A few weeks ago I wrote an article about how to be an ally to the transgender community. This is the second part of that article.
- Don’t invalidate someone’s gender.
Invalidating someone’s gender means to not believe someone or question them when they tell you how they identify. Some people who identify as male may not “look male” according to what our society deems to be male. Maybe that person isn’t on Hormones yet. Maybe they never want to be. It doesn’t matter. If they say they are male, then they are and it’s not up to you to question that. Some people identify as non-binary but may appear to you to be male or female. Again, they identify as non-binary, not as male or female, so address them appropriately.
- Don’t ask about body parts
I don’t know why I even have to write this, but you’d be surprised (or maybe not) by how many people I don’t know or have just met who ask me about surgeries or about what I have “down there.” It’s none of your business. You wouldn’t ask a cisgender person about their body parts or surgeries they’ve had; don’t ask a transgender person.
- Educate Yourself
Know the difference between sex, gender, and sexual orientation. These three things are interrelated but they are not the same thing, nor are they a cause-and-effect situation. Sex is the anatomy and biology, the primary sex characteristics. My assigned sex at birth was female. Gender is a social construction, it’s masculinity and femininity. Gender is, “Oh, you’re having a baby boy, here is everything blue, and he’ll grow up to be a strong man, and there’s no need to cry, etc.” Sexual orientation refers to who someone is attracted to romantically and/or sexually. This is usually referred to as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and more. A person’s sex assigned at birth, and how they express their gender, has no say on who they are attracted to.
Know the difference between gender identity and gender expression. Breaking down the definition of gender into gender identity and gender expression usually confuses my audience when I give trainings but bear with me. Gender identity is feeling masculine or feminine or androgynous or any other type of gender. Everybody has a gender identity, not just trans people. Gender expression is how you express that identity. For example, if you identify as feminine and are able to wear a dress and heels, then you are expressing your gender identity. However if you identify as masculine but wear a dress and heels because you aren’t able to dress in a masculine manner, then your gender identity and expression are not congruent and likely causes gender dysphoria. When expression and identity are aligned, we are more at peace.
Educate yourself on the various identities - there are a lot of them. Some sexual orientation identities are straight, gay, bisexual, lesbian, asexual, demisexual, pansexual, aromantic, skoliosexual, same gender loving, queer etc. Some gender identity terms are cisgender, transgender, non-binary, gender queer, trans man, trans woman, feminine of center, masculine of center, agender, gender nonconforming, etc. It’s OK if you don’t memorize all of these but being aware that they exist is a good place to start.
Finally, don’t ask a trans person to do all the education for you. If you do want to educate yourself, books and resources exist. Reach out to your local LGBT Center to see if they can recommend anything. If you work for a company and want to educate your coworkers, bring in a trans person to do a training for you. Do not bring in a member of the LGB community who is not trans to do a trans-specific training. Even if they are a member of the same community but are not trans, then they are not qualified to do the training. And, please, pay the person you ask to come in. Even if it’s for 15 minutes or just a small group or a classroom of students, pay them. We’re bringing in a wealth of knowledge and information and we deserve to be adequately compensated for our time and labor.
Being an ally takes work, but it’s worth it because educating yourself and treating trans people like the regular people we are can save lives. It really does.