The best way to be an ally is to hear and amplify the voices, stories and experiences of those brave enough to make themselves heard, without stealing the scene.
November is Transgender Awareness Month, celebrated every year ahead of the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR).
Throughout the month, people and NGOs who support the Trans and LGBQIA+ community put together awareness-raising campaigns, giving space to the voices and experiences that most need to be heard.
Useful suggestions for those who want to support the cause
Every cause needs allies. In this specific context, allies are the straight and cisgender folks who choose to support the LGBTQIA+ community and stand alongside them.
The best way to be an ally is to hear and amplify the voices, stories and experiences of those brave enough to make themselves heard, albeit without stealing the scene and losing sight of who to this day are discriminated against. The first step to becoming a good ally is to understand and accept one’s privilege.
From GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), here are a few tips on how to be the right ally.
DOs & DONTs: allyship during Transgender Awareness Month and beyond
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Every situation is different and unique, but following these guidelines might help you be a decent human being.
- If you don’t know, listen and ask. If you’re unsure which pronoun a person uses, listen first to the pronoun other people use when referring to them. Someone who knows the person well will probably use the correct pronoun. If you must ask which pronoun the person uses, start with your own. For example, “Hi, I’m Alex and I use the pronouns he and him. What about you?” Then use that person’s pronoun and encourage others to do so. If you accidentally use the wrong pronoun, apologise quickly and sincerely, then move on. The bigger deal you make out of the situation, the more uncomfortable it is for everyone.
- Understand the differences between “coming out” as lesbian, gay, or bisexual and “coming out” as transgender. “Coming out” to other people as lesbian, gay, or bisexual is typically seen as revealing a truth that allows other people to know your authentic self. The LGB community places great importance and value on the idea of being “out” in order to be happy and whole. When a transgender person has transitioned and is living their life as their authentic self–that is their truth. The world now sees them as who they truly are.
- Be careful about confidentiality, disclosure, and “outing.” Do not casually share this information, speculate, or gossip about a person you know or think is transgender. Not only is this an invasion of privacy, it also can have negative consequences in a world that is very intolerant of gender diversity. Transgender people can lose jobs, housing, friends, or even their lives when other people find out about their gender history.
- Respect the terminology a transgender person uses to describe their identity. If a person is not sure of which identity label fits them best, give them the time to figure it out for themselves and don’t tell them which term you think they should use. You wouldn’t like your identity to be defined by others, so please allow others to define themselves.
- Be patient with a person who is questioning or exploring their gender identity. A person who is questioning or exploring their gender identity may take some time to figure out what’s true for them. They might, for example, use a name or pronoun, and then decide at a later time to change the name or pronoun again. Do your best to be respectful and use the name and pronoun requested.
- You can’t tell if someone is transgender just by looking.Transgender people don’t look any certain way or come from any one background. Many transgender people do not appear “visibly trans,” meaning they are not perceived to be transgender by others. It is not possible to look around a room and “see” if there are any transgender people. (It would be like a person looking around the room to “see” if there are any gay people.) You should assume that there may be transgender people at any gathering or in any space.
- Understand there is no “right” or “wrong” way to transition, and that it is different for every person. Some transgender people access medical care like hormones and surgeries as part of their transition to align their bodies with their gender identity. Some transgender people want their authentic gender identity to be recognised without hormones or surgery. Some transgender people cannot access medical care, hormones, and/or surgeries due to a lack of financial resources or access to healthcare. A transgender person’s identity is not dependent on medical procedures or their physicality. Accept that if someone tells you they are transgender, they are.
- Challenge anti-transgender remarks or jokes in public spaces, including LGB spaces. You may hear anti-transgender comments from anti-LGBTQ activists, but you may also hear them from LGB people. Someone may think that because they’re gay, it’s ok for them to use certain words or tell jokes about transgender people. It’s important to challenge anti-transgender remarks or jokes whenever they’re said and no matter who says them.
- Support all-gender public restrooms. Some transgender and gender non-conforming people may not feel like they match the signs on the restroom door. Encourage schools, businesses, and agencies to have single user, unisex and/or all-gender restroom options. Make it clear that transgender and gender non-conforming people are welcome to use whichever restroom they feel comfortable using.
Transgender people have existed across cultures and throughout time and history. What is new is the heightened awareness of gender diversity and the transgender community because of increased media attention in the last few decades.
Don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something. It is better to admit you don’t know something than to make assumptions or say something that may be incorrect or hurtful. Seek out the appropriate resources that will help you learn more. Remember being an ally is a sustained and persistent pattern of action; not an idle or stable noun.