I claim absolutely no authority on this topic, these words and views here are based on the words of trans and non-binary people themselves, and my values. I’m a cis woman – not by choice, not by virtue, and not by default. It just happened that way. I have a fuckton of privilege for various reasons, and the least I can do is use it to shout for a better world. One in which trans and nonbinary people are loved and accepted the way we cis people regard as our due. TRANS RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS.
I want to thank my fabulous friend Quinn Rhodes (site features NSFW content) for all hir blog posts on gender identity that have helped me learn, and for kindly agreeing to give me feedback on this post before I published it.
As I say, I’m cis and this advice is aimed at cis people because we’re the ones who really need to sort ourselves the fuck out, ally up and take a stand. Trans and non-binary people have been asking us not to make their lives so difficult for ages, but we keep allowing a wheel of excuses and demands for explanation, evidence, justification to spin on. Sometimes we screw up without realising it.
Most of us don’t want to think of ourselves as ‘transphobic’ – we might even bristle at the idea – but we’re human, so there’s a big gap between who we perceive ourselves to be and who others experience us. It’s easy enough to sign a petition, to retweet, to share a blog post (yes, I’m aware of the irony here) but our allyship needs to be more than our voices; our support has to be in our interactions too.
A Cis Ally’s Guide To Not Being Transphobic, Even By Accident.
1. Forget everything you have ever been taught about sex and gender, at school, through the media, by your elders. As a society, we have barely scratched the surface of sex and gender science – but we do have shitloads of empirical evidence that treating people with respect is better for everyone. The lived experience of other people stretches out behind you, unseen. What you think you ‘know’ is a tiny fraction of what is known and what has been.
2. Educate yourself. Read the words of trans and non-binary people themselves, starting with this excellent and accessible piece by Quenby (site features NSFW content). Read content from scientists, activists and allies. Look at your assumptions for what they truly are – habit and familiarity. Question them all, tear down the illusions and learn afresh.
3. A trans person’s deadname* is none of your business. End of. Don’t question them about it, don’t try and guess it, and if you know it, don’t mention it without explicit permission from that person.
(*the name that was assigned to a trans person before they transitioned. If you don’t know a person’s preferred name, then ASK!)
4. Don’t tell a trans or non-binary person how to feel or behave or speak about their gender identity. DON’T.
Seriously. It’s rude. It’s very, very rude. You’re the one who needs to catch up. Your opinions and discomfort are your learning opportunity, not someone else’s burden.
5. Ask questions respectfully and do not demand a response.
It’s wearying to have to keep justifying yourself over and over and over to well-meaning but ignorant randos. No-one owes you answers – in fact, no-one owes you their attention at all, no matter what demographic intersections anyone has.
6. When you encounter unfamiliar pronoun uses, or gender concepts that seem strange remember; those are only unfamiliar to you. This is a you problem, and it’s on you to update your thinking. The good news is that repetition ingrains familiarity, and familiarity is how we define ‘normal’. Your brain can adapt, as long as your attitude leads the way. Sit and think about it when you catch your ingrained biases going “huh?”. If you think about it often enough, the dissonance will fade away.
7. Apologise when you fuck up, and leave the words “but”, “however”, or “nonetheless” out of it. This isn’t a courtroom, or a TV debate. It’s life, and if you hurt someone with a mistake then you should feel bad and want to do better (no matter how excusable you may feel your mistake was). They absolutely do not have to absolve you and you shouldn’t ask.
8. Sit with your discomfort when you experience a trans or non-binary person’s anger, or fear, or deeply cynical weariness. Welcome to their world. It’s natural to feel cross and righteously indignant when someone lumps you in with horrible bigots, but that doesn’t make it right to hit back, or use your own anger to fuel prejudice (including your own). Just accept that you’re never going to get along with absolutely everybody out there and withdraw gracefully. GRACEFULLY. That means no parting barbs. It’s hard, it feels like giving in and backing down and admitting culpability even if you didn’t do anything wrong. But being supportive includes giving people space and taking your defensiveness somewhere else. Preferably into therapy*.
Being angry does not give you license to behave like a bigot, and being lazy, or ignorant, or rhetorical don’t either. That means always, ‘respecting folks’ pronouns, using the name they tell you to use and not asking what their ‘legal’ name is and/or what’s in their pants’ (thanks again to Quinn for the quote)
*I’m saying this in an encouraging and non-disparaging tone because I think most people could benefit from professional therapy, as long as they can find and access the right therapist.
9. Be fucking civil, goddammit. Gender identity can never be as deeply personal and emotive a topic for a cis person as for a trans person. Respect that their feelings on the topic are valid, even if you don’t understand them. Be polite, even when you’re feeling under attack. Don’t escalate.
10. Recognise when to STFU. Which I shall do shortly.
Of course, I’m not perfect and I don’t always live up to my own standards. I’m human, after all. I’d really like to be better though, which is why I wrote this post as a reminder to myself. I hope it’s useful to others also.
Thanks for reading