Getting asked about surgeries

In general, I’ve felt relieved about how few times I, as a trans person, have been asked things I don’t want to answer. Variations on this scenario have come up twice in the past 2 months though. Blech!

#1: I’m taking part in an experimental study trial for a COVID-19 vaccine. At the end of May, I had a phone interview where they screened me to see if I was healthy enough to participate. Nothing came up about medications I’m on (other than specifics they were asking for), surgeries I’ve had, or anything else gender related. They assumed I’m male based on name and voice and didn’t ask about reproductive health. I did not disclose that I’m trans, and it didn’t come up. I really enjoyed that; it felt refreshing.

The in-person screening a few weeks later, was a totally different story. I was pretty prepared for that though, for having to explain that even though I have a uterus and ovaries and all that, I won’t be getting pregnant despite not using any birth control methods (that has more to do with who I have sex with, and less about being trans – I could be trans and still get pregnant…) I was prepared to do a urine test to screen for pregnancy, despite appearing male. I was prepared to talk about my hormone replacement therapy. I was not, however, prepared when the nurse followed these questions up with, “Have you had any surgeries?” because she asked it in a way that was totally different than how she would ask about any other category of surgery. It was in a sideways, sly, under-the-table kind of way that put me completely off. I replied, deadpan, “Is that information needed for the screening?” She replied, that, yes, they did need to note any major surgeries, to which I replied that I’ve had top surgery. She asked, “What is that?” and I replied, “A double mastectomy.” She wrote it down.

#2: My co-worker, after working together for 2 years, decided to pop the surgery question. She asked it completely out-of-the-blue, apropos of nothing. I guess, at least, she prefaced it with the ominous, “Can I ask you a personal question?” I replied that she could definitely ask, and I’ll decide if I wanna answer. Then I added that I probably would answer, because although I’m extremely private with stuff, at work, I am willing to open up if people are putting in the effort. When it was THAT question, however, I told her I wasn’t going to be answering it. I am glad she asked though, and told her as much, because it led to a long conversation in which I talked to her about a bunch of other things that have been long overdue for her to know about. Such as, I don’t actually identify as a man. She did not know this. She wanted to assert that she did know my identity and that it is a boy. I told her I don’t feel like I am either a man or a woman. Pretty sure that sank in for her. I also told her that my spouse is my “spouse” and not my “wife,” as she assumed, and that they use gender neutral pronouns. And that they also now look male, but don’t identify as such either.

We talked about what people assume based on appearance and a bunch of other stuff. She compared me to a temporary co-worker we had last summer, also trans, and how he was so open and friendly and he answered all her questions including her surgery questions. I bristled at this, but didn’t let it get to me. He and I have since become friends (although I didn’t say as much). He’s gonna be how he is, and I’m gonna be how I am. Although it was uncomfortable and difficult to steer her in the directions I wanted to go in, overall I feel like we got to a new place in our dynamic. I got to tell her that surgeries are actually not that important (or at least not important for others to know about) and other things are much more welcomed, in terms of questioning. Such as, how do you feel about ___________, and whatnot. She semi-argued about what was and was not important, and she also relayed information about her friend who is now named Susan. While talking in graphic detail about Susan’s body and how it is so much more stunningly vivacious than her body, she kept using male pronouns. I did not like where she was going with this at all. I just cut in to ask, “Wouldn’t Susan want you to be using “she” and “her” for her?” She replied that since she’s known Susan for forever, Susan doesn’t care. I’m really hoping it sank in, even just a little bit though.

I feel like I held my ground in both cases and stayed true to myself. Feels good to know these things can come up and not throw me way off, anymore.

6 Comments on “Getting asked about surgeries”

  1. Ainsobriety says:

    What are your pronouns?
    My daughter is very gender neutral. Although she talked about transitioning a year or so ago, she has since decided she does not feel like a man, but does not identify as female. She uses she/her still…but hers gender non conforming friends have a variety of pronouns and I try to remember as best I can. Some are still experimenting with names, etc.

    Thank you for sharing this.


  2. karenmcl says:

    Good for you for holding your boundaries. You were more than generous even to engage in those conversations, though it appears you had little choice with the nurse. As for your co-worker, I’m bristling, just reading your brief account. I see little actual listening on her part–little willingness to let go of her assumptions, and almost no willingness to let go of her belief that she has a right to ask such personal questions. She just kept pushing. (The other friend answered her questions, why won’t you?) As for her insistence that “Susan” didn’t mind being misgendered because your co-worker had “known her for years,” tells us everything we need to know about her capacity and willingness to respect or care for anyone who is trans. I hope you are right that at least some of what you so generously told her, but I doubt very much did.


    • janitorqueer says:

      Yea, the conversations with my co-worker are definitely problematic. We are very different in lots of ways. Surprisingly though, things had been much worse for me in the past with a different supervisor. Despite the feeling uncomfortable from time to time, everyone is respectful, uses the right name and pronouns, etc. Plus, usually, during the school year, I barely have to interact with anyone, which I prefer.
      Thanks for your feedback!


  3. Hart says:

    Uhg. Uhg uhg uhg. This post made me cringe for you. Sounds like you handled everything better than I would have. I almost blacked out recently from nerves when I had to tell a supe not to call me ma’am over the radio. Good on ya!


    • janitorqueer says:

      Good to hear from you! Yea, definitely not my favorite. I told her in the past not to call me “honey,” “sweetheart,” or things like that. Interestingly, she told me to stop saying, “Hey {her name].” To her, “Hey,” is disrespectful. Different cultures.
      Even though it’s difficult, I’m glad to hear you stood up for yourself!

      Liked by 1 person

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