Each year, hundreds of transgender people are murdered and commit suicide. According to the National Transgender Center for Equality, 47% of transgender people have attempted suicide at some point in their life. Since 0.3% of the world’s population is transgender, this statistic is astounding. Motivations for a transgender person to commit suicide include being refused basic medical treatment, being harassed at work, getting evicted or kicked out of their homes, being a victim of violence by a family member, and not being as close to their family as they were before they came out. What do all of these motivations have in common? They are brought on by the mistreatment of other people and society. While Transgender Day of Remembrance is an annual observance to commemorate the lives that were lost through acts of hate, it is also important to learn how to be a better transgender ally.
First off, educate yourself. It is perfectly understandable that you might not know about a certain transgender topic or issue, but confronting a transgender person about it could cause the person unwanted anxiety. There are many valuable resources available online where a person can learn about past, current, and on-going transgender issues around the world. Information can be accessed at the touch of a fingertip thanks to Google. With that being said, if a person comes to you as a trusted ally to seek out information and you don’t know the answer, don’t pretend like you do and make up an answer. This is an opportunity for you to expand your knowledge and become an even better ally to the community. You can offer to work together to come up with a solution to the question and bring about a sense of community. When you expand your knowledge, you have just made yourself a better ally.
Pronouns are one of the main components of a transgender person’s concerns. To the individual, being called their preferred gender pronoun is something that is self-validating. If you’re not sure what a person’s preferred gender pronouns are, just ask. Pronouns aren’t black and white. They can range from the binary, he/him/his-she/her/hers to the non-binary, they/them/theirs-ze/hir/zir. “It” is never an acceptable pronoun to call someone, even if you don’t know what they prefer. “They/them/theirs” is always the safe term to use if you haven’t asked yet.
When someone tells you what their preferred gender pronouns are, use it and don’t make excuses. If you’ve known the person prior to them coming out to you, it is understood that you might misgender the individual at first. If this happens, apologize, correct yourself, and move on with the conversation that was being had. Tell them that you’ll do better in referring to them by their preferred gender pronouns and actually try to do better.
Being out for LGB people are somewhat different than being out for the transgender people. When lesbian, gay, or bisexual people come out, it is empowering. They see it as them revealing a truth to themselves and to other people. However, when transgender people come out about their gender identity, other people see it as being lied to and taken advantage of. This could be harmful to an individual depending on the situation. This is why many transgender people try to remain stealth in society. (Stealth is when a person can successfully pass in public as their gender identity without disclosing their transgender status.) For their safety, never out a person without their permission. They could be out to you, but not out to other people such as professors or family or their job. Ask the person who they’re out to and who they aren’t. This could be a comforting thing to the individual. It shows that you don’t want to put them in danger and care about their safety.
Don’t make assumptions about someone’s sexual orientation. Gender identity and sexual orientation are two completely different things. Gender identity is a person’s internal sense of what gender they are, whether it’s male, female, androgynous, agender, bigender, ect. Sexual orientation is who a person is attracted to. When people assume that trans men are attracted to women and trans women are attracted to men, that denies the identities of trans men being attracted to men, trans women being attracted to women, and all those sexualities in between. With regards to sexual orientation and gender identity, it is wrong to associate trans men who like women as a lesbian and trans women who like men to be gay. Their sexual orientation is straight. Orientation has to do with gender identity, not the sex they were designated at birth with.
Don’t interrogate a person’s transgender status. Information about their body is private information. Don’t ask a person if they’ve had “the surgery” yet. This implies that their not “a real transgender person” unless they have had some sort of surgery to alter their appearance. Don’t ask a person what their “real” name is. The name that the person told you is their real name. You are never going to call the person by their birth name so there is no need for you to know what it is. Not everyone transitions the same. Not every transgender person gets the same surgeries. Not every transgender person seeks out hormone treatment. Not every transgender person even transitions physically/medically. When a question comes to your mind, ask yourself these questions: Is it personal information about their body? Will it be disrespectful if I ask this person, even if I am curious? Will this question somehow trigger this person into a negative state of mind? If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these questions, you shouldn’t be asking yours.
Set gender inclusive tones. Whether the meetings are at a gay-straight alliance or not, ask people to introduce themselves with their name and preferred gender pronouns. Having a simple statement like, “Hello. My name is Ryley and I go by he, him, and his pronouns,” sets the tone that the group meeting is transgender inclusive while stating that the group doesn’t make any assumptions about anyone’s gender identity.
Refrain from using transphobic words. The word “tranny” is a disrespectful term to the transgender community. While some transgender people do use it to take the word back just as some people in the lesbian community has with the word “dyke,” there are still many people who find that word impolite. Also, phrases like “too butch to be a girl” or “too feminine to be a boy” are just other ways to undermine a transgender person’s identity. As mentioned before with the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation, there is a difference between gender identity and gender presentation. Gender identity was already spoken about, but gender presentation are the mannerisms and the way a person presents themselves. They are generally read as masculine and feminine depending on the way society views the presentation. Presentation is external while identity is internal. Presentation never negates a person’s identity.
The odds are, if you are reading this and you do identify as a transgender ally, you are already practicing these few tips. However, if transgender people are still committing suicide from the mistreatment of society, not everyone is as open minded as you are. If you are in a safe environment and aren’t in harm’s way, my last tip on how to be a better transgender ally is to challenge transphobia. What the average person might see as being harmless could quite possibly be life-threatening to that transgender individual. Make an effort to educate those people and the consequences of their actions. From the smaller picture, you could see it as trivial, but in the bigger picture, it is a domino effect of creating new transgender allies, and it could have quite possibly started with you. Just a few small words can save a life.
[Remark: These tips and strategies are told from the point of view of a white, transgender man. I could have quite possibly left out other main strategies for those of other gender identities. If you have tips to help be a better transgender ally to other members of the transgender community, leave a comment to help make more inclusive transgender allies.]