Listen Up, Here’s How You Can Be A Better Trans Ally

By Daya Czepanski

In the past couple of years, we’ve seen transgender folk across Australia and the world making waves across arts, entertainment and media. Representation is growing and our issues are at the forefront of cultural consciousness in a way they never have been before! With this we’ve seen a dramatic rise in folks trying to educate themselves on how to do more for their trans friends, family and colleagues; and be better allies.

There have been Instagram reels, TikToks, articles, documentaries, news segments and shows targeted towards folk who are brand new to trans issues: 'how-tos' on pronouns, name changes, and social faux pas; learning how to correct yourself and others; signing petitions; reading books, following transgender celebrities and advocates, and so much more. These have been vital stepping stones in garnering public compassion for trans and gender non-conforming folk all across the world, and have been an access point for so many people to start on their allyship journeys.

These guides offer tangible ways to put light into the world and show support for the trans people that (it turns out) most of us know and love; and I have been overwhelmed by how far reaching the effects of them have been. Allies—I’m really proud of you!

But in 2023, I reckon you’re ready to go even further, how about you? If you’re ready for a deep dive into the nitty-gritty parts of trans allyship and want to check in with yourself, then these questions are for you!.

And if this check-in makes you feel a little uncomfortable, I want you to know it’s okay! Being challenged is how we learn and grow, so buckle up, allies.

Thoughtstarters for Allies 

  • How has your understanding of gender changed in the last year?
  • Have you deconstructed your understanding of gender, or are you just memorizing pronouns?
  • Do you discuss trans issues with your cis friends/family? how have you helped change their attitudes this year?
  • Do you correct people you respect when they misgender someone?
  • Do you use people’s correct pronouns around mutual friends/family/people from your shared past?
  • Do you correct people when they misgender someone in front of you?
  • Do you introduce yourself using your name and pronouns? 
  • Have you attended protests for trans rights this past year?
  • Have you donated to LGBT organizations this past year?
  • Have you signed petitions? have you signed all the petitions your trans friends share? 
  • How do you respond to good faith corrections from trans people? 
  • How do you respond to bad faith corrections? 
  • How do you talk about trans people you dislike? 
  • How do you talk about your trans friends who don’t conform to your understanding of transness? 

Okay, how’d you go? For some of you, this stuff might already be on your radar; for others, this might have made you feel a bit strange in the stomach. Whatever the case, I encourage you to hold these questions in your mind and come back to them throughout this year.

Now I’ve got a few observations to share. As a trans person, I am always grateful to people who are clearly trying to learn, and I never expect perfection from anyone. That being said, sometimes when folks get comfortable around me, they let things slip that they might not usually, and I’ve taken note of some of the things that some allies do that I would like to see phased out as we move forward this year:

  • I can tell when you have just memorised my pronouns instead of reframing the way you perceive me.
  • I can tell when you misgender me to others based on how you interact with me.
  • Every time you talk about trans issues, I listen. Every time you speak about trans people that you know, I listen. If you respect me but misgender them that tells me your respect for me is conditional to my treatment of you.
  • Every conversation that you have with me about trans issues, I have had with someone else a hundred times before. Unless I know you well or invite conversation about it, there’s probably a Quora thread that has the answers you need.
  •  The terms AMAB and AFAB have become cis people shorthand to ask what genitals trans people have. You’re boiling down medical jargon to ask whether I have a penis or vagina. Obviously this is still impolite.
  • I don’t want to comfort you after you misgender me, I’m sorry. Please don’t make it a big deal. Correct yourself and move on. 
  • Please don’t reassure me that I can change my mind about my transition. Too many people seem to think this is a concern of mine, it is not. 
  • Invasive questions are still invasive questions even when you’re an ally. Even when we know each other. Even when we’re friends. Unless I’m volunteering information, or you’re my doctor, I don’t want to discuss my hormones, my plans for surgeries or the complications that may arise.
  • Be careful not to project your medical anxieties onto trans people.
  • Don’t tell me about how transphobic your family is. I don’t want to know that they misgender me. It’s a talking point to you, it’s a reminder of too many people in my life to me. 

How you feeling? Good? Bad? Ugly? If you are feeling discouraged, don’t! You might still have a few things to learn, but you doing this work is helping create a more inclusive Australia, and being able to save and share this guide amongst your cisgender friends is laying some vital groundwork for progress. Remember, the little things all add up!

Your allyship is valuable, and the work that goes on behind closed doors is the work that ends up changing the cultural climate. 

Now meet Maya Cares, the chatbot changing the game in Australia's fight against racism.

Image credit: Daya Czepanski

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