instance, I typically offer my arm, or a hand. Please note, not all people will appreciate the offer of assistance. However, I prefer to err on the side of gentlemanly manners. Plus, the number of times older people have complimented me as a “charming, polite young man,” makes all the turn downs totally worth it.

Lastly, I often offer my arm to friends when there is ice, or they are in heels of any substantial height. Prior to my transition, I spent several years in Cotillions: I remember, quiet vividly, how challenging heels can be (or were, for me; I realize many people have no trouble in heels). For these reasons I offer those in heels my arm. You may differ in your choices of who to offer your arm to, but these are my general thoughts.

How to Offer your Arm

How to offer your arm, again, depends on the individual situations. With my wife, we’re been together for so long, she knows the smallest movements which indicate I’m about to offer my arm. Almost instinctively, she takes my arm just as I’m offering it. Of course, this is the result of years of reading my body language. So, let’s start from the beginning:

First, a gentleman typically offers his arm  – rather than being prompted to do so. With a close acquaintance or Sig-O’s, you can use more subtle cues: bending your arm closest to the individual, keeping your hand (fisted) midway between your stomach and chest. You may tilt your elbow out, slightly, and signal with your eyes, inquisitively, to ask your Sig-O or acquaintance if they would like to take your arm. If they don’t pick up on the clue, you may choose to abandon your offer, or, ask “may I take your arm?” Asking, or not, is up to you.

You may be offering your arm to someone for a specific purpose, such as assistance over some icy steps, a slippery curb, or other such hazards. In instances such as these, I typically descend down the hazard (step down the curb, down a few steps, over the hurtle, etc), then lean forward, making eye contact outstretching my arm. If I can’t make eye contact, or if I feel necessary, I will ask “May I be of assistance?” For strangers, including the elderly, I use a very similar method. I will extend my elbow, and offer any assistance.

A few notes on form: yes, there is a form to this. When walking with a person on your arm, keep your elbow at a right angle (or smaller, but not by much). Keep your hand fisted, and held between your chest and your navel. Keep your hand centered, not too far to one side or the other. In informal situations, such as a walk down the street on an average day, I may place my hand in my coat pocket, but with my elbow extended for my wife to grasp. Here are a few great examples of how to do this properly: http://jcricketevents.blogspot.com/2009/01/how-to-take-mans-arm.html

Also remember, offering a hand or arm for an individual to use, means that you must be solid on your feet. Don’t offer your arm if your own balance or ability to walk is compromised.

Considerations For Transmen

For me, offering an arm to someone is utterly satisfying. It is an assertion of not only my masculinity, but my ideals as a gentleman as well. Of course, it can be intimidating, especially if you’re not passing. I would suggest to begin with friends who recognize your identity. Think of people who would see offering your arm as a natural extension of your identity. Try offering your arm to them, first; get used to the feeling of having someone on your arm, and the process of offering your arm. When you get more comfortable with offering your arm, adventure out, and try it on a stranger, or further removed acquaintance. Go with what feels natural. Chances are, if you feel odd offering your arm, it will come off as strange, and may not be received well.

Cheers- Mason

Inspire: A Code of Gentlemen

When I began law school, I read a Supreme Court case, concerning the inclusion of women in a military college, which, prior to the case, only admitted men (US. v Virgina, 518 U.S. 515 (1996)). In his dissent, Scalia (whose political and moral convictions I thoroughly disagree with in all ways possible) included a “Code of Gentleman.” For the sake of completeness, I’m including a link to the case, and his quote, here (the “Code” is towards the bottom, before the footnotes).  The code, which Scalia included, was adapted from the military school’s handbook; interestingly, this code originated from etiquette guru, Emily Post. You can read Post’s chapter on being a gentleman here.

Clearly, reviewing this reading put me in a thoughtful and philosophical mood. A great deal of the material I discussed above has a largely paternalistic and misogynistic tone. Both Scalia and Post speak of protecting women as if they are helpless, and not terribly bright individuals, who must rely on men to protect them from the world. I want to begin by saying: I, in no way, agree with this. I am a proud feminist, and do not tolerate inequality in any form.

However, the concept of a “Code” inspires me. As Post says: “more important than any mere dictum of etiquette is the fundamental code of honor, without strict observance of which no man, no matter how “polished,” can be considered a gentleman.” A code is a guide, a reminder of what we consider important, and, when we slip up, it brings us back to the roots of our ideals. Being a gentleman is not about style, careers, money, education, or anything. Being a gentleman is about actions, and the ideals and morals those actions convey.

Several months ago, I posted about being a Man versus a man. With that post, as well as the “Code” above in mind, I would like to being (but, by no means, finish) my own Code of a Gentleman. This is my own Code, and includes lessons learned from my own personal experiences. I encourage each of you to take some time, consider your own ideals, and write your own personal Code. Furthermore, I encourage you to share your own codes (or portions of them) in the comments below. This is a great opportunity to discuss our own perspectives and experiences, and learn from each other.

Without further adieu, here are the beginnings of my own Code:

A Code of a Gentleman

  • Respect all people and perspectives, regardless of the disrespect they may show others.
  • Never force your perspectives or ideals on others. You may share your perspective, but never force others, unwilling, to adopt your views.
  • Never speak poorly of others in public.
  • Never laugh at the misfortunes or mistakes of others.
  • Have compassion for all living things, no matter how small they may seem to others.
  • Recognize the needs of others, and do your best to accommodate those needs, when asked.
  • Be prompt and punctual: tardiness shows disregard for other’s time.
  • Never flaunt your assets or privilege in front of others.
  • Do your best to use proper grammar in public.
  • Respect your elders and superiors, but never bend your own morals to suit their needs or demands.
  • Help others, whenever possible.
  • Never make decisions when angry, upset, fearful, or in pain.
  • Violence is never the answer. Appreciate the value of non-violence.
  • Speak up for your friends and family, even when they are not present. But never assume to speak for them. There is a difference between defending others and putting words in their mouths.
  • Always strive to better yourself.
  • Pursue justice and truth in everything you do.
  • Make the happiness and comfort of your wife and family a priority, the needs of your community shall follow that closely after that.
  • Understand the importance of self-care. Self-care ensures you’re emotionally and physically healthy.
  • There is no shame in asking for help, but don’t do so lightly.
  • Never lose sight of your goals, aspirations, ideals, or morals.
  • Never lose sight of hope.

Considerations for Transmen

Many of us are new to the world of masculinity and being a gentleman. We grow up imagining the men we want to be, despite what the world tells us we “should” be. Sometimes, however, as we begin our journeys, we forget: it’s human nature, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We forget the image of the men we wanted to be. Wherever you are in your journey, I suggest taking a moment to remember the man you imagined yourself as, and use that as the inspiration for your own Code.

Additionally, don’t just think about it. Sit down and write out your Code by hand. Keep this handwritten Code in a place that you can find it easily, edit it when need be, and reference it when you feel lost. Personally, I keep mine in my journal.

Take this seriously. By writing and adhering to a Code, you are following in the footsteps of knights, leaders, kings, presidents, and other great men in history. It wasn’t silly when they wrote and followed a code, and it’s not silly for you to do so either.

As I said before, I encourage you to share your Code in the comments below. Let’s learn from each other! Thanks everyone, and I look forward to reading your own contributions.

Cheers – Mason 

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