5 Ways To Be A Better Trans* Ally
Photo by Ted Eytan. CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo by Ted Eytan. CC BY-SA 2.0

Do you want to be a better ally to trans* people? Are you cis? I want to help you. Here is a list of five things you can do, and now, to be better at supporting trans* people.

I’ll probably do more lists in the future, as certain things get triggered. Today’s list is the result of triggers from this week:

1. Do not say something along the lines of, “Why do you insist on using labels? Can’t you just be happy as you are? You are a person and should be happy as such.”

The problem with that, you see, is that the world doesn’t treat us as a person; the world treats us based on what they see, at best, or wants to kill us when we don’t conform to their idea of how we should be, based on what they see.

You’ve probably been lucky in that you have never been detained at customs simply because the way you packed was not the same as a government agency’s ideas of how you should pack, based on the sex marker on your passport.

I really don’t have the luxury of just walking around being me, because I have been detained and a permanent flag placed on my passport because I had the audacity to think that packing like a man when my passport says “F” would never be an issue.

That is just one mild example of things that occur daily.

So, it’s great that you simply see me as a person and everything is rainbows and unicorns in your eyes, but the greater world, and government agencies with whom I have to deal with all the time, do not. They see me as female and automatically assign certain expectations based upon that assumption.

We are no where close to living in a world where people do not automatically assign a gender to someone based on appearances. It’s great that you’ve never been physically ill because someone automatically called you a woman or a man.

In order to be treated like I want to be treated, in order to have the correct pronouns used in reference to me, I have to use a label; even though that label also puts my life at risk.

2. Do not tell me about your family member who is happily gay and married, as if LGB issues are the same as trans* issues.

These things are not the same. The fact I’m transgender has nothing to do with the fact I’m also a gay man. One has to do with my identity and how the world perceives me. The other has to do with who I love and sexual attraction.

Living in Canada, your gay family member may have come of age in a time when same-sex marriage was legal and benefits for same-sex couples were already previously established. If you are comparing your happily gay family member to me, there is a good chance your family member felt recognized and protected by the government.

The government refuses to recognize me, unless I go through an invasive surgery that I cannot have because of pre-existing health conditions. And protection is stalled in the Senate.

In the larger world, I am invisible, even when I bind my chest.

Your gay family member walks down the street holding the hand of their partner, and people say, “There is a gay couple.” I walk down the street holding the hand of my partner, and people say, “There is a straight couple.” (Reminder: Do not refer to same-sex marrige as “same-gender marriage.”)

Another simple thing you and your gay family member take for granted is using a public washroom. You take for granted being able to shop for clothes. You take for granted access to health care. You take for granted people calling you by your right name.

Your gay family member will never be told to go through invasive and dangerous medical treatments if they want to expect equal and fair treatment in all aspects of their life.

Again, these are just a very tiny and simple examples. The differences between your gay family member and myself are much more complex.

3. Do not tell me I’m unable to have perspective because I’m inside of this situation, just like you don’t have perspective because you are inside some situation—say an unhappy marriage—and currently, you can’t see your way out.

I am using the unhappy-marriage-perspective-box as an example because it is something I’ve seen recently compared to the trans*-perspective.

The emotions and cloudy perspective of your unhappy situation are not the same as the emotions and cloudy perspective of my situation.

Please tell me of the time that your unhappy marriage caused a group to post your physical address online, with people asking for you to be murdered and wanting images of your dead body be posted online.

Please tell me of the time that your unhappy marriage caused people to scheme to email your child’s school with fabricated evidence that you force your children to participate in child porn.

Please tell me of the times your unhappy marriage caused you to be physically and emotionally abused by your parent for acting and dressing like a boy.

I don’t need to see outside of my box in order to see that the regular and everyday dangers, that I and my family face, are bad, and things need to be done. These aren’t things I need to do or change. These are things that society needs to do or change.

Unlike your unhappy marriage where you can’t see the way out, I don’t have a way out.

I’m not blaming you for your unhappy marriage. I’m not saying it’s an easy situation to escape.

I’ve been in an unhappy marriage. I’ve been in an abusive marriage. At the time, I couldn’t see a way out, either. And though I can’t say, “Well, I feel this way so that means you have to feel this way, too,” I can say, my unhappy marriage is nothing at all like being transgender.

An unhappy marriage, as cold as it may sound and I may receive flack for saying it, does have a solution, even if it is difficult to see and accomplish. Whereas, being transgender… well, I can’t just leave my unhappy transgender body. I had local supports and programs to help facilitate leaving my unhappy marriage. I don’t have local supports and programs to support me as a transgender person. Hell, I had to fight to do something as simple as get my name changed to reflect my real and actual name at a pharmacy.

Your unhappy marriage is a situation that can be changed. There are a number of ways to do that. The fact I am transgender cannot be changed.

4. Do not tell me, “Well, I feel this way because I’ve been through x situation, so you should feel this way, too.”

Nobody is the same. It’s great that you overcame whatever it was that you overcame. I am happy for you.

Something people have said to me often is, “Well, I’ve been raped and I was able to forgive, so you should, too.” Great for you! I’ve been raped, too! I’m not really sure what this has to do with anything other than trying to blame me for other people’s behaviour.

Yes, I have control over how I feel and react to things, to a certain degree. But, I’m not just going to sit here and forgive the people who want to do me and my family real harm. I’m not going to just sit here and do nothing when people make threats.

Let’s use the Moncton shooting as an example. All to often people say, “Bah. It’s just some idiot saying stupid things on the Internet. Don’t pay them any mind.” The Moncton shooter was just some idiot saying things on the Internet and nobody paid him any mind. Then, he went out and killed a bunch of RCMP officers.

If the colour of your skin has caused you to receive threats, or caused you to be physically harmed—as one somewhat comparable example—I so want to hear about it. I am very much of aware of my white privilege. My white privilege has some things in common with your cis privilege. We can find common ground there and an easy way in which to frame certain conversations.

Just don’t tell me how I should react based on how you reacted under similar situations. It’s not productive.

5. Don’t say, “Well this trans* person used x slur, so that means I can use it, too!”

No, no you cannot. Don’t ever use any trans slur around any trans* person, even if you’ve heard a trans* person do it.

I was talking with my moderators one day about slurs being used in one of my communities. I kept using the T-word to illustrate examples when the word was used towards me. But, when discussing racial slurs, I would say, “N-word” instead of the full word like I did in relation to me. They asked, why? Because it’s not my word to use. Ever.

Even if I was a transgender person who embraced my slurs—which sparks all sorts of debate within the community, just like people of colour claiming their slurs caused debate within their communities—that doesn’t make it ever okay for you to use them. Ever.

The end. No more discussion.

Until next time, please take some time to consider my words. If you are cisgender, you will never understand what it is like to be transgender. Sometimes, I think the best thing you can do is just not talk about transgender issues and simply listen. But, if you insist on talking, keep the above in mind when doing so.

I’m a trans man. My preferred pronouns are “they/them” because it forces people to treat me as a person, instead of a gender. Though, I will very happily respond to “he/him.” You can read my full bio here. You may send me an email.

Join our discussion