How can I be a good friend/trans ally?
Trans respect: the absolute basics
Friends and colleagues can do some really simple things to make trans people feel at ease and show them respect:
Use the name and pronoun that they ask you to use. If you are not sure what the right pronoun is, just ask them – people would much rather tell you than be mis-gendered. Using the right pronoun is really important, because it shows people that you respect the validity of their experience.
Don’t ask what their ‘real’ or ‘birth’ name is. Use the name they prefer: this is their real name! Giving former names can colour people’s perceptions of trans people.
Similarly, respect their boundaries. If you want to ask a personal question, check that they’re OK with that. You’d be surprised about the number of people who don’t do this! Personal questions include:
- Questions to do with their sex lives
- Questions to do with their genitalia.
- Intimate questions about their past and present relationships.
- Questions about their hormonal/surgical status
Don’t assume that you know what their sexual orientation is. Gender identity and sexual orientation are independent.
For more simple tips, you can look at this: http://lesbianlife.about.com/od/trans/ht/TransAlly.htm
These simple DOs and DON’Ts are the absolute basics of behaving respectfully towards trans people. Ultimately, however, to adopt a truly trans-positive attitude, it is necessary to come to think of your friend, family member or colleague as having the gender they wish to be seen as having. This can often take some time to adjust to. In particular, it requires that you develop an awareness of your own comparatively privileged position as a cis person (see below). Some resources to help you at this time are listed on our ‘Resources’ page.
Being a good trans ally
So you want to be an ally – that’s fantastic! Allies are extremely important and valuable and we need as many of you as possible.
Ally is a term that carries a lot of weight and requires you to go on an educational journey. In order to become an ally, you need to learn as much as possible about trans issues through listening and talking to trans people and reading as widely as you can about the issues that face the trans community (see our list of further reading).
In order to help fight against discrimination and transphobia, the most important concept that you will first need to understand is cis privilege. Understanding how cis people are comparatively privileged in our society is vital to helping the trans community: it can help you avoid inadvertent discrimination against trans people, and can enable you to use your advantage in a positive way to aid trans people.
You can find out more about cis privilege in Julia Serano’s excellent transsexual manifesto, Whipping Girl Chapter 8 Dismantling Cissexual Privilege p161-193. Julia Serano’s website can be found at: http://www.juliaserano.com/index.html
Also, this website is really good for debunking common misconceptions about trans people: http://www.transmediawatch.org/misunderstandings.html