What's the word on trans terminology? Lara Rae explains

From pronouns and preferred names to proper grammar, Winnipeg comedian Lara Rae explains the world of transgender terminology.

Using the proper terms and pronouns is crucially important, says Winnipeg comedian Lara Rae

When I first began transitioning from male to female, people would ask what to call me. They'd known me for years as Al. So what now?

"Call me Lara," I told them.

"But when should I start calling you Lara?" they'd ask.

The answer, of course, is right away. Once a transgender person has announced his or her transition, consider the old name retired.

In my case, having had a public life means my old name may be used to give some context - but after a while it won't be needed. Who remembers Christine Jorgensen's old name? Soon it will be the same for Caitlyn Jenner and Chelsea Manning. 

The importance of pronouns

Using the correct pronoun is of utmost importance. Being mis-gendered can be traumatic, and the rule is simple: always use the person's preferred pronoun.

Three small letters can mean the world. I am a she.

Once a person has announced their transition, consider their old name retired. Who remembers transgender pioneer Christine Jorgensen's old name? (Getty)
A transgender woman is she and a transgender man is he, always and forever more. In fact, and this is just me talking, if you see anyone presenting in the clothes of a particular gender expression: go ahead and make the easy leap.

Even a cross-dressing man — and you're unlikely to run into one at Walmart — is not going to be hurt if you call him she.

When in doubt, use proper grammar

It's transgender, not transgendered.

Transgender is an adjective. You wouldn't say: 'look at that gayed or lesbianed person', would you? 

I grew up with terms like transsexual and sex-change operation – both are out of style. There's a distinction between sex and gender, and while gender can be a public issue, sex is a more private concern.  

Never, ever, use the word 'tranny'. So many public scoldings have made the news. Everyone should know this by now... but you'd be surprised.

And it's not just sticks and stones. Over 250 transgender people were murdered last year simply for trying to live their lives.

Perhaps the most important word in all of this is choice. 

While I have chosen to medically deal with a life-long gender confusion called dysphoria­, I did not choose to have this condition. I had no choice.

My choice to change gender physically is not whimsical, or attention-seeking, or a sign of a personality disturbance. And because I did not choose this, I deserve to be treated and celebrated the same way all human biological diversity should be celebrated. 

It's not a courtesy to treat someone as a fellow traveller to the grave. It's what human beings should always do.

Lara Rae is charting her journey in a new syndicated column, airing Mondays on CBC Radio One. 


Lara Rae


Lara Rae is a stand-up comic, comedy writer and the former artistic director of the Winnipeg Comedy Festival.