How I Became an Ally for the Trans* Community

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

Normally when I write a blog post, the inspiration behind it comes about in one of two ways. It is usually either an issue that I have always felt strongly about and just happened to want to write a blog post about (for example, the first blog post I ever wrote, which was about being pro-life and about disability rights), or something will happen to me that inspires me to sit down and write (Like my post about Mr. D, the homeless man who taught me how to dribble a basketball). The post I am going to be writing about today does not fall into either category. In fact, until recently, the issue I will be discussing today was something that rarely ever crossed my mind.

The issue I will be writing about is how I decided to become an ally for members of the Trans* community. It seems that so often when we hear about the LGBTQ community in the news, it is revolving around gay marriage or other issues of gay rights. There is rarely any talk about the Trans* (which signifies transgender male or female, bi-gender, genderqueer or anyone else who does not fit into the gender binary) community, Trans* rights or transphobia. Like I said before, I was not conscious of this until recently. I am a cisgender (I.e., the gender I was assigned at birth matches my gender identity) bisexual female with the vast majority of my family and friends identifying as cisgender as well, so Trans* issues have generally been the furthest thing from my mind. I was never transphobic, but since I also was not doing anything to help the Trans* community, that made me a "victimizer", albeit an unintended one (Deutsch and Steil, 1988). I decided that it was time to change this when a friend of mine from high school came out as Trans*. At my all-girls, Catholic high school, Cabrini, we were taught from day one that all Cabrini students are sisters. We are each expected to look out for our Cabrini sisters, an expectation I have always taken very seriously. If one of my Cabrini sisters needs something, I make sure to be there for them. When one of my friends came out as Trans*, I knew that I had to be there for my Cabrini brother. I immediately started doing research about the Trans* community and learned about Trans* etiquette, which I will discuss in more detail later in this post.

When I began my research, I was absolutely shocked and horrified by the violence and transphobia endured by the Trans* community. In one survey, over 80% of respondents reported being the victim of verbal abuse due to their appearance, and about a third of respondents reported physical abuse (Transgender Issues: A Fact Sheet). Statistics like these not only break my heart, but it infuriates me that we live in such a transphobic society. I cannot imagine how awful it must be to have to be afraid that when you go out in public you will be harassed for who you are or how you look. Reading these statistics made me realize just how privileged I actually am. I was already conscious of and saddened by the amount of privileges I receive just by virtue of being white and middle class after reading McIntosh’s “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” (1990). On top of that, I am cisgender, which offers another “invisible knapsack” of its own. I do not have to worry about finding a gender-neutral bathroom, and I will never have to fear that I will be harassed in a gender-specific bathroom. I do not have to endure constant questioning and rude comments about my gender identity. I can wear outfits that match my gender identity without having to worry that it could cost me a job. I never have to experience dysphoria, which is the acute awareness that one’s gender identity does not match one’s physical appearance.

 Once I was aware of the privileges I have as a cisgender woman, I decided it was not enough to just read about the statistics related to the Trans* community and learn things about Trans* etiquette, such as what is acceptable or not acceptable to ask a Trans* person. While these are important things for me to know, I wanted to be more than just informed. I wanted to be helpful to the community and change the pervasive prejudice that the Trans* community faces. I decided that I needed to become an ally. An ally is “a member of a dominant group in our society who works to dismantle any form of oppression from which she or he receives the benefit (Ayvazian, 1980).” I started small, by sharing images on my Facebook page supporting Trans* rights, and sharing information about fundraisers to help offset the costs of my former classmate’s transition surgery. Then, I began taking a class called Social Psychology of Social Justice. In this class, we have to do a twenty minute group presentation on a topic of our choice. I signed up to work with a classmate who is vocal about supporting Trans* rights, as well as many other social justice issues. We decided to do a documentary-style presentation about what it is like to be Trans* in today’s society and how someone can become a Trans* ally. We have interviewed a Trans* woman and a Trans* man, and we still have one more interview to complete as of right now. The two interviewees were wildly different in terms of personality and in their experiences with transphobia, but both had valuable lessons to offer. I wanted to include some lessons I have learned from them. Think of it as “Trans* Etiquette 101” or “Ten Ways to be a Trans* Ally (…but this is absolutely NOT an exhaustive list)”

  1. One of the interviewees said something that was simple, yet oddly profound. She said that the way to be an ally is to just be a friend. Listen when your friend needs to talk, and be there for them when they need you. All people need a friend.
  2. If you do not know which pronouns a Trans* person prefers, ask. It’s as simple as that.
  3. Once you know the pronouns a Trans* person prefers, USE THEM.
  4.  Do not ask about a Trans* person’s sex life.
  5. Do not ask about a Trans* person’s genitalia.
  6. Do not ask a Trans* person what their “real” name is. Call them whatever name they give you.
  7. Even if you knew a Trans* person before they came out as Trans*, you should not call them by the name they used before coming out.
  8. Use the name they tell you, but if you mess up, apologize and move on.
  9. Be respectful, not judgmental. One of the interviewees talked about being judged by family members, and that saddened me deeply. Respect is key to being an ally!
  10. Stand up for Trans* rights and speak out against transphobia.

Readers, today I challenge you to learn more about becoming an ally, whether it be for Trans* people, or for any other group. My male readers could look into women’s rights. My white readers could research discrimination against minorities. People without disabilities could advocate for better compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. God bless!

Sources

Ayvazian, A. (1980). Interrupting the cycle of oppression: The role of allies as agents of change. Making a Difference: Social Activism. 598-604.

McIntosh, P. (1990). White privilege: unpacking the invisible knapsack. Understanding prejudice and discrimination. 188-192.

Duetsch, M. and Steil, J.M. (1988). Awakening the sense of injustice. Social Justice Research 2(1). 3-23.

Transgender Issues: A Fact Sheet (2007). http://www. transgenderlaw. org/ resources/ transfactsheet. pdf