Learning to be a good ally to transgender people in your life or transgender people in general, is an ongoing and sometimes a difficult process. Some ways to be a good ally are relatively simple, while others require a lot more time, energy, and a definite commitment. Whether you’re looking for information on supporting a transgender person in your life or looking for blogs, books, online articles that will help you change the world to be a better place for transgender people overall, I hope this blog post will give you some of the information that you may need. As I am a transgender woman, some of the documentation that follows are answers to questions asked of me by well meaning people, trying to be good allies. They have come to realize that transgender people are among the most marginalized people in the world, and want to add their voice to the fight. The most important part of being a good ally is learning what it means to be transgender. The National Center for Transgender Equality website, is a good place to start. It has some of the best articles about transgender rights and self help guides.
There’s no one way to be a perfect transgender ally. The transgender community is diverse and complex. Transgender people of all ages come from every region of the United States and from around the world, from every racial and ethnic background and from every possible faith. You don’t have to understand someone’s identity to respect them as a person. Many people have trouble understanding transgender identity, and may not agree with what it means to be trans, and that’s okay. Different members of the transgender community have different needs and view their life with diverse priorities. Just like a crowd of people, there is no one right way to handle every transgender situation or interact with every transgender person. The best thing you can do is keep this in mind: be respectful, keep trying and do your best. Most of the time the transgender person will see that you’re trying to be respectful and this will help lighten the anxiety of the interaction, because they will want to help you understand.
When I came out to my primary care physician, the first thing he asked me was what new medications had my endocrinologist prescribed for me. Later on he stated that being trans wasn’t something he necessarily agreed with but he respected me for being myself and wanted me to have the best care that he could provide. All people, even those people whose identity you don’t fully understand, deserve respect as a human being.
There is no one way to be Transgender
Some people choose to medically and / or surgically transition and some don’t. Some choose to legally change their name and gender on documents and some don’t. Some choose to change their hair and clothing and some don’t . When considering surgery, some transgender people can not afford the surgery’s required due to the cost, their health or there own safety. A transgender persons identity is not dependent on what they have or haven’t done to transition. No two trans journeys are alike. We all have certain goals we need to achieve to be our authentic self.
Continue to educate yourself
To be an effective ally, take responsibility for educating yourself. Seek out and attend diversity groups and ally group meetings. Seek out resources and information, and most importantly, have conversations with the trans people in your life. Expand your horizons. The diversity of transgender people is a wonderful place.
If you don’t know what pronouns to use, ask
The best way to know what pronoun someone uses is to see if it comes up naturally. He, she, they, or something else. If you are still unsure, ask politely and respectfully. Don’t make a big deal about it. Sharing your own pronouns is a great way to bring up the topic.
“Hello, my name is Lynn, she/her. What pronouns do you use?”
If you use the wrong pronouns, politely apologize and move on. Do not draw unwanted attention to the person. Unwanted attention can cause stress and anxiety to the situation.
Be considerate asking questions
I was on a date with a potential boyfriend who was trying to be a good ally. He started moving the conversation with questions about my surgeries. There are many topics including medical transition, life pre-transition, sexual preferences, that might spark curiosity. It doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to ask. I ended my date, and blocked his calls and social media. It’s not appropriate to expect a trans person to share intimate details about themselves. Ask yourself two questions if you’re unsure about a topic.
- Do I really need to know this information to treat this person respectfully?
- Would I be comfortable if someone asked me that question?
Asking someone’s name and pronouns is almost always appropriate. We use that information when talking to or about people everyday. Asking anyone about their surgical history is inappropriate. I have been asked several questions by cis-gendered people that made me uncomfortable:
- The name I was born with, or my “real” name
- Photographs from before my transition
- What hormones, if any, do I take
- Questions about my sexual relationships
- Have I had surgery to complete my gender confirmation
- When do I plan to have more surgeries
People may have good intentions, try to be supportive, and unintentionally hurt a trans person. Focusing on looks, stereotypes, or how you perceive what gender looks like, should be avoided. I’ve personally experienced verbal gaffes that feel more like backhanded compliments:
- You look like a “real” woman! I never would have known you were transgender
- You would look less trans if you just got a better wig or practiced more on your makeup
- No “real” woman dresses that way. If you want to look less trans you need to look more feminine
- I would date you even if I didn’t know you were transgender
A person’s gender identity is their private information to share or not
If someone tells you they are transgender, that doesn’t mean everyone else knows. It may be unsafe for them to tell certain people. They might be mistreated, disowned, fired from a job, or simply not want to share the information. It’s up to them not you when and how and how much to share about their transition. It’s their story to tell, let them tell it their way, and in their time.
Be an outspoken ally
Speak out in support of transgender people and transgender rights. Politely correct others if they use wrong names or pronouns for a transgender person. It is important to challenge anti-transgender remarks, jokes and conversations. It can be very scary to speak out, but loud and visible supporters of transgender rights can show transgender people that they are accepted and encouraged. Step in or support a transgender person who is experiencing discrimination. Learn about policies that mostly affect transgender people. Are there any laws that protect transgender people where you live? Any policies at work or school or your college that exclude transgender people for any reason? It’s important to learn more about the challenges that transgender people face and the goals of transgender advocates. Help to push changes that will engage and encourage cis-gender people to changing discriminatory policies. Visibly support policies that encourage and support transgender people.
“Social change is a million individual acts of kindness. Cultural change is a million subversive acts of resistance.” – Mary Pipher PhD (Reviving Ophelia)