10 Tips for Allies to Trans and Non-Binary Folks
- You can’t tell if some is transgender. Trans people don’t all look a certain way or come from the same background, and many may not appear “visibly trans.” You should assume that there may be Trans and Non-Binary people at any gathering.
- Don’t make assumptions about a Trans or Non-Binary person’s sexual or romantic orientation. Gender identity is different than orientation. Gender identity is about how we know our own gender. Trans and Non-Binary people can identify as queer, lesbian, gay, straight, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, aromantic, or any other orientation.
- If you don’t know what pronouns to use, offer your own pronouns first like this “I use they/them, what do you use?” or simply use their name. Be polite and respectful of how many people are around when you ask a person which pronoun they use. Then use that pronoun. If you accidentally use the wrong pronoun, apologize quickly and sincerely, then move on. Spending lots of time on your mistake makes it about you and it isn’t.
- Be careful about confidentiality, disclosure, and “outing”. Some Trans and Non-Binary people feel comfortable disclosing their identity to others, and some do not. Knowing a Trans or Non-Binary person’s identity is personal information and it is up to them to share it with others. Do not casually share or “gossip” about a person you know or think is Trans or Non-Binary. 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 and Non-Binary people can lose jobs, housing, friends, and their lives for being themselves, so they get to decide where and when is safe for them to be out.
- Avoid backhanded compliments or “helpful” tips. While you intend to be supportive, comments like the following can be hurtful or even insulting:
“I would have never known. You are so pretty.”
“You look just like a real woman/man.”
“Have you considered a voice coach?”
- Be patient with a person who is questioning or exploring their identity. A person who is questioning or exploring their gender identity may take some time to find out what identity and/or gender expression is best for them. They might, for example, choose a new 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/or pronoun requested.
- Don’t assume what path a Trans or Non-Binary person is on regarding surgery and/or hormones, and don’t privilege one path over another. Affirm the many ways all of us can and do transcend gender boundaries, including the choices some of us make to use medical technology to change our bodies. Some Trans and Non-Binary people wish to be recognized as their gender without surgery or hormones; some need support and advocacy to get respectful medical care, hormones, and/or surgery. A Trans or Non-Binary identity is not dependent on medical procedures. Just accept that if someone tells you that they are Trans—or Non-Binary they are.
- Don’t ask a Trans or Non-Binary person what their “real name” is. For some Trans or Non-Binary people, being associated with their birth name is a tremendous source of anxiety, or it is simply a part of their life they wish to leave behind. Respect the name a Trans person is currently using. If you already know someone’s prior name, don’t share it without their explicit permission.
- Don’t ask about a Trans or Non-Binary person’s genitals or surgical status. Think about it—it wouldn’t be appropriate to ask a Cisgender person about the appearance or status of their genitalia, so it isn’t appropriate to ask a Trans or Non-Binary person that question either. Likewise, don’t ask if they have had “the surgery.” If they want to talk to you about such matters, let them bring it up.
- Don’t ask a Trans or Non-Binary person how they have sex. Similar to the question above about genitalia and surgery—it wouldn’t be considered appropriate to ask a Cisgender person about how they have sex, so the same courtesy should be extended to Trans and Non-Binary people.
Adapted from Action Tips for Allies of Trans People by MIT and Tips for Allies of Transgender People by GLAAD
Resources for Allies to Trans and Non-Binary Folks
Learn More about Trans and Non-Binary Folks—Follow some Influencers / Watch Some Documentaries!
- Gabriella Grime is non-binary, gay, and a visual artist based in Philadelphia. Their art is full of people of color, illustrating relationships in colorful and detailed images. Follow Gabriella on Instagram @ggggrimes.
- A writer, model, and transgender advocate, Devin-Norelle’s mission is to show the spectrum of transgender people and gender expression. Ze was the first masculine model to walk the Chromat fashion show for New York Fashion Week in 2019. Love connecting with new influencers? Follow him on Instagram @steroidbeyonce.
- A breast cancer survivor, Ericka Hart is not afraid of showing off her mastectomy scars. Her body-positive photos encourage others to love their bodies no matter how they’re made. She is also a sex educator and a racial, social, and gender justice advocate. Follow them on Instagram @ihartericka.
- Kenny Ethan Jones is a transgender model and activist. He became the first trans man to be the face of a period campaign, outspoken about the need to change the menstruation conversation. He fights to reduce the stigma surrounding transmen, intersex, and non-binary folks who menstruate but don’t identify as female. Follow his Instagram @kennyethanjones.
- The Trans List (2016), directed by acclaimed portrait photographer and filmmaker Timothy Greenfield-Sanders (HBO’s The Black List, The Out List and The Latino List, among others) and featuring interviews and an introduction by Janet Mock. The Trans List shines a light on prominent members of the transgender community like Kylar Broadus, Caroline Cossey, Amos Mac, Bamby Salcedo, Buck Angel, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, Nicole Maines, Shane Ortega, Caitlyn Jenner, Alok Vaid-Menon and Laverne Cox. Available on HBO.
- Disclosure (2020) is an unprecedented, eye-opening look at transgender depictions in film and television, revealing how Hollywood simultaneously reflects and manufactures our deepest anxieties about gender. Reframing familiar scenes and iconic characters in a new light, director Sam Feder invites viewers to confront unexamined assumptions, and shows how what once captured the American imagination now elicit new feelings. Leading trans thinkers and creatives, including Laverne Cox, Lilly Wachowski, Yance Ford, Mj Rodriguez, Jamie Clayton, and Chaz Bono, share their reactions and resistance to some of Hollywood’s most beloved moments. Available on Netflix.
Adapted from Cade Hildreth’s Article 15 Inspirational Queer Influencers of Color, found at their website, https://cadehildreth.com/
Check Your Attitude!
The language you use to describe how you interact with a marginalized community indicate how to conceptualize them as a group. Are you aware of what you are saying?
- Nurturance- Assumes the differences in people are indispensable in society. They view LGBTQ+ people and culture with genuine affection and delight, and are willing to be LGBTQ+ advocates.
- Appreciation- Values the diversity of people and is willing to confront insensitive attitudes. These people are willing to combat homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, and other phobic behavior in themselves and in others.
- Admiration- Acknowledges that being LGBTQ+ in our society takes strength. Such people are willing to truly look at themselves and work on their own personal biases.
- Support- Works to safeguard the rights of LGBTQ+ people. Such people may be uncomfortable themselves, but they are aware of the climate and the irrational unfairness in our society.
- Acceptance- Acceptance still implies there is something to accept, characterized by such statements as, “You’re not gay to me, you’re a person,” “What you do in bed is your own business,” “That’s fine as long as you don’t flaunt it.” Acceptance ignores the pain of invisibility, the stress of being in the closet, and does not acknowledge that another’s identity may be of the same value as their own.
- Tolerance- Being different is just a phase of development that … most people ‘grow out of.’ Thus, they should be protected and tolerated as one does a child who is still learning. LGBTQ+ people should not be given positions of authority (because they are still working through adolescent behaviors).
- Pity- Pity is heterosexual/cisgender chauvinism. Heterosexuality/Cisgender Identity is more mature and certainly to be preferred. Any possibility of becoming straight/cisgender should be reinforced and those who seem to be born that way should be pitied, the poor dears.
- Repulsion- Homosexuality/Transgender Identity is seen as a crime against nature. People who identify as LGBTQ+ are sick, crazy, immoral, sinful, wicked, etc., and anything is justified to change them (e.g., prison, hospitalization, and negative behavior therapy, including electric shock). Anything which will change them to be more normal or a part of the mainstream is justifiable (e.g. violence, imprisonment, shock therapy, conversion therapy, etc.)
Adapted from Western Illinois University, (n.d.).
Your Actions Are Loud!
- Challenge anti-trans remarks or humor in public spaces. Consider strategies to best confront anti-trans remarks in your organization, office, classroom, or living space. Seek out other allies who will support you in this effort.
- Support All Gender/Gender Neutral Restrooms. Some Trans and Non-Binary people may not match the signs outside the restrooms doors—or your expectations! Encourage your organization, office, building, or group to have single-stall/single-use all-gender restrooms. Make it clear that any person is welcome to use whichever restroom they feel comfortable using.
- Make your organization truly trans-inclusive. To be an ally to Trans and Non-Binary people, you need to examine your own gender stereotypes, your own prejudices, and fears about trans people, and be willing to defend and celebrate trans lives.
- Know your own limits as an ally. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know everything! When speaking with a Trans or Non-Binary person who may have sought you out for support or guidance, be sure to point that person to appropriate resources when you’ve 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.
- Listen to Trans and Non-Binary voices. One of the best ways to be an ally is to listen with an open mind to Trans people when they talk about their lives. Talk to Trans and Non-Binary people in your community and on campus. Check out books, films, documentaries, YouTube channels, and blogs to find out more about Trans lives.
- Know your resources. Another best way to be an ally is know where to refer someone when you have reached your limit of knowledge.
Adapted from Action Tips for Allies of Trans People by MIT and Tips for Allies of Transgender People by GLAAD