The term “trans ally” is not so much a label as it is a term of empowerment.
It communicates your support for LGBTQ equality as well as for your transgender friends, classmates, and colleagues. Being a trans ally doesn’t mean you know and understand everything there is to know about trans people and the issues they face; rather, it means that you are open to learning more about their situation. Ultimately, when you become an ally of transgender people, your actions will help make your school or workplace a safer place for those who do not conform to conventional gender expectations.
Here are five positive ways to be an ally in your community!
1. Do diligent research and educate yourself about trans issues
Firstly, it is critical to have an understanding of the challenges transgender people face. There needs to be more visibility to end the staggering statistics of discrimination the LGBTQ community faces in the workplace, and the high percentage of trans students who feel unsafe at university because of their gender expression.
To start, look at the stories in the media – what kind of coverage is there about transgender people? For example, in 2014, trans actress Laverne Cox made history when she appeared on the cover of Time magazine and was nominated for an Emmy award. You can find many resources to help you learn more about subjective and collective trans issues from reading books, blogs, and even watching YouTube videos. Once you start to understand what it’s really like to be a transgender person, you can be a better ally to those in the community.
2. Listen closely and recognize your limits as an Ally
Listening closely to stories from the trans community is vital to understanding the collective issues, and helps foster a supportive environment for them to be shared openly. Whether it’s after class, or during your lunch break at work, an active listener allows transgender people to express themselves in a safe, nonjudgmental space.
However, one thing to remember is to address and recognize your limits as an ally. Like Laverne Cox once said, “each and every one of us has the capacity to be an oppressor” – even individuals who think they’re being supportive. Don’t be afraid to admit you are unsure about something, because it’s always better than making false assumptions and potentially saying something hurtful. Try to learn, in a considerate way, what is offensive and what questions – despite your genuine curiosity – might be inappropriate. Remember: trust is earned through support and action, and can take time to develop.
3. Be accountable for your mistakes to move forward
Be prepared to make mistakes during your journey to allyship – and a lot of them. We are human, and it’s all part of the process to becoming a better ally. Something ordinary for you may be offensive for someone else so if you accidentally hurt someone’s feelings, apologize with sincerity and move on. In addition, listen to what gender pronouns your colleagues or classmates use to identify themselves during introductions. Do your best to respect their terminology, but if you use the wrong word, don’t make a big deal about it; quickly apologize and carry on.
“Mistakes, especially when they come from allies, are opportunities to have really important conversations. Making a mistake means that you were doing – you were active instead of passive.” Sam Dylan Finch, Writer and feminist
4. Help make your workplace or classroom truly trans-inclusive
Good employers embrace diversity in the workplace and are continually looking for new ways to promote a healthy work space. To be LGBT-inclusive is to recognize that this community faces unique challenges and has different needs than their cisgendered (people whose gender identity aligns with what they were assigned at birth) counterparts.
Set an inclusive tone for respecting people’s identification: If you’re organizing an event or meeting, you can use name tags so people can fill in their preferred pronouns, and you can use the proper terminology. In small discussion groups, or if you are doing an in-class presentation, try identifying people by their clothing rather than using gendered language (ie. he, she). You can also join one of your university’s LGBTQ support groups to help advocate for inclusive initiatives , such as the introduction of gender-neutral washrooms (if there aren’t any yet!).
5. Challenge anti-transgender comments in public spaces
Confrontation is tough, we know. However, if one of the defining features of an ally for transgender people is showing your support through action, you should be able to speak up, even in uncomfortable situations. It’s necessary for allies to stand up for the transgender community to help change attitudes, especially if they witness any verbal harassment or act of oppression.
“We need to start considering, as a society, that all people are worthy of respect and of life regardless of how we feel about gender, gender identity and gender expression.” Laverne Cox, Actress and LGBTQ advocate