Many people want to be allies to transgender people but simply don’t know how, so they end up saying offensive things or asking inappropriate questions in the name of attempting to understand what it means to be transgender.
However what that means for many transgender people is that we often get asked these questions without any regard for how that feels to us. And we often get asked repeatedly. It can be taxing. So I’ve put together a list of ways to be a better ally to the transgender community, gleaned from my years as a trans person and a full-time professional advocate and trainer.
- Mirror Their Language
This means that we need to identify someone the same way they identify. If someone identifies as a trans woman, it’s OK to also identify them that way. However, keep in mind that they may not be out to everyone so be aware of this when discussing this person, especially when they aren’t around. There are some terms that are outdated or inappropriate that allies cannot use such as transvestite, transexual, tranny, and transgendered. There are some trans folks who identify this way and that is OK; we aren’t here to tell someone how to identify. What’s not OK is using these terms without express permission.
- Respect Their Identity
This can come in many forms. The first of which is Never Deadname. Someone’s deadname refers to the name given to someone at birth. I was not born with the name Atticus. My parents gave me a different name that I used for 24 years. I never share that name with anyone anymore. Why? Because I think it gives that person a power over me I don’t give them permission to have. My deadname could be weaponized against me. I have many trans friends whose deadnames I don’t know and have never asked. This brings me to my next point, which is Don’t Ask Them Their Real Name.
Their real name is the one with which they introduce themselves. This isn’t exclusive to trans people, either. My dad goes by Skip. He always has even though his legal name is not Skip. There are many people who know his legal name but don’t use it because he doesn’t like his legal name. If someone called my parent’s house phone when I was young and asked for my dad by his legal name, I knew they weren’t friends of his. Use the right name. Always.
Use the pronouns they ask you to use. A good way to be an ally is to include your pronouns on your email signature or to use them in person when meeting someone for the first time. For example, “Hi, my name is Atticus, and I use the pronouns he, him, his. What is your name and pronouns?” Never ask someone their pronouns until you share yours first. Keep in mind that the pronouns They, Them, Theirs are completely appropriate pronouns to use for a singular person and is grammatically correct. Use the right name and pronouns for that person even when that person isn’t around, in fact, especially when that person isn’t around. It’s good practice so you don’t mess up in front of them.
If you do mess up, don’t apologize profusely. Apologizing profusely looks like, “He, I mean she, damnit, I am so sorry. I’ll get there. I’m just getting used to it. It’ll take me some time, I hope you can forgive me…” This is embarrassing for everyone involved and now you’ve made it about you instead of about the person whose gender you just invalidated. Instead, simply correct it and move on. For example, “He, I mean, she said…” That’s it.
There’s a lot more to say on how to be an ally so stay tuned for Part 2 in a few weeks.