First Person: What you need, not what you want

This series features first person narratives about personal LGBT-related issues and experiences.

Cat Howard
LGBT Perspectives

AJAX, Ont. — Many of us, when we start our new lives, don’t have the advantage of surrounding ourselves with a circle of advisors, unlike a certain former Olympian.  Instead, we either go it alone or listen to the advice of friends and acquaintances.

When I began my journey in the mid-’90s, there was a dearth of transgender  support groups in the part of Ontario where I lived, so I depended upon the latter.  Sometimes the advice I was given was good and many times I ignored it.  There were very few people, though, who would give me advice.

I can’t say if they felt I didn’t need any help or if they were afraid of how I might react to being offered tips on makeup and clothing.  I don’t know why they would be frightened.  I don’t bite (as a rule) and if I did, being trans isn’t like a virus that my bite could transmit to them.  These are people who would have no hesitation criticizing any of their other female friends if they felt it was warranted, yet wouldn’t say a word to me.  Instead they would tell me what I wanted to hear, not what I needed to hear.

Over the past several years I’ve been fortunate to have a friend who isn’t afraid to tell me what I need to hear.  If I look good, she says so; if I don’t, she’ll say that, too.  She’s forthright, but does it in a manner that isn’t upsetting, and I appreciate that. (I must admit that, despite her advice to the contrary, I’m keeping my miniskirts.)

In our discussion, we’ve come to the conclusion that some people aren’t really certain how to approach a transwoman. They may not understand that we want to be accepted as, and treated as, any other woman, so the same way they’d talk to other friends would be well received by us as well. If we look good, tell us, if we look like a hooker, ask us what corner we normally work. We’ll get the hint that perhaps our clothing is a little inappropriate.

As I wrote above, many of us have done this on our own, without benefit of support groups or friends not afraid to tell us the truth.  As a result, we may not yet embody all the best visual qualities of being a woman.  So please, tell us what we need to hear, not phony compliments. We’ll appreciate the assistance. Don’t be afraid of us — we don’t bite, or if we do, you can’t catch a trans virus.

This article also appears on Cat Howard’s blog at


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