Being an Ally
Trans respect: the absolute necessities
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 misgendered. Using the right pronoun is really important, because it shows people that you respect the validity of their experience.
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! As a general rule, if you wouldn’t ask that sort of thing of a cisgender person you have the same relationship with - don’t ask it of a trans person. 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 or romantic orientation is, or allow it to colour your ideas about their gender identity. Gender identity and romantic and sexual orientation are independent.
Don’t ask what their birth name was. Many trans people consider this to be very private and sensitive information. Likewise, do not ask to see photos of them pre-transition. If you know or have access to this kind of information about a trans person, never share it with anyone else.
Don't make transmisogynistic jokes, or participate in transmisogyny by allowing jokes or comments that glorify being disgusted at trans women to be made around you without calling them out, whether or not a trans person is present (this includes man in dress jokes). Trust trans women as to what can be considered transmisogynistic.
If a trans woman or DMAB transfeminine person is talking about transmisogyny, or any trans person is talking about transphobia, cissexism, or any related issue, do not speak over them. It is down to trans people to decide whether something marginalises them. Cis people should prioritise and listen to the voices of trans people on issues relevant to them.
Beyond the basics
These simple DOs and DON’Ts are the absolute basics of behaving respectfully towards trans people - but to support trans people to the best of your ability it is necessary to continually attempt a deeper understanding of trans issues through listening and talking to trans people and reading as widely as you can about the issues that face trans people.
An incredibly important concept that you will need to educate yourself on is cisgender 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, for example by calling out transmisogyny, transphobia, or cissexism in situations where trans people are not present, or would be uncomfortable doing so themselves.
Allyship is not a declaration of whose side you are on, but the sum of your actions. You should not label yourself an ally; instead, you should simply aim to act like one. It is impossible to reach a point where you have totally unlearned the transmisogyny, binarism, and cissexism that you have been taught by our culture and are constantly being retaught. You should instead be constantly trying to unlearn these things and challenge them in yourself, and in others where your voice is appropriate, as an ongoing action.
For example, if you would date women but never a trans woman (or men but never a trans man), or would date men and women but not non-binary people, this is because you have internalised cissexism and transmisogyny. (The solution is not for you to go out and date a trans person to prove this isn't true - the solution is to start working on combating these things within yourself.)
Allyship is ultimately a balancing act: listening to trans people, and educating and advocating within cisgender circles where appropriate. Remember that being an ally basically boils down to treating others like human beings and caring about their struggles; it might be tough, and will almost certainly be deeply appreciated, but you don't get cookies for every individual act of allyship.
TransWhat? is a recently compiled website containing information to help people inform themselves and become trans allies. Their ‘Misconception Debunked’ and ‘Allyship: First Steps’ sections are very useful and up-to-date. (content warning for discussions of coercive gender/sex assignment, biological essentialism, transphobia, transmisogyny, misgendering, coming out, dysphoria, homophobia, invalidation, cisnormativity, cissexism, legal & medical gatekeeping, detailed descriptions of medical processes including surgeries, outing without consent, transphobic & transmisogynistic slurs, invasive questions, harassment, discrimination, sensationalisation, violence)
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
A comprehensive cis privilege list can be found here. (content warning for cisnormativity, implied transphobic & transmisogynystic discrimination as potential opposite truths to the privileges stated)
For more simple tips, you can look at this. (content warning for discussions of transphobia, coming out, coercive labelling, LGBT+ erasure)
Content Warning: this page includes mentions of cissexism, transmisogyny, transphobia, binarism, misgendering.