Do you know anyone in your life that is transgender? Are you curious about them and want to learn how you can help and support them? Transgender people have very tough lives and run into a lot of discrimination and hardship; wearing down on them day after day. This can lead to depression, anxiety, self loathing, destructive behavior and, sadly, death. People do not understand just how powerful words are and how much damage they can cause. Words have power over each and every one of us; we owe it to ourselves to learn how to use them wisely. Thank you, just for reading this, and if you want to learn how to become a transgender ally; here are some tips that might come in handy.
- Respect their identity: When speaking to a transgender person always use the proper name and pronouns that apply to their gender identity. Using female pronouns for a male to female transgender person, or male pronouns for a female to male transgender person. Don’t expect a reward for getting the pronoun right, just do it because you are a decent human being and remember you don’t thank someone for getting your cisgender pronouns right do you? This seems simple enough, but many people just can’t get it even though they may try very hard. There is something inside them that won’t allow themselves to use the proper pronouns. It might take a lot of practice and require you to think about what you are saying before you say it. A single pronoun slip can ruin a transgender person’s day so do your best!
- Research: Google the words transgender and transsexual; become aware of the information that is out there regarding these most interesting people. There are literally thousands of pages all about transitioning from one gender to another, transgender people and their lifestyle’s, medical information, chat groups, YouTube videos and blogs dedicated to transgender people. The more you know about the people you want to support the easier it will be for you to become a great ally!
- Be aware: Be aware that it’s not the job of the transgender community to educate people; you may find that transgender people get annoyed when people ask them all kinds of questions about it. Would you like to be grilled about what genitalia are residing in your pants? Can you even imagine what it would be like to have to explain your gender identity to every single person you meet? Use your head, do the research and look for clues as to how to address and relate to the transgender people in your life. If you do find that a transgender person is willing to educate you then do them the respect of paying attention to what they are saying.
- Don’t out them! No matter what you do, never “out” them to other people who you know or are talking too at the moment. Asking them what it was like to be transgender in mixed company while others may or may not be aware of the persons transgender status is just plain mean. Do not introduce them to people by saying “This is Samantha, she used to be a boy”; It’s not relevant to their personality, dreams or ideas and is only one aspect of them as a person. If you do this you can completely embarrass and, in fact, put in danger a transgender person that way. Do not gossip about them; what if she hasn’t told her boyfriend yet? What if he hasn’t told his girlfriend? This can lead to extreme violence and deaths, so please just don’t do it.
- Defend them: If you are witnessing discrimination or harassment in the form of transphobia then speak up; don’t just stand there and let it happen. The more people ignore the issue, the more people are going to think that harassing transgender people is an acceptable behavior and therefore keep doing it! They get very uncomfortable when called on it and you can likely expect a negative response from a person like this, but that is to be expected. Try to imagine what it is like for that transgender person as they stand there and experience transphobia again and again; they are alone, exposed and very vulnerable. Having someone, anyone, come to their defense can make a world of difference to them and have the benefit of helping educate people that it’s not OK to harass, belittle, insult, laugh at, not take seriously and discriminate against transgender people!
- Never ask them: Never ask them about their sexual orientation; gender and sexual orientation are two different things, neither of them affecting the other is most cases. Just because you know they are transgender does not give you, or anyone, the right to be asked very personal questions about their orientation. If they are willing to pass that information on to you, it’s up to them and only them to disseminate that information.
- Birth name: Do not ask them what their birth name or “real” name is! Their real name is the one they gave you and no other. Asking this is seen as a form of harassment and undermines the gender identity of the person being harassed. So please, don’t do it; and if you see it speak out and set the person straight. If you ever find out what their birth or “slave name” was, never ever use it; if you do, an extremely nasty response may result!
These are just a few of the many ways that you can become an ally to the transgender community. One of the greatest things you can do for a transgender person is, be their friend. A lot of transgender people are marginalized and isolated from society. Having a good friend will mean the world to them and you will find that they can me super friends too. So thank you for your interest in becoming an ally of the transgender community; with your help, little by little, we can make the world a little nicer and safer, place for transgender people.