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Action Tips for Allies of Transgender People

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Most people would like to think that they are "trans friendly," but in fact there are many things we could all improve to be better allies.

Often there is no single, easy, or “right” answer to every situation a person might encounter, but hopefully these suggestions will help provide you with food for thought and a starting place as you learn more about trans people, gender identities/presentations and gender differences.

Don’t assume you can tell if someone is transgender.
Transgender and transsexual people don’t all look a certain way or come from the same background, and many may not appear “visibly trans.” Indeed, many trans people live most of their lives with very few people knowing their trans status.

Don’t make assumptions about a trans person’s sexual orientation. Gender identity is different than sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is about who we’re attracted to. Gender identity is about how we know our own gender. Trans people can identify as gay, straight, bisexual, or asexual.

Be careful about confidentiality, disclosure, and “outing." Some trans people feel comfortable disclosing their trans status to others, and some do not. Knowing a trans person’s status is personal information and it is up to them to share it with others. Do not casually share this information, or “gossip” about a person you know or think is trans. Not only is this an invasion of privacy, it also can have negative consequences in a world that is very intolerant of gender difference—trans people can lose jobs, housing, friends, and sadly have even been killed upon revelation of their trans status.

Understand the differences between “coming out” as lesbian, bisexual, or gay (LBG) and “coming out” as trans. Unlike “coming out” in a LBG context, where the act of disclosing one’s sexuality reveals a “truth” about that person’s sexual orientation, disclosing one’s trans status often has the opposite effect. That is, when a person “comes out” as trans, the listener often assumes the “truth” about the trans person is that they are somehow more fundamentally a member of their birth sex, rather than the gender/sex they have chosen to live in. In other words, sometimes “coming out” makes it more difficult for a trans person to be fully recognized as the sex/gender they are living in.

Do not tolerate anti-trans remarks or humor in public spaces.
Consider strategies to best confront anti-trans remarks or jokes in your classroom, lab, office, living group, or organization. Seek out other allies who will support you in this effort.

If you don’t know what pronouns to use, ask.

Be polite and respectful when you ask a person which pronoun they prefer. Then use that pronoun and encourage others to do so.

Don't just add the “T” without doing work.

“LBGT” is now a commonplace acronym that joins lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender under the same umbrella. To be an ally to trans people, gays, lesbians and bisexuals need to examine their own gender stereo- types, their own prejudices and fears about trans people, and be willing to defend and celebrate trans lives.

Listen to trans voices. Listen with an open mind and learn from the experts! Talk to trans people in your community.

Know your own limits as an ally.

Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know everything! When dealing with a trans person who may have sought you out for support or guidance, be sure to point that person to appropriate resources when you have reached the limit of your knowledge or ability to handle the situation. It is better to admit you don’t know something than to provide information that may be incorrect or hurtful.

Photo credit: FightHIVinDC
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About the Author

Dr. Brown is a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescent health.

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