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Why You Can't Ask a Trans Person If They Had Surgery

By Brandon Voss

Is it ever OK to ask a trans friend if they've had any gender reassignment surgery?

Etiquette expert Steven Petrow's addresses this question in his latest New York Times advice column. "Your heart’s in the right place, but I’m afraid 'Did you have surgery?' is the wrong question for two reasons," Patrow replies. "First, it’s too personal (this is true of asking, unprompted, about any surgical procedure) but more important it’s not likely to give you the answer you’re seeking. The better questions are: 'What’s your pronoun preference?' or 'I see you changed your name; how’s everything going now?' Either should be a soft enough lob to encourage your friend to explain the name change and to get at the heart of the matter."

Petrow also points out that a trans person's surgery shouldn't really matter anyhow, bringing up Chaz Bono's quote that it's about what's “between your ears, not between your legs.”

By the way, what makes this particular question extra special is that it came from AIDS activist Spencer Cox, who passed away back in December — which should give you some idea of how long it takes Mr. Petrow to sort through reader queries. So get 'em in now!

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