Supporting Our Trans Friends as Allies
Trans and gender non-conforming youth are breaking the chains that are holding them back from truly being comfortable with their identity in their everyday lives. The first and foremost step to proper allyship is utilizing people’s preferred name and pronouns (this is not exclusive to your trans friends, though). Names and pronouns are the two personal and important ways we refer to each other. They are key aspects of our identity, so calling someone by the wrong name or misgendering them by using incorrect pronouns can feel disrespectful and harmful. It is important that as friends, family, and/or colleagues of trans people to respect their identity even if we are confused or uncomfortable. It is not something that we can ignore or brush off. This is someone's personal identity and we must respect and accept that.
Please note that I am a cisgender girl whose pronouns are she/her.
A diagram to better understand gender identity, gender expression, and attraction. (The Genderbread Person)
Jake (he/they) is a 17-year-old who is finding a sense of relief and comfort ever since he realized his true identity. When I asked them how they felt when they began conforming to their true identity Jake said, “Significantly better… I was really struggling with who I was with my sexuality and was having a really rough time defining it. I then began to explore my gender and it just felt right.” Jake uses he/they pronouns, which means everyone should be using both these pronouns to refer to them.
It’s important to use not just one pronoun, but both pronouns. This makes these individuals comfortable and accepted with their identities. Some trans people may use one pronoun; he/him, she/her, they/them. Others may use multiple like he/they, she/they, or even he/she/they.
Like many other transgender people, Jake struggles with people using his pronouns, especially those close to him.
“I originally came out to my sister as non-binary using they/them pronouns and she at first was very supportive. She asked if I would rather she call me her sibling, which I was very happy she had asked. But after that day, she never used my preferred pronouns. I then told her I go by he/they, but she still consistently used she/her and referred to me as her sister. It hurt because it felt as though she didn’t see me for me. I realize it’s difficult with her for 16 years referring to me as she and all of a sudden needing to change that. However, she made almost 0 effort and it hurt. I eventually had enough and spoke to her about it. It hasn’t changed much yet, but hopefully she will soon be able to respect me for me.”
Let’s take a look at how we can better ourselves as trans allies
When transgender people begin exploring their true identity, they might adopt a new name that better suits them. When you learn that they use a different name, it means that you must reject using their previous name or “deadname” and begin using the name they want you to use. A dead name refers to the former name a person no longer wishes to use. “Deadnaming” occurs when someone, intentionally or not, refers to a transgender person by the name they used before they transitioned. By calling them by their new name, you are openly respecting their identity and allowing them to be who they are.
Similarly to the previous paragraph, when you learn someone’s preferred pronouns, it means that they no longer would like you to use the pronouns they were using before and to start using their new ones. If someone uses multiple pronouns, use both when referring to them! For example, “I went to get coffee with her the other day! She helped me with the homework. I asked them if they wanted to get something to eat after we studied.” In this scenario, this person’s pronouns are she/they!
So you’ve messed up someone’s name and pronouns, now what?
When you mistakenly use a trans person’s deadname or use their old pronouns they used before they transitioned, it’s a simple fix. Apologize, correct yourself, and move on. Don’t make a big fuss about it. If someone corrects you, correct yourself, thank them and move on.
No one owes you an explanation for their pronouns. It is not your place to judge or formulate an opinion on someone else’s pronouns.
Use your own pronouns as well!
Transgender, non-binary and non-cisgender people put their pronouns in their bios on social media to avoid any misgendering and confusion regarding their identity. However, by doing so, they can be signaled out and targeted by transphobic people. It’s harmful and dangerous for them. Even if you’re cisgender, including your pronouns in your conversations and in social media bios shows that you’re a good ally. It will create a sense of comfort, safety and respect for our transgender/non-binary friends.
There are many other things to teach yourself about the transgender community that I haven’t covered in this article. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and learn more about how you can be a good LGBT+ ally. It’s important to take initiative and teach yourself how to make transgender people feel safe in the environment around them.
Hues. (n.d.). Genderbread Person v4.0 Poster " The Genderbread Person. Retrieved from https://www.genderbread.org/resource/genderbread-person-v4-0-poster
Featured image is courtesy of Wix
Article Author: Alizeh Qaiser
Article Editors: Maria Giroux, Sherilyn Wen