Written by Prin, University of South Florida
CW: discussion of transphobic behavior and dialogue
The variations in community experiences between different locations is fascinating to me. In Tampa, Florida, I am heavily involved in the transgender community, and I know many different stories of trans people. While the stories of the two trans people who came and spoke to us while we visited Charlotte are much different, the themes are common in trans narratives.
I think that many people want to learn how to be allied with and an advocate for the transgender community, but not many know how to do this. Keep in mind that all people are different, and this list is just from my experience as a trans person and my speaking with others about their experiences. There may be some transgender people who feel differently about specific things, and that’s okay too.
Here are 16 ways to be a transgender ally and advocate:
- Realize and acknowledge that we are human too. We have our flaws, we can have mental illnesses, we can be wrong about things. No one is perfect. We also can’t represent everyone in our community. We are just doing the best we can to be happy.
- Realize and acknowledge that being transgender is a spectrum. Some people want surgery and/or hormones, while others don’t. Some people will fit your binary ideas of what it means to be a man or a woman, or masculine or feminine, some won’t. Everyone is on their own personal journey.
- Realize and acknowledge that there are more than two genders. Gender is a social construct, and a spectrum of identities. We are stuck in this binary system that limits us as humans. Many cultures, currently and throughout history, have more than two genders.
- If you see a transgender person who is facing discrimination let them know that they are not alone, you support them, and make a stand against that discrimination. Speak up and stand up for your transgender neighbors.
- If you know someone who is trans, don’t tell other people. The only exception to this is if they ask you to tell someone, or they tell you that it is okay for you to share their stories with other people. Don’t assume to consent to this. If you’re not sure if something is okay, ask and get consent first.
- Don’t assume anyone’s gender… Ever. Always ask “What are your preferred pronouns?”. Even if someone looks completely feminine and fits your idea of a woman, that doesn’t mean that they are. This means, don’t use gendered language for people before you ask their pronouns. It’s very simple to use gender neutral pronouns for strangers, once you try and are mindful about your words.
- Misgendering someone is considered a microaggression, which picks apart at people slowly, but painfully. It is considered a form of unintended discrimination that has the same effect as conscious, intended discrimination. I imagine the feeling of being misgendered as similar to the feeling when people’s names get mispronounced their whole lives. Along these lines of misgendering someone, don’t make a big deal when you do misgender someone. Just correct your mistake and move on quickly.
- When introducing yourself, say your pronouns. In group settings, for example, have everyone say their pronouns in their introductions after their name.
- Don’t say someone’s birth name to them or anyone else. This is extremely disrespectful and can potentially trigger unwanted thoughts/emotions in the trans person. They typically don’t want people knowing their birth name.
- Don’t tell someone “I never would have guessed you were trans!” or “oh, I thought you were a boy” or “You pass really well!” While these things may be an attempt at a compliment, they are actually underhanded insults, and microaggressions. They tell the trans person that now you are seeing them differently than you once saw them, and it can make them very uncomfortable.
- Passing isn’t something everyone can do, so let’s get away from that idea. “Passing” implies that someone is not what they seem to be, but “passing” as something else. In terms of nonbinary trans people, it is impossible for us to “pass” as nonbinary in this binary world. Talking about how well someone passes in front of a nonbinary person can feel extremely invalidating to that person.
- Bathrooms are scary for trans people, so just be aware of that, and watch out for your trans friends.
- Don’t say “transgendered.” While we see this word used in news articles and heard in other places talking about the transgender community, this word is despised by every single transgender person that I have met. This goes along with the word, “transgenders.” A correct sentence for the word transgendered might be “I walked outside and got transgendered.” Not, “He is transgendered.” We are people. An easy way to avoid these terms is to say “transgender people,” or “transgender person.”
- Don’t ask about personal information like surgery, hormones, birth name, genitals, or how they have sex. This is personal information that you would not ask a cisgender person.
- Talk about and promote (Via twitter retweets, facebook shares, or tumblr reblogs) transgender people more than just when awful things happen. Balance all the negative things that affect trans lives with all the positive things that trans people accomplish.
- Do your own research, and educate yourself.
There are many more ways to be allied with and an advocate for the transgender community, this is just a few. Through meeting people and talking about issues, you will learn even more ways to be the best ally ever!
Prin is a Sophomore in Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Prin prefers they/them/their pronouns and is interning to create an LGBTQ+ LLC on campus called Spectrum LLC. They are apart of University of South Florida LGBT Bulls Service breaks, a program that promotes social justice issues all throughout the country.