Transgender Awareness Week - How to be an Ally
This week marks an important week for the LGBTQIA community: It’s Transgender Awareness Week. I first want to take the time to acknowledge and show love to the beautiful transgender community. I know I would not be here today if it was not for the love and support of transgender individuals in my own journey of learning to love and accept myself as a nonbinary person.
In honor of Transgender Awareness Week, I wanted to share with you how you can be an ally to the transgender community. When we are allies to those among us who are marginalized and discriminated against, we all become stronger. Transgender persons, particularly transgender women of color, are the most marginalized group of persons in this country. We as LGBTQIA persons owe much of the freedoms we have today to transwomen of color. Everyone’s story is important and deserves to be told. As allies, we create a safer, kinder, more loving world, and we all benefit. It is not the job of the oppressed to change the mind and heart of the oppressor.
If you are a member of the LGBTQIA community and are struggling with an eating disorder or your mental health, know that you are not alone. I’ve also gathered several free resources for LGBTQIA individuals below.
How to be a better ally to the transgender community:
Understand the difference between sex and gender
A person’s sex is the biological classification of someone as female, male or intersex at birth. Our sex assigned at birth may or may not align with our own experience of gender. Gender is the individual experience and expression of our own personal gender identity. In other words, it is how we see ourselves. When someone tells you their gender identity, believe them, respect them and most importantly, nobody owes you their gender history or identity. All persons deserve respect and safety.
- Cisgender: a person whose gender identity matches their biological sex at birth
- Transgender: a person whose gender identity differs from their biological sex at birth
Respect gender identity and sexual orientation
Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same. Someone’s sexual orientation is who they are attracted to. Someone’s gender identity is the gender they believe themselves to be. Coming out is a very scary and often painful process full of stress, high anxiety and fear of rejection. Do not disclose or reveal anyone’s gender identity or sexual orientation without their permission. If someone chooses to disclose their gender identity or sexual orientation with you, respect the courage it takes for them to be open and honest. Say thank you and show your support by affirming their identity.
Believe transgender people are who they say they are
This is very important: Transgender persons and nonbinary persons do not owe anyone the “truth” about their identity. Being transgender or nonbinary is not a choice or a phase. Identity is not an overnight matter, and transitioning takes time and support. A trans person is not tricking anyone. This thought is the result of transphobia in our culture. In a 2020 study by The Trevor Project, one-third of transgender and nonbinary youth reported being physically threatened because of their identity. Transgender people deserve respect and safety. Transwomen are women, transmen are men, and nonbinary persons are valid. Disclosure is very personal and is based on trust and respect.
Do not ask someone what their “real" name or birth name is. This implies that who they currently are is not valid. Instead, respect their chosen name. This is also true in asking what someone’s “real gender” is. In truth, it is none of your business.
Never assume someone's identity
When meeting someone for the first time, do not assume you know their gender identity based on what they look like or how they dress. If you are unsure, it is okay to ask someone what their pronouns are or what their name is. You can also be an ally by including your pronouns in your email signature, your social media profiles, and when you introduce yourself. This creates a safe and affirming environment.
Do your part in ending transphobia
Lastly, stand up against transphobia. If you see a transgender person being harassed or discriminated against, stand up for them. Gather other people around you to intervene on their behalf. Most importantly, check in with them and ask them what they need and if they are okay.
Educate yourself on trans issues. Representation matters. In a recent study performed by GLAAD, less than 20 percent of the population reported knowing a trans person. This means that most of what the public knows about transgender persons is greatly influenced by the media. I highly recommend you watch the documentary "Disclosure" on Netflix.