Being an ally to the trans community can take many forms. Sometimes it’s as easy as changing the language you use, other times it takes form in a grander gesture, like getting more involved in activism. It might be that you’re wanting to be more supportive of a trans friend, or just that you want to know how you can make a difference. Whatever the case, we’ve put together some ways you can be a better ally.
Illustrations by Anshika Khullar @aorists
1. Use the right pronouns
There is no formula for what to call transgender people since everyone has a different preference, so the best thing to do is to take the individual’s lead. If it’s a friend of yours, they may have put their pronouns in their social media profiles or have messaged you individually, so it’s easy enough to make an effort to respect their wishes. If they haven’t given you a specific instruction, and you’re unsure about what language to use, politely ask! If you slip up, just apologise and move on, since making a big deal out of it can make everyone feel uncomfortable.
2. Challenge anti-trans remarks or behaviour
Whether or not you’re in the presence of someone who is trans, if you hear a joke or anti-trans remark, explaining why it’s not ok to say something like that is so important. It doesn’t matter who is saying it, even if it’s in LGBTQ+ spaces. Some people believe that if they are gay they may have the right to make these jokes, but if we’re truly trying to be inclusive we must question these behaviours too. Also, many transgender people can feel nervous about making more formal complaints when they have faced discrimmination. Letting a trans person know that you are behind them if they decide to make a complaint to authorities, organisations, or businesses can make all the difference.
3. Know what to avoid asking and saying
You’d never spend a whole evening grilling your cis friends about their genitals, what medication they might be taking, or for a full breakdown on what surgery they may or may not be planning, so there’s no reason for you to do this with a transgender person. If they want to talk about it, they’ll mention it themselves. A good test of whether or not something is ok to ask is thinking about how you’d feel if someone was asking you the same question.
There are some things you might say which you think are helpful or encouraging comments, but in reality they are full of sterotypes about transgender people and how men/women should look. For example, saying something like, ‘you actually look like a real woman, I would never have known you were transgender’ may be said with the best of intentions, but it can feel insulting.
4. Push to make your college/university/society more inclusive
The possibilities for this one are endless. It could be something small like ensuring whether or not the forms your uni or school give out actually need to include gender, and if so, do they include options other than male and female? Another way to push inclusivity is to make sure that everyone has access to a bathroom and are not forced to use facilities that are linked to the gender their ID has on it, if they don’t feel comfortable doing so. You can do this by speaking to authorities at your institution, or, if that doesn’t work, seek to educate people through campaigns.
Representation is also a really great way to encourage inclusivity. For example, if your school or uni is hosting a panel on International Women’s Day, and there are no trans women on the panel, you can ask your uni why this is and suggest inviting a trans woman as their experience is just as important as cis-gender women.
5. Continue to educate yourself
There’s no such thing as the perfect ally, so don’t worry if you feel like you’re not doing enough. The best thing to do is to keep learning about what it means to be transgender. The best way to do this is, obviously, to listen to transgender people when they speak about their experience. You can also do your own research. There are so many organisations, blogs, and resources that pop up after a quick google search where you can get information everyday. Also, don’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t know.’ Just because you’re an ally doesn’t mean you have to know the answer to every question thrown at you. It’s important to be willing to continue learning.
If you want more in-depth information on how to be a better ally, check out the PFLAG guide.
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