When you become an ally for all trans people, your actions will help make the world safer for trans people. But what is a trans ally? Generally, an ally is “someone who advocates for and supports members of a community other than their own; reaching across differences to achieve mutual goals” (UC Berkeley’s Gender Equity Unit) – so in short, a trans ally is someone who isn’t trans, but supports the trans community.
So here are some hopefully helpful tips for being an active trans activist/advocate. But I’m going to assume that you know some of the basics – for instance, saying something like, “You’re transgender? But you’re so pretty!” is something you should never say because simply put – it is rude. You can also check out GLAAD’s Tips For Allies if you want!
- Never Out a Trans Person: unfortunately, being out and trans is hard – so that’s why it is vital that you never out a trans person without their explicit consent/permission; this is not something that can be done and apologized for. Matt Kaily’s Transifesto makes this clear: “If you see a person on the street that you know to be trans, it is a private matter and not appropriate to tell your friends that the person is trans. It is also not appropriate to mention anything that would ‘out’ a trans person if you are with that person in a public setting.” This means that the act of outing any trans person means that they could lose their jobs, their families, or even their bodies. So don’t assume that everyone will be OK with someone being trans.
- Know Your Trans Terminology: Understand basic trans terminology – so for example, a transgender is assigned a gender at birth that doesn’t match the gender they identify with. But this means that it’s not sexual attraction – there’s a difference between sexual orientation and gender identity – meaning that there are both, for example, gay and straight trans people.
- Ask for Pronouns: If you’re unsure about what pronouns someone uses – then politely ask how without making a big deal about it. It’s better to make sure that the person feels comfortable than make them feel uneasy when you make a mistake (which is fine, everyone makes mistakes! Just don’t make a big deal when you do). The activist Tiq Milan told the Huffington Post, “People would respect [the question] more than they would reject it, particularly if you have people, not on the binary.” Someone may also have a preference for a pronoun like ze and zir – which would be respectful to use.
- Know what’s Offensive: words can have a powerful impact; many phrases/words can be harmful towards trans people – so educate yourself. Activist Julia Serano explains, “It is offensive that so many people feel that it is OK to publicly refer to transsexuals as being “pre-op” or “post-op” when it would so clearly be degrading and demeaning to regularly describe all boys and men as being either “circumcised” or “uncircumcised.” Trans people will often say they were assigned “(x gender) at birth” (so for example, I would say that I am assigned female at birth) rather than “being born a boy / girl” (so I would say that I wasn’t “born a girl”) – because my relationship with my body/gender is complicated. Asking invasive questions about hormones or surgeries, and terns such as, “tr**y”, “she-male”, or saying that someone “used to be a man/woman” are all offensive.
- Don’t Make Assumptions: Just because someone looks like the gender they’ve identified with their entire lives, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be trans. Trans academic Jack Halberstam notes that “There are trans people who are politicians, doctors, lawyers, professors. I think that increasingly people do know trans people, though they may not know it.” Additionally, just because you’ve heard one trans story – it doesn’t mean that will be the case for all trans people – never assume that a trans person has been rejected by their families, had a terrible time growing up. On the other hand, never assume that the experience has been easy: basically, there’s a huge, varied and diverse range of trans stories.
- Keep your curiosity to Yourself: On the Transgender Quotes Tumblr, there was a collection of quotes from trans individuals, there’s one about transitioning and how tricky and emotional it is: “Every night before I fall asleep I wish I’ll wake up in the right body, as a boy, and that everything was just a dream.” With this quote in mind, and while it’s pretty normal to be curious about surgery and hormones – resist the temptation. But if they do want to educate you about surgeries and/or hormones, they will, but good allies don’t ask. But there are many ways to transition, and the hormone – surgery route isn’t for everyone.
- Listen: Simply, just listen to what trans people have to say – Jamie-Ann Meyers, a trans woman, and transgender advocate, wrote in the Huffington Post that, “many trans* people often feel invisible or excluded, even in fights that may look as if they include them” – so one of the best way of challenging the norm? Listen to minority groups and what they have to say. However – your trans friend or partner isn’t a PSA or “teaching moment” – but their stories and experiences deserve to be heard.
- Don’t Say “Gender doesn’t matter to me”: it may seem like the most PC (politically correct) thing that you don’t “see gender”, and whichever way a trans person identifies in terms of gender, it doesn’t matter to you – this will invalidate a trans persons gender identity.
- Get Political: Straight For Equality’s Guide To Being A Trans* Ally is an in-depth guide for anyone who wants to be a transgender ally and has a whole “spectrum” of all types. The last one? The super ally – who is going to be a postie, political force for change. They recommend that you get educated on the legal challenges facing trans* people (e.g. medical care to being protected against discrimination at work).
- Don’t ask what a trans person “real name” is: for some trans people, being associated with their deadname can be extremely dysphoria enduing – respect the name that the trans person is using, and don’t use the person’s deadname.
- Be patient with a person who is questioning or exploring their gender. identity: Gender is complicated (trust me), so for someone who is questioning or exploring their gender identity, it will take time for them to figure everything out. For example, they may use a name or pronoun that may work for a while, and then change it (and that’s OK!) – but do your best and use the name and pronoun that they ask you.