How to be a Good Ally to Trans People
Reproduced with the kind permission of FTM Trans culture Magazine
Over my life as a transgender man I have had moments I wish I could have said something to someone close to me but failed to. Until going back in time is an option, lets move forward with better understanding on things we wish we could tell our close friends and potential partners. If you’ve received this article from a friend, are they trying to tell you you’re guilty of one of these points? Potentially, or they just think it was a good read and you might enjoy it. You’re guilty by association.
You will receive more questions about me than I will. People who are confused or curious will typically ask a person they believe can relate to them or think share similar experiences. Talk to me about what I’m comfortable with you sharing when you field these questions. If I prefer not to be outed, you could respond with a simple, yet firm “It’s not my place to answer these questions for you, I’m sorry.” If I’m open about my transition, find out how to appropriately answer or divert harsh questions. This will make you a better ally and allow conversations to flow toward critical discussions instead of focusing on sexualizing the experience. As the topic of transgender lives emerges in mainstream media, questions often fall into one of two categories “genuine curiosity” or “superficial curiosity”. The question, “What are some reasons a trans-man might not have bottom surgery” is different from the question “Do you have a penis?” Knowing whether the questioner is coming from a place of good will or being malicious may help you decide how to handle these moments.
“But you’ll always be ‘Uvwxyz’ to me” hurts
Transition in life is inevitable. While seeing your little cousin for the first time in years and enjoying the fact that they were once in diapers, one may say “Aw, but you’ll always be little Tommy to me!” and be perfectly acceptable. However, in my case I may have struggled with who I was and how I felt about myself before coming out as the authentic me. This is a time in my life of positive growth and happiness and if I’ve chosen to share it with you, telling me that you’d rather remain seeing me as someone I have taken great risks to leave behind is hurtful and damaging to our friendship. Telling me I’ll always be my birth name or birth sex in your eyes can be like telling someone who struggled with depression that you’ll always see them as ‘that pathetic emo kid’ or someone who fought with self image and weight lose that they’ll always be ‘fat’ to you. See what I’m saying? Yes, we may have a long history of knowing each other before I came out and that might be hard for you to let go of or see differently. Let me know you’re trying by not using this statement.
Outing me can be extremely dangerous.
As positive as some of the media and support for trans people are, there is still an overwhelming amount of hatred and ignorance. Hundreds of transgender people are murdered every single year and most of these times the killer walks due to failed/no protection laws in place for me. You may think that having a trans friend and talking about it in a public setting is fine, but if the wrong person over hears you or tells their friend who tells their friend, I could be in serious danger. It being a novelty to have a trans friend isn’t worth my life. If you want to talk about it, just don’t use my name and say you’ve ‘got a friend’.
My dysphoria isn’t your fault
It can be tough to be emotionally involved with someone who has a hard time with self image. You yourself may feel like you’re solely responsible for their happiness but sometimes their sadness comes from a place you simply can’t touch. It is not your fault that I have places and things about my body that I don’t like paid attention to. Talk to me and find out what is okay with me and what you can do to ease any triggering of my dysphoria, but don’t take the dysphoria personally. Some relationships, trans or cis don’t end up being ‘text book’. If I’m uncomfortable with my breasts and talk about wanting surgeries in the future, being sad about that and saying things like “But I love your boobs!” or “No don’t, I love you just the way you are” isn’t supportive. In fact, it’s proof that you’ve created an image of me in your head that doesn’t match up with who I really am and that’s not a positive basis for a relationship.
“It isn’t the T”
Beginning hormone replacement therapy can be a HUGE moment in my life. However, following that achievement I may lash out at you or be a jerk. If I say things like “It’s the testosterone”, you have my permission to not believe it. I am well aware of the emotional changes that I’ve decided to undertake and there are countless support systems and advice articles for dealing with extra tension and shorter tempers all over Google. My mood swings and hormonal imbalance are mine to control, not yours to tolerate. I have no right to be rude to you or push you away and blame a substance.
How do those egg shells feel?
Don’t get so hung up on words that the conversations never happen. You know me, if we’ve been close for any period of time you know what and how to phrase questions and statements to not be offensive. Though I may not want to be an educator all day every day to strangers at the grocery store, you’re my friend and it shows me you care when you’re excited about my transition with me. Many transgender people don’t have or lose their entire support systems when they come out so I’m lucky to have you. If you’ve been around the web a time or two you’ll notice our community gets hung up on terms and words. Don’t let this frighten you into bailing on me.
Don’t date me despite me
If you’re interested in dating me, make sure you’re interested because of who I am, not despite my trans status. You’re not doing me a favor by being interested in me ‘even though’ I’m trans, you’re making it seem like to you it’s something that makes me hard to handle or below you and THANK GOODNESS you’re here now to be interested in me because who else would? Rude.
What you say behind my back is what you really think of me
When I first come out, some people might say things like “It’s about time” or “I always knew”, some may say they had no clue and some people might not believe me due to the rise of something called “trans-trending”. Whether you think I’m doing this for attention or because my friend is doing it too isn’t for you to decide. The locals don’t get to get together and vote to approve my trans status. There is no way for you to tell what has been going on in my mind for years and what I’ve struggled with personally. There are many ways to transition and no one way is perfect or the way it has to be done. Talk to me about it, find out my story if you feel so inclined. If not, just leave it alone because it doesn’t affect your life at all.
My pronouns mean a lot to me
Chances are I’ve chosen a new name and have preferred gender pronouns, you using them is a big deal to me and when you do it shows me that you support me in bettering my life for myself. Which should be qualities of all friends! At the beginning, you may slip or mess up but I promise I’ll be able to tell if someone is genuinely trying or if someone is making a point to use the wrong ones.
If you’ve taken the time to read or share this article with someone close to you, you’ve sought out advice on being a better Trans Ally and that to me is admirable. Wanting to educate yourself to make me and any other transgender person in your life more comfortable in this time of great community and media change is worth a big thank you. There is a lot of anger and hatred in the world and in our small community and sometimes Ally’s can be pushed to their limits or be afraid to use the wrong words or do the wrong thing. Every single person behind us and in support of us is valuable. Thank you for your patience, your friendship and your love.
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