Being a Trans Ally

Seattle, especially the Capitol Hill area, is a notably LGBTQ+ area, bursting with pride and support for individuals of all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions. And maybe, like me, you’re someone who supports all individuals and understands how to generally mind your own business about the life choices and identities of others. But if you’re anything like me, you might also be wondering about the ways in which you falter in that, or how you can help others see ways they could improve. If you know nothing about trans individuals or the trans community, pause reading and go do some research. But I learned pretty quickly that being an ally doesn’t just mean that you stand in support of the LGBTQ+ community, it means that you also actively stand against its oppressors and work to make a positive impact. A lot of that comes from understanding and using your privilege, but what does that even mean? And if you’re someone who hasn’t had a lot of exposure to the trans community, it can feel like you’re an imposter as you claim that you’re an ally.

That’s me. I have support and the fires of indignance to give for people suffering under the weight of oppression and minoritization. I want to be an ally. But up until a few days ago, I had no idea what that even meant or how I would go about making that happen. I want to share a list of tips acquired from trans students so that you, too, can be the ally you’ve been wanting to be.

 

  1. Don’t assume someone’s gender or sexual orientation. Socially, we’ve been trained to gender things as being masculine or feminine. We have been taught to associate those items or colors with gender, and unfortunately we tend to apply that to people. Naturally, we want to simplify and boil things down into neat little categories so that’s easy to understand the world around us. But humans are too complex for that. We can’t boil the thousands of little details and experiences that form and create a person into a simple label. Just like you can’t know someone’s name just by looking at them, you definitely can’t know for sure who they’re attracted to or how they identify.

  2. Respect the confidentiality of anyone who comes out to you as transgender, non-conforming, or questioning. It’s a very personal and unique journey for everyone. Unfortunately, in the world we live in, it also isn’t always safe. Keeping that shared information to yourself doesn’t only preserve their safety, it also honors and respects them. That information isn’t yours to share, so don’t. Instead, feel good that they trusted you with that information and continue to be a good friend to them.

  3. Listen. If a person comes out to you or deals with painful experiences, you can help tremendously just by listening. A lot of times, when someone is experiencing something that’s emotionally taxing or really difficult, what they need most isn’t solutions but someone to listen to them. When we listen to someone--and I mean really listen--it can make them feel less alone, and that even if we might not understand what they’re going through, we at least care about them enough to try to understand.

  4. Know your limits; don’t speak on behalf of that trans community as an ally. Part of being an ally is understanding that we carry privilege, a kind of privilege that transgender individuals likely don’t have. We likely have more opportunity to have our voices be heard, and it can be tempting to want to speak up for them, but because we aren’t the ones going through that experience, we can’t speak their truth for them. It’s important for us to instead use our privilege to extend a hand and pull transgender individuals up onto our platform with us so that their voices can be heard, too.

  5. Use the correct pronouns. Ask everyone what pronouns they use. Someone’s pronouns are the same as their name. It’s what you use to refer to them to other people. Using the correct pronouns is a sign of respect that you give any person. It’s a sign of good character, too, because how you treat someone when they’re not around is just as important as how you treat them to their face.

  6. Do your best to be respectful and call the person by the name they request. Of course we are all prone to slipping up sometimes and making mistakes. What makes the difference is how we proceed from those actions. Don’t beat yourself up about it; acknowledge your mistake and reflect on how you can do better in the future.

  7. Actively educate yourself on issues faced by trans people. It’s pretty difficult to advocate for change when you don’t know what the problems are. You can’t be the most supportive person you can be when you don’t know what areas are the most vulnerable.

  8. Examine your ideas of gender stereotypes and challenge those around you to do the same. I know that I’ve personally been socialized to view people and things through a binary gendered lens, but through the training I’ve received and the ways in which I’ve been challenged, I have learned to shift my thinking to try to view people just as that: people. It helps a lot to remember that everyone is living a distinctly different life, and that just because you live yours one way and have your own individual experiences doesn’t mean that others are wrong.

  9. Above all, transgender people are human beings who deserve respect and understanding. There’s not much else to say. They are human beings. We are human beings. And we all deserve respect and understanding.

 

People are humans, and we’re prone to making mistakes. But that doesn’t mean that we are mistakes. Errors are the first step to growth, so treat every time you slip up as a learning opportunity. It’s important to support each other, especially those of us who have a harder time moving through the world because of how society has written the rules.