…to make the world a better place for trans people. And, ultimately, everyone. Because that’s how it works.
I have a lot of wonderful cis people in my life who care desperately about equality and justice for trans people – and one of the most common things I’ve heard from them, when just starting to find out about transphobia and cissexism, is “I never knew it was this bad.” Swiftly followed by “what can I do to help?”
So. This is what you can do to help – I’ve asked a number of trans people I know, and this is what we came up with. Small things, most of them – but if every cis person with a trans person in their lives did them then we’d be living in a kinder world than the one we live in now. Please spread the word. And do your best.
- DO EXAMINE THE LANGUAGE YOU USE
“Never, ever use the phrase “a man in a dress” again” – Evil Felicity
Same goes for “she/he”, “tranny”, “she-male” etc. – some trans people will choose to use these words in reclamation – you don’t get to do that. You’ll cope. Promise. And while you’re at it, take a look a phrases such as “sex change”, “third gender”, “sex change operation” – there are a lot of really good reasons why trans people debate the language we use, and the majority of words and phrases used by the mainstream media to describe us are neither friendly nor accurate.
- DO EXAMINE THE ASSUMPTIONS YOU MAKE
“Ask people what their pronouns are, and honour the choice with no microaggressions no matter what the answer” – Alice
“Accept the title someone chooses for themselves” – Quinn
“Don’t use phrases like ‘All you girls’ when you don’t know the genders of the group. It feels very isolating.” – Elliott
You so often can’t tell by looking – what our pronouns are, what our histories are, how we’d describe ourselves – so don’t try. Making assumptions is generally a rubbish way of interacting with other humans, truth be told.
- DO PUT OUR SAFETY FIRST
Whether someone is ‘out’ as trans (or having a trans history) or not can genuinely be a matter of life and death – you don’t get to make that call.
“Privacy uber alles. Above all else you must respect a trans person’s privacy. Their business is not yours to share.” – Joey
“Not outing us to people before we meet them. I’ve had too many friends try and be considerate by warning their friends i’m trans and use male pronouns before they meet me. It’s just ‘I get you’re trying to be nice and make it so I don’t have to deal with being misgendered but stop it.’”–Sam
- DON’T ASSUME THAT YOU’LL KNOW HOW WE’D REACT
“I think there’s something important in the way that cis people engage their empathy with trans people. I guess it’s to do with privilege gradients and recognizing that, for example, a cis person being misgendered and a trans person being misgendered are two very different experiences.” – Anon
“Not playing ‘devil’s advocate’. “But if someone thinks they shouldn’t have a right arm, should we cut it off? What I’m saying is are you SURE you need top surgery to be happy?”" – Quinn
It’s not helpful when a cis man tells a trans man “but I’d LOVE to have boobs”. I don’t want to hear about how you consider yourself so so so post gender that you could have any kind of body and be happy – that’s great for you, but useless for me. Maybe you wouldn’t mind being called ‘Miss’ in a shop – that doesn’t take away from my pain when it happens to me.
- DON’T THINK THAT OUR MEDICAL HISTORIES ARE YOURS TO QUESTION AND DISCUSS
“Don’t make any assumptions about what medical interventions (surgery in particular) I might or might not want, and don’t ask about that stuff immediately after I come out to you! I might want to discuss it at some point, but if you want to talk about it, please check if I’m OK with that discussion first.” – Anon
A trans person’s veracity does not rely on what they may or may not have done with their bodies. If there’s a genuine reason why you need to know our medical histories and medical plans then we’ll tell you.
- DON’T ASSUME WE NEED TO BE ‘SCHOOLED’ IN OUR GENDERS
“Not giving ‘tips’ on how to ‘pass’ or ‘complimenting’ me on how ‘masculine’ I look today.” – Quinn
You are not the authentic version that we copy – we don’t need lessons on how to be ‘real’ men or ‘real’ women or ‘real’ anything. Though I wouldn’t personally object if you told me how glorious I look in a frock coat – not because I need you to ‘affirm’ my gender, but because I do and I like compliments.
- DO LEARN YOUR FACTS AND SPREAD THEM AROUND
Did you know that 24 European countries still require trans people to be sterilised in order to be legally recognised as their correct gender? That trans Women of Colour are disproportionately at risk of contracting HIV – and are usually not given the correct medical care? That trans people are at greater risk of domestic violence, homelessness, suicide? Don’t let ignorance be your shield – educate yourself, and then educate those around you. Gendered Intelligence and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project are great places to start. Don’t act like we’re a taboo, shameful subject – bring trans issues up – share articles on social media, recommend writers that you like – email your bloody MP – but don’t just shake your head at how awful something is and do nothing. Oh, and remember – trans issues are for all ages.
“Educate your children to be broad minded” – Susan
- DO USE TRANS PEOPLE/OUR WORK AS TEACHABLE MOMENTS – BUT ONLY IF YOU HAVE OUR PERMISSION TO DO SO
“Using me as a teaching example! Like, for serious, a concrete thing cis people can do to make my life (& life of other genderqueer etc folk better) is, when talking about me to other people, gender me correctly, and explain if necessary. (Provided you can, you know, explain competently rather than offensively. >_>)” – Alex
Never without permission – but if someone is happy for you to use them as an example to spread awareness, then it can be a powerful thing to do. I prefer it when my friends and loved ones explain about my pronouns before I meet new people – and I’m happy for them to explain a bit about how I see myself in terms of sex and gender, and the kind of work I do in trans activism. But never, ever assume it’s okay to do this without checking.
- DO STAND UP FOR US
“Speak up when they hear people being cissexist/transphobic. Too often people stay silent because they’re afraid of what other cis people will say if they are challenged.” – Quinn
Don’t just be supportive to our faces – real support is standing up for us when we’re unable to defend ourselves.
- DO SUPPORT TRANS CHARITIES AND ORGANISATIONS
I know that there’s precious little money around at the moment – but if you have any going spare, do please consider donating to a trans organisation – every donation matters. Trans groups and charities often operate on a shoestring budget, achieving incredible things with very little in the way of monetary support. Here are a few ideas, but do please look up organisations local to you, and see if you can give back to people who give so much to us as a community.
Scottish Transgender Alliance
Do please leave any further suggestions in the comments – and, really, it all comes down to this:
”Sit back, listen, and understand that you don’t know everything. That might be more than one thing but it goes together under the rubric ‘humility’”. Claire