Transgender people have been and are still a big part of society. Some people aren’t sure how to interact around gender issues, and some people make mistakes without realizing it. Here are a few hints we hope you’ll find helpful in making our community just a lot more trans-inclusive.
For many trans people, pronouns matter a lot (you’ll find more information under Definitions, below). This is one of the simplest and most powerful ways to be a supportive trans ally:
- Ask about pronoun preference. If you make a mistake, briefly apologize and move on (and make a mental note to get it right next time). If you keep getting pronouns wrong for the same person, try harder. Practice at home if necessary.
- If someone else gets a pronoun wrong, take the time to correct them.
- If someone corrects you (whether it’s a trans person or an ally), try to avoid being defensive; e.g., avoid explaining how a preferred pronoun doesn’t match someone’s gender presentation.
Some people, both cis-gender (non-trans) and trans-gender, feel quite comfortable with male/female gender roles while others, both trans and cis, have been hurt by gender stereotypes. Since we’ve all been socialized by a gender binary system, thinking outside of this can be overwhelming and confusing at first, but it’s an important step in respecting everyone’s identity:
- Never ‘out’ a trans person or disclose their identity history unless you have their explicit permission. This is extremely important for the safety and comfort of trans people.
- Accept how a person identifies even if it doesn’t make sense to you. If someone has told you how they identify, don’t continue to make other assumptions about their identity. If you think someone is “really” one sex even though they’ve told you they’re another, you’re mistaken.
- Avoid comments and try to avoid attitudes about how well or poorly someone ‘passes’. Not every trans person is trying to pass, or wants to.
- Remember, unless you’re hoping to directly interact with someone’s genitals, they’re none of your business.
Being a Trans Ally:
Trans people spend a lot of time educating people around them (families, coworkers, friends, etc.) It can be draining. Advocate for your trans community members:
- Educate yourself. Take the time to look things up when you come across a new pronoun, identity, or lingo you’ve never heard. There are lots of trans-related books, websites, films, and workshops. (We list some below.)
- If someone else makes a trans-related mistake, gently correct them; if they make an anti-trans remark, be the brave trans ally who calls them on it. Sometimes this can be more effective coming from an ally than from a trans person.
- If you have (respectful, appropriate) questions, it’s ok to ask, but give the person an ‘out’: e.g., “Could I ask you some time about … ?”
Some Helpful Definitions
Transgender is an umbrella term for people who defy social expectations of how they should look, act, or identify based on their sex assigned at birth. That can include people who don’t see the world or their own lives in a strictly male/female division (often called the gender binary). Some trans identities include: gender variant, gender fluid, gender non-conforming, gender neutral, and genderqueer.
Sex vs. gender. There are some contexts where there’s a useful distinction between these two concepts, but you’ll find it easier to think and talk about trans stuff in a trans-inclusive way if you don’t focus on the difference.
‘Pronouns’? Words that stand in for specific people or things. The gendered personal pronouns are She, Her, Hers; He, Him, His. There are also gender-neutral pronouns: They, Them, Theirs; Ze, Hir, Hirs (pronounced zee, here, heres) are used by some trans folks who don’t feel comfortable with typically male or female pronouns.
Encourage your family and friends and people in the community to read this.
Most people understand that gender identity is different from sexual orientation. Maybe less obvious is how they can interact. If your own gender identity is fluid, or that of your partner, words like ‘lesbian’, ‘gay’, and ‘straight’ may not be a good description of sexual orientation. Even ‘bisexual’ assumes two distinct genders. At the same time, many trans folks do identify in a simple and straightforward way as gay, lesbian, straight, or bi.
A lot of people are playful about gender. Compliments about a transperson’s different-from-their-usual gender expression can be tricky—they can sound like a criticism of their usual gender expression. But, of course, compliments are always nice—you’ll have to use your best judgment. While it’s usually appropriate to ask someone’s pronoun preferences, it can sometimes come across as challenging the gender they’re presenting. If someone seems pretty obviously presenting themselves as male or female (gender-specific name, clothes, etc.), it may be appropriate to just go with the flow—again, sometimes you just have to use your best judgment.
Pronouns matter. Gender identity is something trans folks have had to fight for and put a lot of effort towards despite being told things like, “You may think you’re a guy, but you’re really a girl” (or much worse). Even if gender and pronouns aren’t important to you, try to accept that they are crucial details for many trans people.
This is new stuff for a lot of people, but working together to make life an amazing experience is everyone’s duty.