It’s been a rough year for a lot of people, and it’s pretty clear that trans people have been targets. If you don’t know why by now, I don’t know if I have the energy to explain it (though most news outlets can!). Personally, I display symptoms of high-functioning depression and anxiety (read: party on the outside, hot hot mess on the inside) and this year more than any has just steamrolled over me. I wish I were exaggerating when I say that about once or twice a week, I find myself ~ LITERALLY ~ in the closet, openly weeping.
When we are constantly bombarded by a never-ending news cycle, sometimes thoughts and prayers just aren’t enough. It’s a blessing to find a place where you feel safe and comfortable, so I’ve compiled a list of things that can help other people feel a bit safer (as told by Fey-Poehler gifs).
- This isn’t a comprehensive list, but a casual conversational piece that might help to open connection or conversation in moments where it feels really hard.
- Everybody reacts to the trauma of having to justify their existence differently. The best way to know what will feel good for someone is to ask them.
- Sorry if I seem angry ACTUALLY NO I AM NOT SORRY IVE ACTUALLY BEEN SO ANGRY FOR SO LONG, but it’s not directed at you. At this point, I just can’t change the way my voice will sound when i’m trying to make sense of what has been happening.
1. Checking in on them to see how they’re doing
Imagine if you are filled with existential dread approximately every other waking moment. And then, every so often, when you can get yourself to fall asleep, you wake up with a huge weight on your chest that is NOT the weighted blanket you ordered.
There’s nothing better than having your phone bring you the gift of, “Heyyyy friend, just wanted to check in and see how you were. How are you?” Most of us won’t expect it. Most of us never get it. Most of us have learned to do this on our own since we decided to be openly queer. We get better at it, but it doesn’t always mean it gets easier.
Most of the time, I’ll know what it’s about already. I’ve already read the news, someone told me, or I’ve already experienced it firsthand and now I’m trying to digest WHAT THE WHAT is happening. But it reminds me to check in with myself and process whatever feelings I need to.
I don’t always know how I’ll respond, from “Hey, I’m ok, thanks for checking in,” to the proverbial floodgates of “everything is a dumpster trash fire and I’m sure it’s not normal but it ~feels~ normal because we’ve been here so many times in the course of ONE MONTH and I’m afraid if I don’t let it feel normal then I won’t be able to cope. 😬😬😬”
tl;dr — check in on your friends, ESPECIALLY the ones that seem “ok” all the time.
2. Avoid saying things like, “I just don’t know where I stand on the trans issue,” and instead say, “I’m still learning, thanks for your patience.”
(okay but really you should probably never say “The Trans Issue”, I am definitely just saying it facetiously)
THE DREADED “TRANS ISSUE.” It’s a bizarre feeling to overhear, “I just don’t know where I stand on The Trans Thing™️,” when I am a trans person. It feels alienating because my existence is a stance that people can take, and it feels discouraging because I don’t know how to help you to care about me. What I hear when I hear “The Trans Thing,” is that someone has something they don’t understand, and they need more information to decide whether I am as human as they are. (spoiler alert: I am)
That might seem abstract, but not seeing us as full people or as “less than” people has real consequences. A 14-year-old girl was left alone during a school shooting drill because the teachers (GROWN ADULT HUMANS) couldn’t decide which locker room she should go in. The average life expectancy of a trans woman of color is 35 years old.
Something that really changed how I approached living freely and knowing the struggles of my trans siblings was changing the media I consume. Who is on your Instagram / Twitter feed? Are you hearing from fat / differently-abled / poor trans people? Have you read any anecdotes, articles, books, zines authored by trans people of colour? Or could you? This isn’t to create a dichotomy of right and wrong, but rather to recognize that narratives are powerful and the stories we surround ourselves with affect the information we receive and who we see as human or “like us.”
3. Be with them while they scream about everything or nothing
What I need most right now is: (a list inside a list!)
- The least number of reminders that I need to be fixed in some way.
- Almost no attention to the things that make me a target (unless I bring it up).
- Someone to show me care.
Not “how to care,” but “care.” It sounds so nebulous, but I can’t count how many times I was about ready to . lose . it . and someone came over and gave me a fuzzy shark friend and covered me in a blanket ($15 sherpa blankets from Costco — you’re welcome). I (and likely others facing oppression and marginalization) feel like I’m needing to fight for my livelihood in an environment that changes from one set of nonsense rules to another every other day; I am pretty much always angry, always frustrated, and I have probably forgotten what it means to be gentle with myself.
This is hard, because something that feels caring to one person might feel patronizing to another. A good way to start is “Is there something I can do to support you right now?” When I offer care to someone, I usually offer help with housework, to cook a meal together, or — since I have a car in a big city — offer to run errands together. Maybe it means talking to a coworker or your children about trans / gender-nonconforming people. Or sometimes it’s less practical and it looks more like sitting quietly next to each other doing different things (looking at you, introvert friends) or coming over with a box of Star Wars Kleenex with the movie set to match. You know your friends best, and if you really can’t think of anything, I’m serious about that blanket.
4. Practice your pronouns / names if you’re struggling
If trust is like a really beautiful soufflé that we’ve both worked so hard to bake, there is nothing that will deflate it faster than when I hear the wrong pronouns being used for me.
🚨🚨🚨 <RealTalk> (CW: transphobic language) 🚨🚨🚨
I also mess up pronouns / names, even at one time, my own. I also remember a time looking at somebody and thinking, “Pff, that person is definitely not a ‘she’” or “why do we have to bother with all this they/zir/Mx. why can’t people just use what’s already there?” or “Sally is a girl’s name.” I was also very out and queer at this time, so just because you are queer does not exempt you from transphobic behaviors.
🚨🚨🚨 </RealTalk> 🚨🚨🚨
The bottom line is using correct names / pronouns isn’t about you. It’s about the other person who is asking you to do this thing that LITERALLY costs you nothing other than the effort required to unlearn a problematic thing. We don’t need you to get The Trans Thing™️, just like I don’t need to understand the mechanics of Celiac’s to know not to offer that person glutinous things.
What does this look like practically?
HOW: Practice using gender-neutral pronouns for everybody, not just your trans / gender-nonconforming friends (e.g., Look at that complete stranger across the street, they have such a cute dress! Wonder where they got it?).
WHY: I get it. Learning languages can be really hard and habits that we’ve carried for several decades are hard to break. Part of introducing new patterns in language is training ourselves to try it out, even if we feel embarrassed to mess up. Practicing (out loud) in different contexts other than directly referencing your friend will dramatically reduce the amount of times you might stumble otherwise.
HOW: Drop “preferred” from your vocabulary (e.g., What are your preferred pronouns?).
WHY: “Preferred” implies that pronouns are a preference (Okay, sometimes people do have a preferred set of pronouns but that sort of distracts from the point) so just asking directly helps to affirm that pronouns are not like a favorite ice cream flavor, but an integral part of how someone wants to be addressed.
HOW: Practice using different pronouns with different names (e.g., My friend Emma, he’s going to the store.; Oh that’s my friend Tommy, they don’t like olives on their pizza.)
WHY: Gender is very ingrained in us from a young age which means things that inherently have no gender (names, clothes, PETS EVEN) are strongly associated with gender. Using different combinations of pronouns, names, and situations will help make that brain-to-mouth connection that will make using the wrong pronouns for people as uncomfortable as when we use the wrong pronouns for pets.
5. Share to support trans- / queer- / youth-led organizations.
When I say things like, “The youth are the future!” I don’t want to lay the whole responsibility of saving the world on them. I want to support them, be part of their movement, and witness the expansive solutions they create. Sharing the work they do and making them feel supported is only one of few ways to invest in youth. Since we made it to the end and everything else has been $Free.99, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that you can also donate to said organizations!
- Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Audre Lorde Project, Casa Ruby, FIERCE, Trans Latin@ Coalition, Trans Lifeline, Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Southerners on New Ground, Organizacion Latina de Trans En Texas (OLTT), Trans Law Center. For more comprehensive lists, visit: Trans Justice Funding Project and Borealis Philanthropy’s Fund for Trans Generations [src]
- Third Wave Fund: trans and youth-led fund that focuses on trans- and youth-led gender justice activism
- Trans Tech Social: trans-founded incubator focusing on empowering community through co-working and co-learning
- Brave Space Alliance, Trans Queer Pueblo, TAKE Resource Center, TKO Society, Trans Women of Color Collective, Black LGBTQIA Migrant Project, Trans Sistas of Color Project, House of GGs, & TransLatina Coalition [src]
Thanks for coming to my Ted talk ✌🏼