Seven Things You Should Know About Being Transgender (If You Want to Be an Ally)

Here are some basic key points you should know if you hope to be an ally to the transgender community, or even just to the transgender person in your life who may have recently come out. Keep these in mind when talking to us and about us.

1) Sexual orientation has nothing to do with it. Sexuality is who you go to bed with, Gender is who you go to bed as.

2) The most basic yet most important thing you can do to respect and support a trans person in your life is to use the correct name and pronouns. Every time. If you mess up, quickly correct yourself, and move on. Don’t make it a spectacle or try to justify yourself. It’s not about you.

3) Don’t ask what our “real names” were. Our identities now are as real as it gets.

4) There’s no such thing as a “sex change operation”. There are many procedures, many of which are complicated and require multiple surgeries or revisions. These are usually not covered by insurance and can be a long, expensive process. Rich trans celebrities may seem to instantly “transform”, but for most of us it’s a lot more involved. Not all trans people have the same procedures, some have none. This does not make them “unfinished” or incomplete or any less of the gender they identify with. (side note: which of these procedures we’ve had or plan to have is none of your business, don’t ask, and don’t assume.)

5) Touching our bodies without our consent is never okay, no matter how curious you are.

6) Transition is a lot more mental than physical. Being trans means living and identifying as one’s true gender. That identity must be respected as soon as one comes out. You do not wait for physical or legal changes to be made to respect a trans person’s name, pronouns, etc.

7) A person who transitions and in your opinion “doesn’t look trans” is not in any way better than any other trans person. Trans women are not required to wear dresses and makeup and be overly feminine any more than cis women are. Trans men are not required to dress or act overly masculine any more than cis men are. Do not hold us to gender stereotypes that you would not hold anyone else to.

Jonah Hill’s Mishap (and how it relates to the power of language)

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Social media is ablaze with the story of Jonah Hill’s use of a homophobic slur in a recent outburst at a heckling photographer. Both sides have already jumped up to defend or reprimand him for it, as expected. Here’s my take on it.

I think it should spark a much deeper conversation than a finger-pointing party that someone like Hill, who actively uses his position of privilege to advocate for LGBT rights, chose a word known to be harmful to gay men as an insult and a way to belittle another person in a moment of anger. I think it says a lot about the power of words and how deeply rooted they can be in our psyche as symbols of weakness, otherness, and inferiority, even when they aren’t consciously intended to be offensive.

The “F” word (much like the “T” word) is used in every high school across America as an insult or a curse word, even among children who do not yet even realize the association with any particular group of people. These things become so deeply ingrained in us that even someone with no outright intention of offending a specific group, someone who is even supportive of (or in some cases PART of) said group, can find themselves slipping up and using a slur out of anger or ignorance without first considering the implications of it. This is why change has to start at the root. Jonah says this word isn’t in his vernacular. And on a day-to-day basis, I’m sure it isn’t. But it’s in our cultural vernacular. And THAT’S what needs to change.

The difference here in whether one can redeem themselves from a situation like this is in how they own up to it, in whether they take responsibility, learn a lesson, work to recognize and understand the reason a slur like this would come to mind first in anger, and then work to correct that behavior in themselves and encourage the same in others. I commend Jonah Hill for realizing his mistake and owning up to it, and I challenge him to dig deep and analyze why that was his word of choice in that moment so that he can be a better ally in the future.

This further illustrates the point that it’s not as simple as “just a word”. It runs deeper than that. It’s not about a thicker skin. It’s not about name-calling. It’s about a shifting of our culture’s attitudes as a necessary part of achieving equality for all of us. 

Trans* 101 (or, Let’s Get Some Things Out Of The Way)

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Maybe a friend or family member just came out to you as “transgender”. Maybe you saw a trans character on your favorite show or you heard of a celebrity who’s “transitioning”. Or maybe you’re just trying to educate yourself on a group in our society you’re not entirely familiar with. Whatever your situation, there are some things everyone needs to know to have a foundation of respect and understanding of trans* individuals. 

  • It’s “Transgender”, not “Transgendered”. This sounds nitpicky, but it’s a basic thing to note. Transgender is an adjective, not a verb. Transgender doesn’t “happen” to a person – we have not been “transgendered”, we just *are* transgender. With me so far?
  • “Cisgender” or “cis” means someone who is not trans, who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth.
  • Pronouns and chosen names are a big deal. Make it a point to get them right. Yes, it may take time when someone you’ve known as “he” for years tells you they now want to be known as “she”. It may feel awkward, uncomfortable, even foreign to comply. Do it anyway. If you slip up, simply apologize and correct yourself. You will get used to it, but it’s far more uncomfortable for a trans person to hear the wrong pronoun or name. It hurts, and it’s a serious bruise to an already sensitive ego. Transition is rough, and hearing the right or wrong pronoun can be the difference between a great day and a slip into depression. If you aren’t sure, a polite “what pronouns do you prefer?” is a respectful, non-offensive way to ask. 
  • Sexuality has nothing to do with gender. Trans people can be straight, gay, bi, and a number of any other sexual identities, just like cis people. Sexuality reflects who you want to go to bed with; Gender reflects who you want to go to bed *as*. Being attracted to a particular group of people doesn’t affect your internal identity (so, no, a trans person cannot just “choose to stay the way they are” simply based on the convenience of who they are attracted to).
  • It isn’t a choice, and trans people are who they say they are, regardless of whether they fit society’s mold of how a certain gender should or shouldn’t look or act.
  • Those who choose to have surgeries, take hormones, or otherwise alter their outer appearance are not mutilating themselves. These (very personal) decisions save lives. When your mind, heart, and soul don’t match your birth sex, it can be extremely painful to live in the body you were given. Some of these outer characteristics can be changed to help a person manifest physically who they know they are internally. A trans person’s mind cannot be changed to match their body any more than a gay person can be changed to be straight.  
  • Not all trans people opt for surgeries, hormones, etc. This doesn’t make them any less trans, or any less the gender they identify with. Everyone’s journey is different, and everyone comes to terms with their identity differently. 
  • Transgender people can be male or female, but it doesn’t end there. Gender is far more of a spectrum than a binary, and there are people of all cultures who identify with both male and female, neither, or some grey area between the two. All identities are valid.
  • There is no “end goal” to transition. Do not ask when a trans person will be “finished”. We are not incomplete people, and it’s none of your business whether a person has, hasn’t had, plans to have, or wants to have a particular procedure. (Isn’t that true for *everyone*, trans or not?) See above: We are who we say we are, and what we have or have not done to our appearances has no impact on that.
  • It is not a trans person’s job to educate you. Many trans people, like myself, are very open about their identities and journeys in transition. I do my best to educate people and answer the (sometimes awkward) questions that come along. But don’t assume that every trans person owes it to you to explain themselves. There are lots of resources out there (like this blog you’re reading!) where you can find the answers to your burning questions without making anyone uncomfortable.
  • It’s time to drop the slurs from your vocabulary. Regardless of how you feel about sticks and stones and the power of words (more on this in a later blog), know right now as you read this sentence that “Tr*nny”, “Sh*male”, “He-She”, and other choice slurs are harmful to the psyche of young trans people. You may have even seen or heard these types of slurs used as “jokes” in your favorite LGBT tv shows or heard LGBT people throw them around. That doesn’t make them okay. If you want to be an ally who avoids hurting the souls of trans people, and who avoids encouraging others to discriminate against or look down upon trans people, then you won’t use them.