If working in the Gender and LGBTQIA Center in college has taught me one thing, it’s that a lot of people mean well when it comes to being an ally to marginalized identities, but they simply don’t know how or where to get started.
Due to the recent burst of representation of the transgender community thanks to inspiring celebrities like Laverne Cox and Caitlin Jenner, trans allyship is a topic I get asked about frequently. Although each person is different and will require different things, there are a few universal things you can do as a cisgender person (someone who identifies as the gender they were born with) to be the best supportive ally or loved one you can be.
1. Respect the Person’s Pronouns
One of the best ways to create a more inclusive and respectful space for people who don’t identify with the gender they were assigned with at birth is to use their preferred pronouns. A preferred pronoun is the pronoun a person would like you to use to refer to them (he/him, she/her, they/them, ze/zir/hir).
This not only lets the person know you are respecting and acknowledging their identity, but it encourages the people around you to use their correct pronouns as well. A good rule of thumb is to use gender-neutral pronouns (they/them) for people whose preferred pronouns you don’t know, and if you feel comfortable enough with the person, just ask them! It’s better to not assume and to ask than it is to risk making someone feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
2. Don’t Ask Prying Questions
Here’s an easy rule: If you wouldn’t ask a cisgender person that question, don’t ask it to a transgender person. This includes personal details about their transition, their birth name, and anything else about their assigned gender at birth. If they want to open up to you about these things, that’s great! Let them know you are there for them if they want to talk, but don’t pressure them and don’t pry.
Details about a person’s gender identity are very personal, and they don’t exist in order to teach anyone about transgender identity. They just want to be themselves. Not asking personal questions helps them do that.
3. Don’t Out Them
This rule applies to anyone of LGBTQIA identity, but it is especially pertinent to transgender individuals because revealing that they are transgender to the wrong person can results in them losing friends, losing their jobs, and even being put into physical danger. Even if you think everyone knows this person is transgender, it’s not your information to share. Remember to respect the fact that someone trusted you enough to share this with you, and keep it to yourself.
4. Learn the Language
You don’t have to be an expert on every gender term in the book to be a good ally, but a quick Google search will help you learn what’s offensive and what’s not (also take a look at this list).
There are a lot of misconceptions about transgender people, and if you’ve never had any interaction with the community before, it’s easy to get tripped up on what’s true and what isn’t. The fact that you put the effort into learning about their identity will let your loved one know that you are supporting them, and may even make them comfortable enough to help you learn.
The simplest way to know if you are supporting your friends and loved ones in the appropriate way is to just ask them, and then to listen to the answer. Everyone has different needs and wants whether they are trying to figure out their gender identity, in the process of transitioning, or if they have been out for a number of years.
There are a million different ways to be an ally to the transgender community, but the best way to find out what those ways are is to listen to what they need, even if all they need is for you to be listening in the first place.
Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.