The word “allyship” gets thrown around a lot and its true meaning can often get lost in slogan tees and empty social media posts.
Within the last year, Google trends show a spike in “allyship” as a search term, right off the back of the Black Lives Matter protests which kicked off in June 2020. The cultural advocacy which subsequently followed these events was a widespread movement embarking on systematic change, demanding the equal treatment of marginalised communities and individuals in more ways than one. In this case, we’d like to take a moment and give some light more specifically, on how you can show up and be a better trans ally.
While legal structures do exist like Australia’s Sex Discrimination Act 1984 making it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status, according to Amnesty International, transgender and gender diverse people face up to 60 different types of casual discrimination on the daily—whether it be at work, while they study, accessing various health services or even securing their preferred recognition of sex in official documents. This means it’s not enough to rely on a law to protect our trans and non-binary friends, in fact, the onus of action and change falls on everyone.
To do this, we had the absolute privilege of chatting to the incredibly talented Daya Czepanksi (they/them), an actor, artist and powerful advocate on all things to do with challenging the status quo, diversity in the film and theatre industry and of course, trans rights—Daya collected more than 1700 signatures in an online petition last year after a cisgender male was cast in a transgender role in the Sydney production of Hedwig And The Angry Inch. Needless to say, we’re big fans.
So here’s how you can show up, make some serious change this year and become a better trans ally.
What Is A Trans Ally?
While recognising that transgender and non-binary individuals face systematic forms of discrimination is the first step, Daya points out that being a true trans ally takes holistic action and a conscious effort to amplify parts of the transgender and non-binary community.
“Simply put, a trans ally is an individual who is not a part of the trans community, but still chooses to emphasise the work and voices of those who are in the name of inclusion, human rights and social justice,” they say.
What Can Being A Trans Ally Look Like?
“Allyship is multifaceted and can look like many things!” says Daya.
“Some of those things include advocacy, reflection, listening to members of the community, changing and challenging your implicit biases, and speaking up. Allyship to the trans community is also a lot of introspection and quiet work, as well as varying degrees of active engagement.”
How Can You Start Being A Better Trans Ally?
First and foremost, it’s all about taking that initial step and showing up.
“Demonstrate your solidarity with the wider community, like putting your pronouns in your bio and email signature; diversify your social media feed by following queer organisations and trans creators, activists, actors and watch documentaries like Disclosure on Netflix!” they say.
Daya also adds that actively listening to and believing in trans experiences and engaging with trans creators online is something you can and should implement into your daily life. Other small but big impact actions include: watching content from queer storytellers, sharing relevant news, sticking up for trans folk against online hate, signing petitions and using gender-neutral language when interacting with the trans folk you follow.
If People Want To Dig A Bit Deeper, What Are Some Bigger Things They Can Do As An Ally?
“Being a trans ally is also about what goes on behind closed doors,” says Daya.
“To be an effective ally you must be prepared to put in work that nobody else will see; like reading books and articles by trans authors; challenging your implicit biases; practising inclusive language at work and with others, and using people’s pronouns even when they’re not around to hear you. This part of allyship can be uncomfortable as it requires you to change the way you interact with not just trans folk, but everyone.”
Daya says you can do this by leading introductions with your own preferred pronouns, committing to regularly donating to LGBTQI+ charities, making sure you seek out and support trans artists and businesses and putting in the time and effort to do your own research and learning.
Speaking out against transphobia and transphobic comments is also another important step in being a better ally, as is “working to dismantle internal prejudices and learning to handle rejections and corrections” adds Daya.
“These acts can show the trans people around you that you have their backs, without being demonstrative or invasive. Committing to being a trans ally means doing the work to make your circles a safe space for the LGBTQI+ people in your life, regardless of whether others (cisgender folk) agree with you or not.”
What Are Some Things Not To Do?
“Things that are unhelpful vary widely but can include dismissing trans issues; refusing to acknowledge pronoun or name changes; being performative in your allyship and asking invasive questions. Remember that your actions, not your Instagram story, tell trans folks whether or not you are a trans ally,” Daya says.
“Trans folk are subjected to incredibly awkward questions about their medical lives, mental health, sexuality and genitalia in very innocuous situations, with strangers and loved ones alike. So before sending that DM, ask yourself: how would I feel if somebody asked me that question? Can I google it? Do I actually need to know or am I just curious?”
How People Can Support The Transgender People In Your Life?
“The easy answer is, you love them!” says Daya.
“If your loved one feels safe enough to come out to you, you don’t need to worry or hypothesise the potential hardships their transition may bring. Instead, you grin and hug them and let them lead the way, and be excited that this person wanted you to be a part of their journey.”
Daya adds that aside from the obvious (vocalising the L-word is a clear winner here) giving reassurance, asking what pronouns they’ll be using, whether they’re keen to change their name and offering to help purchase gender-affirming clothes and products are some easy things you can also do. They also outline that it’s important for you to ask what terms of endearment they’re comfortable with whether it be girl, sis, babe bro, dude—you name it. And of course, letting them know you’ll always be there when they need anything.
“Other little things you can do include pride memorabilia integrated into the living space. A trans flag in the hallway, stickers on the fridge, badges on a jacket. Let your loved ones know that they are an accepted and welcome part of the family, and let guests know that it is a house of acceptance.” says Daya.
And Lastly, Can You Breakdown Some Common Pronouns And What They Really Mean?
While Daya outlines that slip-ups are inevitable, it’s important to keep correcting yourself and others when it comes to pronouns. However, every individual has their own pronouns so the onus really is on you to be across them all and their meaning.
These can look like:
“They/them is more commonly known as a plural pronoun but has long historical usage as a singular pronoun, most commonly in a sentence where the subject’s gender is unknown” says Daya.
“It is also used by many trans, nonbinary and genderqueer folk who do not identify with the aforementioned masculine he/him or the feminine she/her.”
“Pronouns are substitutions for someone’s name, so using someone’s correct pronouns is a way to show that person respect. When a trans person asks you to use their pronouns, they are asking you to acknowledge and respect their identity. As an ally, this is integral to do.”
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