Typical first-day icebreakers often include sharing your name, major, hometown, and, of course, the most dreaded question: ¨What did you do over the summer?¨ This year, for the first time in my college career, each of my professors also requested that we disclose our pronouns. As an openly transgender woman in Missouri, this act of solidarity was new to me. I was used to a handful of professors and faculty on campus initiating these kinds of discussions, but for the most part, much of the work of communicating how to respect me was my own responsibility. This often resulted in slightly awkward and frequently frustrating conversations with my educators.
From Instagram bios to email signatures, Canvas profiles to LinkedIn pages, more often than not people are sharing their pronouns on their profiles as a token of open support for the trans+ community. While this gesture is one that I welcome with open arms, I want to make it clear: putting your pronouns in your bio isn’t enough. In fact, many people in the trans+ community would argue that gestures such as these, without actions to match them, are not adequate measures to fight against the rise of transphobic ideology in the United States today. This is not to say that asking for someone’s pronouns or sharing your own isn’t a great place to start, but it shouldn’t be the end.
With drag show bans and gender-affirming care restrictions on the rise in numerous states across the country, actionable support for the trans+ community is needed now more than ever. If you’re stuck trying to figure out where to start in terms of supporting the trans community, here are five ways to incorporate trans+ allyship into your daily life.
1. Get Your content Directly from the Source
If you come across a topic about gender and trans+ issues that you don’t quite understand, try to find material on the subject written by trans+ and nonbinary people. Whenever possible, seek out sources created by trans+ people of color and disabled trans+ people.
This isn’t to say that you should inundate your trans and nonbinary friends with every question you have about an issue – it means that you should seek out news sources, community organizations, podcasts, books, documentaries, and other forms of media that can be used as a guide for better understanding the trans+ community on your own.
If you currently attend college, go to your school’s LGBTQIA+ services center. Think about joining a student organization or checking out the resources they have already. Not sure if you should trust a community organization and its practices concerning trans+ folks? Ask your trans+ friends how they feel about them. Verify with the trans+ people in your community that the organizations you support and the education you’re receiving is accurate. The trans+ people in your community should feel responsibly reflected in the media you’re consuming about us.
Learning this information is especially important if you are a leader in your community. Whether you’re in Greek life, an RA, or just in general making a lot of leadership decisions in your school, staying educated will help you distribute resources to members of your community. Just as your allyship shouldn’t end after you disclose your pronouns, your education shouldn’t culminate when your lectures are over for the day.
2. Don’t Put on a song and dance routine every time you mess up
As much as I am sure you intend to win the Best Ally of the Year award, the reality is, you’re going to mess up. There’s going to be a time that you accidentally use the wrong pronouns or name for someone, misunderstand someone’s lived experience or unintentionally misgender someone. When this happens, the last thing your trans friend wants to do is listen to a convoluted story about how you really are an ally (you promise) and this has never happened to you before (you swear).
If I had to sit through a melodramatic notes-app apology every time someone got my pronouns wrong, I would never make it anywhere I needed to be on time. As awkward or frustrating as it is for you to feel like a ‘bad ally’, I promise it is ten times more awkward to witness you scramble to pick up the pieces. Additionally, this puts your trans+ friends in the position of having to forgive you. Rather than create an unnecessary environment, try this formula:
1) Acknowledge the Harm 2) Correct the behavior 3) Turn the conversation away from the harm.
For example, it might look something like this:
A: Hey Chris! I was just thinking to myself, “I wonder when I’ll see Chris again, I miss him!”
B: That’s so sweet, but actually my pronouns are she/they.
A: Thank you for reminding me! I will use those from now on. So how have you been?
In this situation, Person B did not have to forgive Person A, and Person A did not spend more time than necessary talking about a mistake that may or may not have harmed Person B. You can apply this method any time you mess up. It is far more important that you correct this behavior for the future than to continue the harm in the present moment.
3. Don’t Assume Grandma Becky just won’t Get it
I promise you, trans+ people existed when your older family members were alive, and we’re not going anywhere. A lot of well-meaning allies assume that the best way to handle their transphobic family members is to simply sever ties. However, if you are able to have a safe relationship with these family members while demonstrating your support for the trans+ community, this may actually support us more.
I’m certainly not saying you will win them over, or even that this should be your goal. But by being a steadfast, active ally around your bigoted family members, you demonstrate that the harmful ideologies they perpetuate have very real consequences. By immediately assuming they won’t get it and remaining a bystander now, you may unknowingly leave trans+ family members or community members who interact with your family in an unsafe situation in the future.
This will obviously vary based on your family dynamic, but the work you do to combat anti-trans beliefs may make a world of difference for the (potentially closeted) trans+ people in your family and community./
4. Uplift our calls to action
One of the biggest tools anti-trans proponents have against us is that they assume their policies and behaviors only affect a small portion of the population. As trans+ people, we know that this is not the case, but with your help, we can demonstrate this further.
This doesn’t have to always be attending protests. Share mutual aid funds for trans+ people and donate when you’re able. Actually, call and email politicians when you see an Instagram post urging you to do so. Attend open events at local trans+ community organizations and donate your time and voice to our cause. As a demographic, trans+ people are vulnerable, but as a community, we can continue to persist and prosper with help from people like you.
5. Replace Allyship with action
While I am sure many of you who made it to the end of this article value social justice and promoting equity, worrying about what does or does not make you an ally is not pertinent to the movement for advancing trans+ liberation.
I recognize that this last suggestion may appear antithetical to the title, but it is important to recognize that trans+ people need your actionable support as often as you are able to provide it. We need it far more than we need your frequent proclamations of allyship. Show up as often as you can. Co-conspire with us as we attempt to make this world more liberating for people who don’t fit inside the lines.
By all means, keep your pronouns in your bio (or add them if you haven’t already) and post the infographics to your stories – these things help us too. But at the end of the day, the work you do cannot end in the five seconds it took to add those things to your profile.
As a community, we put a lot on the line to ensure that our livelihoods aren’t tarnished by the actions of those threatened by our existence. We need your support in droves, or our community will continue to remain in a constant battle to reobtain our autonomy, sense of safety, and longevity.
As I have often said in my community organizing work, trans people bring a lot to the table and put a lot on the line just to secure a spot.
It’s about time you pulled up a seat.