So You Want To Be a Trans Ally: Remember These 10 Things!

I have heard lots of people say that they want to be an ally to trans people, but many people have skewed ideas of what that truly means. It’s not just about being a friend to trans people; it’s about working through your stuff. It’s about educating yourselves and others as well. If you want to be a trans ally, among many other things, you must remember these 10 things:

  1. NEVER ask a transgender person what their “real name” is.

This is extremely disheartening to many trans people, and it implies that you do not value what is their name. The name that they use is their real name. By asking a trans person what their “real name” is, you are devaluing their name that they may hold lots of pride in.

2. Refrain from, when referencing transgender people, calling them “a trans” or “transgendered”.

These words or phrases are offensive because it takes an adjective and turns it into a defining noun. By doing this, you can make the person or the people that you are referring to sound distant or foreign, like they are a thing first and a person second. This is why most transgender people take offense when someone refers to them in this way.

3. Under no circumstances should you ever ask about a trans person’s genitals, surgical status, or sex life.

Many trans people believe that it is inappropriate to ask about these things because they can feel invasive. Much of this is due to the fact that many trans people know that you would not ask non-trans people about their genitals, whether or not they have “had the surgery”, or “how they have sex”. It is common sense that it is inappropriate to ask cis people about this. Trans people are no different. It is common courtesy.

4. Stop glorifying and romanticizing trans people and their experiences. We’re not brave; we’re living.

How would you feel if someone told you when you woke up: “Wow! You’re so brave for waking up and living today.” Trans people do not want a big congratulations for transitioning nor for living through another day. Trans people want to be accepted in society as someone who can live through every day. They want support when they are having off days, but they do not want to be coddled like children and congratulated for just living. Trans people deserve to live, just like everyone else, and they don’t need a congratulations.

5. Challenge anti-trans comments in all public spaces — including LGB/Queer spaces.

Many allies do not think that it’s their place to challenge anti-trans comments in queer spaces, especially if they identify as cisgender and heterosexual. However, it is [even] in these spaces that there is a need for people who are not a part of that community to speak up. When there are folks in the space who are using trans folks’ old names and incorrect pronouns, do not be shy about correcting them. It is going to be uncomfortable. Trans people are uncomfortable every day. Part of being a true ally is embracing that uncomfortability and having meaningful conversations with problematic people in that space and in that way.

6. Support gender neutral bathrooms. Some trans people identify within the binary, but there is a vast majority of trans people who do not.

It is extremely aggravating when people tell non-binary folks to go into the bathroom in which they feel most comfortable. There is a flaw in this when there are no gender neutral bathrooms for those folks to use. Asking trans folks to pick between the men’s bathroom and the women’s bathroom, especially when they do not fully identify with either one of these genders, is extremely dehumanizing and can often contribute to some of their dysphoria. This is what trans non-binary folks need from allies.

7. If you are in a position of authority in meetings, in the classroom, etc., set an inclusive tone from the very beginning.

Something as small as asking everyone at the meeting, in the classroom, etc. their pronouns, as well as the name that they go by, could mean the world to a transgender person. Something that could seem so minute could show a trans person that you value their experience, and it could show them that you care about them, as a human being. In addition to this, you can show those that look to you as an authoritative figure that this is how you want the environment to be: inclusive.

8. Listen to transgender people. Read up on trans history. Check out books from your local library, watch YouTube videos, etc. Meet the transgender people in your communities and listen to them for what they need from you.

There are tons of ways to plug into your communities to find out what transgender people need from you. In order to prepare for those conversation, while working on harm reduction, read up on trans history. Read up on the current climate in your city, state, and nation. Talk to other allies in your community to see what work they have become involved in and find ways to plug in. Begin having conversations with trans people while seeking to understand, but remember not to emotionally overburden them.

9. Work your hardest to learn their pronouns and their name. Do not take it lightly.

As an ally, it is extremely important to learn a trans person’s name and pronouns. It is not their job to continue to correct you. In fact, after a while, it can get extremely tiring, draining, and emotionally exhausting for them. As an ally, be sure not to use the excuse that you need them to be patient because they changed their name. That is placing the blame on them, which can also be emotionally burdening, as they can be made to feel that you cannot learn their name because they are making it too difficult for you. Just work hard to learn their name and pronouns. Don’t complain. Validate their upset and anger if you slip up and apologize immediately.

10. Be willing to admit that, as an ally, you have limits. As an ally, it is okay that you won’t know everything. It’s okay to ask questions.

Always ask questions. Never assume something just because you are too afraid to ask. As long as you come to trans people with questions in a respectful manner, then, there is no reason that we shouldn’t be able to have grace with folks and educate them. Just ask.

Remember that we are all learning and that the language is always changing. This is not at all an extensive list of all the things that trans allies need to keep in mind. However, in my opinion, these are some of the most important things to keep in mind.

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