The majority of young people grow up thinking of themselves as either a boy or a girl and don’t question which they are. But for some, gender isn’t that simple.
Personally, I’ve gone between genders and labels as many times as I’ve transferred colleges and programs. At this moment, I’ve become comfortable calling myself gender fluid. In every social circle I’ve ever been in, whether personal or professional, there has always been that one person who doesn’t know how to react to my presence. Even more prevalent have been those who take on the “ally” label without fully considering what it means or entails.
An ally is someone who doesn’t share the identity of a group of people facing discrimination, but acts an advocate for the group. The main job of an ally is to offer support. Supporting a transgender person means listening with an open mind and taking their wants and needs seriously. Allies are important to marginalized communities as they often act as a link between the community and those holding discriminatory views, showing them that people from outside of the community care.
I’ve experienced first-hand how difficult it can be to find a place within a community, which is one of the reasons why I wanted to take the job as LGBTQ student support at the Community Action Centre. Not only did I want to take part in creating a safe and welcoming environment but I also wanted to be a source of information to those who may be looking for ways to support the LGBTQ+ and transgender communities.
The biggest thing for an aspiring ally to the transgender community to remember is respect. Respect name, pronoun, and label choices. The majority of transgender people will understand that new names and pronouns take time to adjust to and expect some slip-ups. It’s also important to respect a trans-identified person’s identity and not disclose it to others without their permission. Some people feel comfortable disclosing their status to others and some do not. A good rule to follow in any of these cases if you don’t know, ask.
It’s important to keep in mind that you can’t tell that someone is transgender just by looking at them. Trans people don’t look a certain way, come from the same background, or have the same lived experiences. Along with that, it’s important to remember that not all transgender people are keen to answer every question that you may have. Trans people aren’t required to be educators or experts on every topic or issue surrounding gender identity. Constant questions can be draining, especially when many are personal and intrusive. Take some extra time to think about your question and if it’s too invasive. Remember that Google can be a wonderful thing.
Though the tips mentioned above are short and sweet, I encourage you to research and reach out. There are many other ways to become a good ally and support the transgender community, which still faces many misunderstandings and challenges.