How-To Be A Good Ally In A Transgender Community
Soo... your friends finally convinced you to finally move out of your parents basement and come to your senses that, "Yeah, dropping out of college was probably just something you did because you are still trying to find yourself, and maybe a degree in international business, with a minor is Chinese studies, might have been overextending yourself a little bit." Sure, your friends are great. Nobody is debating that. But this new scene you've moved into is waaaaayyy more liberal than 'Sheltered Oaks', the neighborhood where your parents still live, and you're being introduced to more than your fair share of new faces.
So when you meet someone new who is a transgender person, you're having a hard time making sure to be as absolutely sincere and politically correct as you can (without making yourself out to be an awkward stick in the mud). Here are some helpful tips to keep your social knife sharp, and your 'totally like real adult relationships' as P.C. as possible.
The Truth About Pronouns
People like to harp on the idea that using the correct pronouns is the absolute most important thing to do as far as being politically correct around any LGBTQ person(s). The truth is, they're right, and you should do everything in your power to remember your friends, acquaintances, and grocery store bag-girl's preferred pronouns. But what about the folks whose genderific journey has them changing pronouns about as often as the weather? Fear not. Referring to someone directly as "you" always gets the point across that you are trying your best to remember what their most recent pronoun is, but you just need a little help.
Just simply asking someone what pronoun they use says a lot about trying to be a supportive ally. If this question distances you from the person for whatever reason, just remember that this isn't about you, and just try and do better to remember next time (a secret note in your phone that you can check at the bar isn't going to hurt anyone ;).
It goes without saying that He, Him, She, and Her are the pronouns of the English language, excluding You and I. Another pronoun often used by Trans and Nongender person(s), or anyone who is publicly acknowledging a non-binary side of themselves is They. Usually when someone is in transition, or are becoming public with their non-binary self, they will prefer to be referenced by the pronoun They. Some people use this as their preferred pronoun permanently, or as an ancillary pronoun to the other gendered ones. There are several other non-binary pronouns that people use, and often say that their pronouns are not 'preferred' but mandatory.
Pronouns and Non-Binary Pronouns
Be Wary Of Gendered Adjectives
Just about one of the worst things you can do in a group with any number of transgender person(s) is refer to something as being "boyish" or "girly".
I made this mistake once at a bar when I was curious to try one of the bar's signature coctails, but thought that it might be more intended for someone more feminine :P We have to remember that being openly transgender isn't easy for anyone living in this day in age, even while it's more widely socially acceptable than ever before. The journey of a transgender person is one of extreme self-discovery, self-identification, and often times turmoil. If a person begins to think of you as applying your own gender bias to things, they will probably begin to feel as if you're not going to be as open with them, and may label them, either publicly or privately, as something you decide for them, rather than what they ascribe to themselves.
How to Ask About Someone's Transition (Hint: DON'T)
Imagine that you were trying really hard to change something about yourself, maybe something you wanted more people to understand about you. How hard would it be if people were constantly asking how your change was going, while it may actually be causing you physical pain with every moment, and you would rather talk about something else, even something as bad as how you are $30,000+ in student loan debt, than talk about the last conversation you had with a plastic surgeon, or even with a friend about how you were thinking about having transgender surgery. You would be pretty distraught. So the message with asking about the physical components of someone's transition is: don't. Some common questions not to ask any transgender person include the following:
- "I saw you changed your Facebook name to _______. Can you tell me why you picked that?" or "What does your new Facebook name mean?"
- "So, does this mean you're gay?" Note: NEVER assume someone's sexuality based on the gender they identify as.
- "Have you thought about having [gender reassignment] surgery?" or "How is your transition coming along?"
Questions like these can sometimes open wounds that someone may be wanting to heal about leaving their past life as x gender, and it's best just not to ask questions as a good rule of thumb.
Be Supportive, And Get Involved
To be a good ally means basically just following some good behavior and being polite, but moving into a transgender community means there are usually other ways to be a supportive ally as well. Getting involved in the community to help build a relationship where everyone, including transgender people, are looked at as equal is the real way to become a supportive ally. Many communities offer groups to join or ways to become an active and supportive ally. There are ways to take action to become a supportive ally online through the National Center for Transgender Equality's website, or by clicking on the link below.
Click this link to Take Action
Other Helpful Articles
- "Tips for Allies of Transgender People | GLAAD"
The following are tips that can be used as you move toward becoming a better ally to transgender people. Of course, this list is not exhaustive and cannot include all the "right" things to do or say - because often there is no one "right" answer...
- "TransWhat? Allyship: First Steps"
Allyship to trans people involves a number of different actions: some are necessary and relatively easy, while some require more commitment and activism. This article includes several lists in order of priority.
- "11 Ways To Be A Transgender Ally From Transgender People Themselves"
With tips drawn from transgender people themselves, organizations like GLAAD and Straight For Equality, and associations across American college campuses, here is your definitive starting guide to beginning a journey as a transgender ally.
- "Trans Ally Tips | LGBT Resource Center"
Some ways to be a good trans ally, according to the University of Wisconsin LGBT Resource Center.
© 2016 Ian Weber