The Trans Prime Directive

Since I seem to be in a meditation-on-all-things-trans mood tonight, let me talk about something I’m been meaning to talk about for awhile: the Trans Prime Directive — something that’s one of the ways being T is different than LGB, and makes it much harder to build a “trans community” the way that gays and lesbians (or POC) have.

I was checking out at a store the other day, and the cashier was pretty clearly another trans woman. Her build, her voice, the large hands, etc. like me, there’s a lot of tells, if you know what to look for. I’m sure she knew I was trans. But we never acknowledged that to each other.

Why? Because of the Trans Prime Directive: Thou Shalt Not Out Another Trans Person. It’s never written down or really ever discussed publicly (in fact the name was coined on a private forum for trans people that I belong to), but all but the most socially inept trans people instinctively do it.

So no knowing nod. No asking if someone is a friend of Dorothy, or likes RuPaul’s Drag Race, or they like softball. (Just to be clear I’m referring to ways gays and lesbians used historically to subtly find out if someone was also gay or lesbian while still flying under the radar of straight folks.)

Yes there are trans people who are out and proud — and more and more these days. But there’s also people who aren’t yet out of the closet, living in that gray area of gender non-conformity but with plausible deniability. Others transition and “disappear into the woodwork,” finally able to live their lives as woman and men, rather than trans women or men.

And one never knows which group a randomly-encountered trans person belong to. So we all respect the Trans Prime Directive. Which needless to say can feel a bit isolating at times, and harder to feel a sense of solidarity.