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A Series of Questions
August 17, 2010 10:51 PM   Subscribe

A Series of Questions is an ongoing photo project that "explores the power dynamics inherent in the questions asked of transgender, transsexual, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, and gender-variant people."
posted by lullaby (38 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ooh, they've added a load more since I last saw this.

At the time I decided that I would hold up WHY CAN'T YOU JUST EXPERIMENT?

and yeah, you would not believe the dumb questions people ask if you're out.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 11:18 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I saw this a while ago but I just went back to check it out again and realized that I know the artist from my time in St. Louis.

Also, I have some of the questions that are used in this project, although I don't think I've ever been as gauche as to ask any of the trans people that I know.
posted by andoatnp at 11:19 PM on August 17, 2010


and yeah, you would not believe the dumb questions people ask if you're out.

Go on.
posted by griphus at 11:20 PM on August 17, 2010


Pfft, you wouldn't believe them anyway.

A decent selection of them are up there in the FPP, but my personal favourite will always be the blank, uncomprehending confusion of, "But how does it work?"

I asked her to clarify, and she flapped at me and said, "Y'know, everything!"

I probably should have gone and got a Stephen Hawking book at that point.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 11:36 PM on August 17, 2010 [12 favorites]


I kind of wish there was some sort of discussion-y adjunct to this project. Not that I'm complaining; anything that encourages people to act first with compassion as far as gender issues go is okay in my book.
posted by lumensimus at 11:42 PM on August 17, 2010


Ooooh! I'm asking all my partners "do you have sex like a girl?" from now on!

(I filled out My Gender Workbook and came out mostly male, the notable exception being that I swing every way)
posted by poe at 11:43 PM on August 17, 2010


I think my only problem with a work like this -- which is a good piece of art and has one of the very few several-paragraph artists statements that deserves several paragraphs -- is that there's an undercurrent of allowing a certain line of questions being verboten toward trans individuals. adnoatnp upthread mentions that it would be gauche to ask but ... how do you not exoticize something you're not allowed to ask questions about? There's a certain child-like innocence about certain questions (e.g. "do you still have a vagina?") But then again it just seems wrong to ask questions so personal of a stranger, which is what I assume the people in the photos have experienced.

I worked in a sex shop in Manhattan for six months, so that answered quite a number of questions for me without my even having to ask. I'm also an intelligent human being with a sense of reason and appropriateness, so I don't spring these questions on people with whom I'm not particularly close with. Maybe that's the point? That the questions are being asked of strangers and not friends with whom you wouldn't discuss Serious Sex/Romance Issues otherwise?

Man, I don't know.
posted by griphus at 11:50 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm so glad to see this website's been updated, it's great. As to the question "WHO WILL WANT TO DATE YOU," two years later I am very happy I said ME.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 11:59 PM on August 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


Very much so, griphus. People don't tend to mind so much answering personal questions for friends -- although I know of some trans people who still don't like to get into that ("Oh, and what shape is your vagina today?") -- but this is more like the stuff asked by strangers and colleagues. When I transitioned I was fortunate enough to pass for cissexual almost straight away, but in the last ten years I've spent a lot of time with people who are in early transition, or don't look cis (sometimes they don't want to; sometimes they want to but can't) and even leaving aside the stuff they get yelled at them in the street they'll get, for example, someone serving them drinks in a tea shop asking when "the operation" is going to be.

In short, if you're trans and everyone knows it, whether because of your appearance or because you didn't move after transition and word has got around from people who knew you before, then it seems to be hard to go half an hour without some kind of rude question.

Personally I'm always puzzled as to why people can't can it for a couple of hours and hit the google when they get home. There's pictures and everything!
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:05 AM on August 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


Maybe that's the point? That the questions are being asked of strangers and not friends with whom you wouldn't discuss Serious Sex/Romance Issues otherwise?

Upon preview, I would guess it's might be this. There's the risk of being bombarded with all those 101 questions just because you're out, like somehow everything's fair game. Upon further preview, ArmyofKittens said it better.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 12:07 AM on August 18, 2010


More questions.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:09 AM on August 18, 2010


you would not believe the dumb questions people ask if you're out.

1) There are no dumb questions.
2) Phobics won't ask you questions.
3) Questions allow you to express yourself. If you want people to understand you, you can do that. If you want to be a mysterious freak, you can do that, too.

Face facts. Trans is strange, strange is interesting. Even if you want to be just another cisgender person, you aren't. It's a rare person who is exactly what they want to be, you're just an extreme example of the human condition. You have no choice except to live with it.

If people are sympathetic, address them with sympathy.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 1:13 AM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Haven't you already done enough to hurt me?" is pretty fantastic, though it's status as a question is pretty weak, since it's just a rhetorical question.

"No" is a pretty great "fuck you" answer, though.
posted by aubilenon at 1:35 AM on August 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


There are dumb questions. Also rude questions, inappropriate questions, hurtful questions, willfully ignorant questions, and bigoted questions.

If you think of yourself as one of those "sympathetic" people, Jimmy Havok, perhaps you should reconsider your combative attitude... and your use of the word "freak."
posted by prefpara at 1:36 AM on August 18, 2010 [9 favorites]


Jimmy, I think you're asking more sympathy of the trans person there than you are of the cis person asking them questions. As this project illustrates so well, there are some questions that are a) dumb and offensive and basically judgements disguised as interest, and b) asked all the damn time. Like if you're a 'cello player and someone sees you struggle to get the thing out of a taxi and jokes, "Bet you wish you'd learned the flute!" there are some questions and observations that never let up; only they're on a subject much more intimate and personal than instrument choice.

If people are sympathetic, address them with sympathy.

I do, and I'm willing to spend a lot of time on education and coming together and all that lovely stuff because I believe that the more information people who might be sympathetic have the more actual support they can be (for example, a hypothetical you is more likely to support hate crime legislation if you understand how much violence the gay and trans communities face); essentially I try to build bridges and create allies. But it's not an obligation, and to be honest I'm fortunate in that I get to pick my conversations about this: I pass for cis. The sympathy of people who don't is rather more apt to be ground down by the time an otherwise nice and thoughtful person says the flute thing.

Even if you want to be just another cisgender person, you aren't.

I think everyone knows that :) I guess kind of the point of all this is that trans people should get to choose when these opportunities for education happen. If they happened whenever a cis person asked a question, some trans people would never get anything else done.

2) Phobics won't ask you questions.

Oooh, yeah they do. Sometimes they yell them. Occasionally they yell them while running after you, which is a reasonably remarkable feat of breath control and dedication.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 1:37 AM on August 18, 2010 [18 favorites]


True, every question has an agenda, and some aren't really questions.

trans people should get to choose

You only have the right to control your own actions. You can choose how you respond to other people, but you don't have the right to choose their actions, any more than they have the right to choose yours.

This reminded me of the constant letters that used to be printed in Dear Abby about "I have some obvious condition and people refuse to completely ignore it how horrible why can't they pretend to be robots?" e.g. "I'm pregnant and people ask me the due date."

your use of the word "freak."

If you want to be a mysterious freak, you can do that. There are people who want to be mysterious freaks, even if you don't. Yes, there are people who will impose "mysterious freak" on you, yes, that's a bad thing, but like I said, you have to face the fact that you're different and deal with it because here you are in the world that you didn't create.

But yes, I also understand that it wears on you after a while. I guess sharing with projects like this can help. I think I'm just arguing that quite a few of these questions are actually sympathetic.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 2:15 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


have to face the fact that you're different and deal with it because here you are in the world that you didn't create

This is dealing with it. There's no-one saying, I don't understand why people keep asking me stupid questions; they're saying, these are the stupid questions I've been asked. This project is intended to turn those questions around by taking them out of the mouths of the cis people who ask them and hopefully showing people how invasive, disrespectful, and downright ugly some of them can be.

The way most trans people deal with unwelcome questions in everyday life varies. Some ignore the question, some ignore the person entirely, some answer the question with a question ("How do you have sex?"), and some honestly engage with as many questions as they can. Unfortunately trans people often feel pressured into engaging as ignoring the question or the person, or mocking them, can be dangerous (see the many mefi threads about women getting catcalled for examples of men getting violent over perceived snubs) and so even stupid questions end up getting answered far more than they deserve to be.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 2:38 AM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


I know one of those people.

Cool project.
posted by kalessin at 5:16 AM on August 18, 2010


Am I the only one who feels like this project is really underwhelming?

The concept might be strong, but half the time the subject is washed out by bad lighting. Plus, they're all just staged weird. There's potential to have a really great series, but it doesn't really seem like there's any effort being put into the actual aesthetics of the documentation.
posted by _superconductor at 5:46 AM on August 18, 2010


What a great project!

Occasionally they yell them while running after you, which is a reasonably remarkable feat of breath control and dedication.

Years ago, my friend D and I got chased all the way down the Dupont Circle metro escalator - it's a long way - by a guy who yelled the whole way that if we wanted to be men, he'd teach us what a real man was like (we are both butch-looking ciswomen). It really was impressive that he kept up the shouting all the way down the escalator.

Some of these questions can be respectfully and sympathetically presented, if the relationship between the asker and the askee is one of respect and there's a history and context that makes questions like this okay. Or if the trans person is doing a Trans 101 talk. Otherwise, I think, one should take advantage of the google.
posted by rtha at 6:01 AM on August 18, 2010


Whenever I see questions posed like this, to a person who's expected to have all the answers for whatever group they're imagined to be in, I'm reminded of a quote. I could have sworn it was Hillaire Belloc, but I can't seem to find a citation for it. It's about the opinions/ideas of the so-called 'man in the street', but, mutatis mutandis, would work here too.

"There is no 'Man In The Street'. There are only men, each with an immortal soul, some of whom have occasion to use the street."
posted by jquinby at 6:01 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow, this all stung a little bit too much for before my morning cup of coffee.

If I had a nickel for every damn time people have hassled me about which bathroom I'm in...

The best thing about my current job is how all the bathrooms are single-occupancy. Not even joking.
posted by dorque at 6:14 AM on August 18, 2010



2) Phobics won't ask you questions.

Oooh, yeah they do. Sometimes they yell them. Occasionally they yell them while running after you, which is a reasonably remarkable feat of breath control and dedication.


I second this. Once, while walking out of my favorite coffee shop, a car sped around the corner and stopped at the pedestrian intersection I was just about to cross. They pulled up alongside me, and in front of all the people sitting outside the coffee shopped screamed "WHAT ARE YOU?!?!" Before I had time to even respond, another car honked at the driver and he sped off, but boy what an awkward moment for me and all the coffee shop patrons.

I'm a girl by the way.
posted by _superconductor at 6:43 AM on August 18, 2010


...and in front of all the people sitting outside the coffee shopped screamed...

Erm, that would be coffee shop. Or even coffee shoppe. Definitely not shopped.
posted by _superconductor at 6:48 AM on August 18, 2010


I guess you want it to be in the past so bad you're past-tensing things that don't normally get past-tensed.
posted by Michael Roberts at 7:12 AM on August 18, 2010


Definitely not shopped.

No, almost certainly shopped. I can tell from some of the pixels...
posted by jquinby at 7:20 AM on August 18, 2010


[comment removed - please take that derail to metatalk or email]
posted by jessamyn at 7:40 AM on August 18, 2010


a car sped around the corner and stopped at the pedestrian intersection I was just about to cross

The Gender Police have those unmarked patrol cars everywhere these days...
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 7:51 AM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


The spectrum of human behavior, sexual and otherwise, contains infinite variation. We are all individuals in the truest sense of the word. Sexuality is fluid and not suitable to generalization and pigeonholing. It's part of what makes being human fun.

That said, there is a large curiosity factor when it comes to others' concepts of self, especially when they seem divergent from the "norm." That's natural. Curiosity needs to be tempered, however, by compassion and the recognition of others' humanity.

Nice photos, interesting concept. Made me chuckle, made me sad.
posted by kinnakeet at 8:08 AM on August 18, 2010


Interesting photo series, but the general idea has been addressed in a few ways before. It's a common topic for youtube videos.
posted by Theta States at 8:43 AM on August 18, 2010


The photos are kind of depressing, because of the questions... But it's a good resource. In the future, I may send people there to help them understand what an imposition those questions are. (Then, some will never understand that asking nosy questions is a form of cis privilege.)
posted by jiawen at 9:34 AM on August 18, 2010


I always find things like this interesting because I grew up immersed in LGBT culture - even thought I was trans from middle school to my sophomore year in HS. So the questions listed seem incredibly dumb to me - BUT I have to remember that it's not really the norm to grow up in an LGBT culture and automatically know what all the stuff means.

So I try not to judge too much, because I wouldn't want someone doing the same to me when I (and I'm sure I do) ask ignorant questions about their culture.
posted by biochemist at 9:43 AM on August 18, 2010


I'll add mine: "Are you sure you're not gay?"
posted by mrgrimm at 12:01 PM on August 18, 2010


It should be noted that I implicitly assume everyone on Metafilter is transgendered, unless the specifically state otherwise.
posted by Theta States at 12:32 PM on August 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


Quick poll: I am!

100% so far.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:40 PM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Excellent post - favoriting in case it's expanded.
posted by odinsdream at 12:54 PM on August 18, 2010


Hey! It's TJ from TransGeneration!
posted by emilyd22222 at 8:52 PM on August 18, 2010


This all actually reminds me of the time I was dumb enough to use the men's toilets in a pub. The family had booked a room upstairs for a big celebration, and family and friends from all across the land were coming. This was so early in my transition I'd only just told my parents, so I guy'd it up for the night. Because I had been on the mones for six months or so by this point, "guying it up" was basically a great big floppy hoodie and baggy trousers, the better to hide... well, me.

After a while and a few drinks I need to pee, as you do, so I go downstairs into the pub proper and, after a little agonising, choose the men's toilets. I didn't really think there'd be any consequences to this (apart from to my wounded self-esteem) since I always did underestimate how much I'd changed.

So anyway, I go in and take the cubicle (and as I type this it occurs to me that I haven't seen a urinal for like nine years; strange) and do my amazing thing. As I'm in there I hear a couple of people, obviously drunk, stumble in. One of them, it seems, is gagging for a poo. And starts banging on the door.

After 30 seconds or so of abject terror, I open the door and this huge biker guy, all leather jacket and beard and cider breath stares down at me. He does a double take, looking at me, then the urinals, then me, and tells me I'm in the wrong bog. In my second idiot mistake of the night, I squeak that no, I'm in the right place, this is the men's toilet, argh argh argh.

He looks at me. Stands there and looks at me for what felt like a lifetime but was probably about ten seconds, then bursts out laughing, reaches forward and pulls me into this huge sweaty beardy hug. "You had me going for a minute there, love!" he yells at me. Then he pushes me towards the sink so I can wash up and says something like, "Best get out of here before someone ungentlemanly comes in!"

He slaps my arse on the way out.

For the rest of the night I pee under a tree.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 5:43 AM on August 19, 2010 [13 favorites]


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