A Starter Pack for Good Trans Allyship
Today I’m supposed to be visible. Really, I just want to live.
In 2014 I was evicted for being trans. Well, that’s not totally true. I don’t have an eviction on my record. I was told “get out or I will evict you” so I got out. At the time, I preferred to just get out than have a court battle or an eviction on my record. Certainly had any future prospective landlord asked, I could have told them the story and, if they were not bigots, they would have brushed it off. But I just packed my things and left. Given a do over, I don’t think I’d change that. I would love to fight those battles, but I don’t have the stamina or patience of people like Gavin Grimm.
I did change one thing after that eviction though. I stopped living as stealth. As I told people what happened, they were stunned. “You got evicted? That’s not legal!” I would start rattling off the facts and numbers. “Yes, it’s legal in Ohio. And while I could take this to court and probably win, I would need so much more support and money and resources than I have. I just want to live my life.” So I started to be out and open about my gender identity. But not for me. I’m fine, I’ve been through enough in my life that I can shrug it off when people ask me if I’ve “had the surgery” or what my birth name is. [Ed. note: don’t ask these things.] I started being open for the 15 year old kid I met that same year who was heartbroken to know that, with the laws as they are, his birth certificate is always going to say female. I started being open for the trans people who died before Laverne Cox ever got to be a household name. I started being open for the 5 year old AMAB child I saw flying around the park with a tutu, wand, and fairy wings. I started being open so people would ask me the questions that hurt so I could tell them to please stop asking what’s in people’s pants.
Gender is complicated, if you’re reading this, you probably know that. I identify as “a man with a vagina” because that’s just how I see it, how I feel. Some people identify with their birth-assigned sex, some as the binary-opposite of their birth-assigned sex, some people are somewhere in between. I can’t speak for every trans person the same way I can’t speak for every white person or every Ohio resident or every Harry Potter fan. I can speak to my experience, full stop. So what’s my experience? Well, that’s not an article or a think piece, that’s a damn book and I don’t have time to write that today. [Ed. note: seriously, it’s in the works though]
Let me say something clearly: I don’t want to be visible. I love writing because I can pull my thoughts out and release them, and if someone likes it, all the better. I like offstage aspects of theatre because I get to create this experience for the audience without everyone staring at me. I didn’t transition for the attention. I transitioned because I’m a man but everyone else kept calling me ‘Miss’ and I was tired of it. [Ed. note: obviously it’s more complicated than that] I remember, for years, wanting to just blend in. I wanted your eyes to pass over me like any other guy in a crowd. I wanted the double takes to stop, the looks that said “are you a boy or a girl,” the uncomfortable stares in the gym when I used the women’s locker room. These days, I often hear things like “I saw your total doppelganger downtown yesterday” and I love it. To me, that says I’ve succeeded. I’m so unremarkable that there is a guy in every neighborhood that looks like me at first sight.
So I’m here, I’m visible. Woohoo, look at me. Ask me your question. But if you want to be an ally, please hear me out on a few tips from a transguy who’s heard them all.
- If you wouldn’t ask a cisgender person the same question, don’t ask a transgender person. I have never felt the need to inquire about a cisgender person’s genitalia or reproductive plans. I have never felt the need to ask if the name a cis person uses is their “real name” or what their birth name is. I’ve never felt the need to gather the specifics of a cis person’s medical history or surgical history.
- Do your research. The internet is a cesspool of misinformation and hate speech BUT it also holds basically the compendium of all human knowledge. So while some sites with information on transgender people can be a mess, others will answer some basic questions your trans friends are probably tired of answering.
- Consent matters. If someone has disclosed to you that they are trans, and you want to ask them questions, there is one questions you should definitely start off with: “Can I ask you a question about being transgender?” or something to that affect. DON’T do this if there are other people around who may not know about the person’s gender identity. DON’T do this if you are assuming they are trans. DON’T do this if they have come to you in that moment for emotional support. Which leads to the next point.
- Listen. If you bulldoze over them in this conversation, what have you learned? How have you helped? A cisgender person dominating a conversation with transgender person about transgender issues is no different than a man dominating a conversation about women’s issues or a white person dominating a conversation about racism.
- Think before you speak. Ask yourself, and this can be in any allyship or really any conversation: “Does it need to be said? Does it need to be said now? Does it need to be said by me?”
- Did I mention do your research? This is far from a comprehensive listicle on trans allyship. There are so many out there. Take a look. Click some links. If a trans person chooses to be visible today or any day, these things will help you be an ally and not an actor on the stage of ally theatre. Maybe take some time to learn about transgender history. We didn’t just appear after the third episode of Orange Is The New Black.
I don’t wish I was born male or that I wasn’t trans. Do I think my life would be easier if I weren’t? Probably. I’ve got enough “it’s complicated” boxes checked in the survey of my life to date. But I also think I’m a better person for my experience — more empathetic, more open-minded, more patient.
That being said, I don’t feel good when people tell me how courageous I am. When I talk about my experience, I get that a lot. “Wow, you’re so brave,” “I really admire how you live your truth,” “to thine own self be true, man, right?” Or worse, the backhanded compliments “I had no idea you were trans” or “I always thought you were just a real man.” I’m just trying to live.
In a world were 1 in 8 trans women of color are murdered. In a world where nearly 1 in 2 trans people attempt suicide. In a world where nearly 70% of trans people with mental health disorder have attempted suicide. In this world, I’m just trying to live. We’re just trying to live.