I was asked to help contribute to this blog entry about “How to Be A Trans Ally”, and I sat down, wrote, rewrote, and really struggled with completing the task. What could I possibly write that hasn’t been written dozens of times before? What’s the shortest, clearest, easiest way to get my point of view across, and what did I want the main message to be? Here’s where I’ve landed – I don’t feel that figuring out how to treat a Transgender person is some big mystery at all. How can you act as a Trans ally? Well, in my opinion, it’s simply this- just treat me, and any other Trans person, and their gender identity just like any other person, or persons on the street. Be cool, be respectful, acknowledge it, and then go about the day. My gender identity is a factor in my life but isn’t the end all be all of who I am nor does it define me as a person any more than a cis gender person’s gender identity defines them. At the risk of basically just saying “Hey guys, just treat me like any average person” because of my gender identity, I’ve come up with a few examples that illustrate my point.
Accepting Penny as Penny
So, I guess I’ll start with a question- How often in conversations with a cis gender person do questions about that individual’s body, gender identity, pronouns, or any personal information come up? I’d venture a guess and say, not very often. I’d suggest steering away from that type of subject matter with a trans person as well. If you do feel that you’re unclear about which pronouns to use, or how to address someone, the best thing you can do is just ask them. Once you’ve been informed don’t bring it up again, or ask a bunch of questions, that person has just told you how they’d like to be addressed so just follow their lead. It’s only slightly different from having a cis gender friend whose name is Penelope but goes by Penny. Nobody digs at Penny. No further questions are asked. It’s just accepted, it’s just Penny.
Continuing with this example of your cis gender friend Penny, you know her, you accept her, you address her as she’s asked you to, and you respect her. I’m sure that you wouldn’t ask Penny invasive questions about her body, or appearance? Questions like, if she’s wearing extensions, or if she’s had any alterations to her body. You probably just look at her and say, “Yep, that’s Penny.” I’d suggest using the same approach when it comes to a trans individual. You may feel that some of these questions are harmless, but in my experience when I’ve been questioned about my appearance it feels as though someone is saying to me, “What parts of you are real, and which have you altered to give the appearance of being a woman?” My hair, my eyelashes, and my body do not define or make up my womanhood in any way, and if you were to take those things away I’d still be a woman. It’s all real when it comes to what’s on the interior, and I am a “real” woman – same as cis gender Penny.
This Isn’t the Most Interesting Thing About Me
Every morning when I wake up, I’m aware of my gender identity. I know that I’m a woman in the same way that good ol’ cis gender Penny wakes up and knows she is a woman. Being trans isn’t something I feel any shame about, but it’s also something I don’t want to have to acknowledge regularly for your benefit. I do not want or need to have daily conversations about it because it’s only one factor of my life. Being trans doesn’t put a limit on what I can and can not do; who I’m able to be; what I am able to do, and it’s not even the most interesting thing about me. At the end of the day, my gender identity is pretty irrelevant. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a woman, and I’m very happy and proud to be one, but being a trans woman shouldn’t raise your barriers, open up any other line of questioning, or result in treatment that you wouldn’t apply to any cis woman.
Don’t be Weird, Be Normal
Everyone’s got their own sack of rocks. Every day is a little different – somedays you barely notice the weight, and other days the weight is so overwhelming it feels like it’s going to drag you down to depths you don’t want to even think about. My baggage is not the same as yours, but we all have rough days. Approach me the same way you’d want someone to approach, handle, and discuss whichever sack of rocks you happen to be carrying. Everyone is going to have a slightly different take and these suggestions are mine-only. I’m not speaking for any other transgender person…there isn’t one “transgender experience” umbrella that we all fall under, but ultimately I believe the best way to be a trans ally is to treat me/us with the same respect you would any other person. You won’t have to worry about tightrope walking what may or may not be considered offensive. You won’t be reading entries about how to be a trans ally, and maybe we won’t even need to write blogs about what it means to be a “trans ally” because by treating trans folx the same way you would any other cis gender person, you’ll already be one.
For More Information
Trans Day of Visibility (TDOV) is a day dedicated to celebrating the accomplishments and victories of transgender & gender non-conforming people while raising awareness of the work that is still needed to save trans lives. For more information about TDOV, click here: http://www.transstudent.org/tdov
Events happening locally in Omaha: https://www.facebook.com/tdovomaha/
Aubrey Gartner is a Guest Services Receptionist at the Nebraska AIDS Project office in Omaha.