How To Be A Better Trans Ally
It’s 2019. Transgender people have made huge political strides and gained greater representation in the media. New policies protecting trans rights are advancing every day. Despite these wins, trans folx (especially Black and PoC folx ) still face discrimination, violence and murder at disproportionately higher rates than any other community. Now more than ever, it’s up to us to become stronger, louder allies for transgender folx and push for a more inclusive and actively supportive society.
Becoming an ally to transgender and nonbinary people is an ongoing process. There is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ ally. Chances are, at some point you will mess up, or say the wrong thing. The point is not to be flawless, it’s to keep yourself educated, accountable, and to put in the work!
So let’s get started.
Don’t Tolerate Disrespect
You might hear transphobic comments from anti-LGBTQ activists, but you may also hear them from gay people. No matter who they’re coming from, always challenge transphobic remarks and jokes. That goes for backhanded compliments. Comments like, “She’s so pretty, I would have never guess she’s transgender!” or “He’s hot, I’d sleep with him even though he’s trans!” are hurtful, insulting, and reductive.
You can’t tell if someone is transgender or nonbinary just by looking. Many trans and nonbinary folx live most of their lives with very few people knowing their history! Similarly, don’t assume a transgender person’s sexual orientation. Gender identity is different that sexual orientation. Trans people can be gay, lesbian, bi, queer, or straight just like cisgender people!
If you’re unsure which pronouns a person uses, listen. If you’re asking someone’s pronouns, start with you own! (Ex: “Hey, I’m Amber and my pronouns are She/Her. What about you?”) If you mess up, just apologize quickly and move on. The bigger deal you make out of the situation, the more uncomfortable it is for everyone. Consider switching your language to gender-neutral terms! (Ex: “Folks” instead of “guys.”) (To learn more about pronouns, check out page 15 in our June Pride zine here!)
Never Out Someone
Some transgender people feel comfortable disclosing their gender history, and some do not. Never casually share this information, speculate or “gossip” about a person you know or think is transgender. It’s rude, it’s an invasion of privacy, and more importantly, it can have devastating consequences in a world that is very intolerant of gender diversity. Trans people can lose jobs, housing, friends, and even their lives when people find out about their gender history.
There Is No “Right” Way To Transition
Some trans people access medical care, like hormones and surgeries, as part of their transition to help align their bodies with their gender identities. Some trans folx don’t feel the need or desire to transition medically. And some transgender folx cannot access medical care, hormones and/or surgeries due to a lack of financial resources or access to healthcare. A transgender person’s identity (or the “legitimacy of their transition”) is never dependent on undergoing physical changes.
Exploring gender identity can take some time to figure out. For example, someone might use a name or pronoun that feels comfortable at the time, and then later change both. Be patient and support whatever name, pronouns, or terminology a trans or nonbinary person uses to describe their identity.
Keep It Appropriate
Don’t ask trans folx about their genitals, surgical status, or sex lives. If you wouldn’t ask a cis person, don’t ask a trans person either! Don’t ask if a trans person has had “the surgery,” or if they are “pre-op” or “post-op.” If a trans person wants to talk to you about these private matters, they will bring it up.
Similarly, do not ask a trans person what their “real” name is. For some trans people, being associated with their birth name (or “dead name”) is a huge source of anxiety and dysphoria. Respect the name they choose for themselves. If you happen to know someone’s dead name, or have photos from before their transition, do not share this information without their permission.
Support All-Gender Restrooms
Gender-variant people may not match the signs on restroom doors. If there is not all-gender restroom available, employ the buddy system and offer to walk a trans person to the bathroom so they’re less vulnerable.
Listen to Trans Voices
Listen to the experiences of trans people - they are the experts on their own lives! Educate yourself. Check out books, films, YouTube channels and blogs run by trans folx, and learn about transgender history!