By Liz Welch LGBT Coordinator (FairIsFairMontana)

Today is the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

It a painful reminder of those transgender friends we have lost to senseless violence but should also be a powerful call to work for the rights of those who are living their lives with limited protections.  Whether it’s attaining equality and equity in the workplace,  safety in public spaces, discrimination free housing opportunities, legal protection when  domestic violence occurs,  or adequate and appropriate medical care for all, transgender rights must be kept in our hearts and minds as we move forward.  If we believe in equality and justice in the LGBTQ movement, no one gets left behind.

Today is also a great opportunity to educate yourself more about what it means to be an ally to the transgender community. (From the UC Davis LGBTQIA Resource Center)

  • Don’t ever out a transperson. This is dangerous to their safety & can invalidate their identity.  Likewise, be aware of your surroundings when discussing trans issues with a transperson. For their safety & comfort, they may prefer not to discuss these topics in public places or among strangers.
  • Always use the pronouns & name the person wants you to use. If you’re unsure, ASK!  If you make a mistake, correct yourself, & politely (& subtly, if possible) correct others if they use the wrong pronoun.
  • Ask when & where it’s safe to use their chosen name & pronouns (e.g., if a transperson is not out at home, ask them how you should refer to them around their family, etc). Don’t ask transpeople what their “real” name is (i.e., the one they were born with).  If you know their birth name, do not divulge it to others.
  • Instead of using prefixes like bio- or real- to designate that someone is not trans, use the prefix “cis-”. Two reasons for this: one, using “real” or “bio” sets up a dichotomy in which transpeople are not considered “real” or “biological.”  Two, using the term cis- alters the framework so that cisgender people are not the default.  This shift in language can help make transphobia & gender privilege more obvious.
  • Instead of saying someone was born a boy (or a girl), try saying they were assigned male at birth (or were female-assigned).  These terms recognize the difference between sex & gender, and emphasize the ways in which sex & gender are assigned to individuals at birth, rather than being innate, binary or immutable qualities.
  • Don’t confuse gender with sexual preference.  Transpeople, like cis-gender (non-trans) people, are straight, gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, etc.  Gender is not tied to sexual preference, & there are a million ways to express desire.
  • Don’t fetishize.  Transpeople’s bodies are not a public forum. “Creatures with cunts,” “the best of both worlds” & “chicks with dicks” are all inappropriate ways of describing transpeople’s bodies.
  • Don’t ask transpeople about their bodies, how they have sex, what their genitals are like, etc.  It’s rude & none of your business.  It can help to think about whether you would ask these questions of a non-trans person.
  • Don’t ask about surgery or hormone status; don’t ask “when are you going to have the surgery?” or “are you on hormones?” Like cis-gender people, our medical histories & bodies can be intensely personal & private.  If transpeople want to share these details with you, allow them to do so on their own terms.
  • Don’t assume the only way to transition is through hormones/surgery, & understand that medical transition is very often based on economic status.  Recognize the classism inherent in associating medical transition with “authentic” trans identities.
  • Don’t assume all transpeople want hormones and/or surgery, or to transition at all.
  • Don’t assume all transpeople feel “trapped in the wrong body.” This is an oversimplification and not the way (all) transpeople feel.
  • Don’t assume all transpeople identify as “men” or “women.”  Many transpeople and genderqueer people identify as both, neither, or something altogether different.
  • Don’t tell transpeople what is appropriate to their gender (e.g., transwomen should grow their hair out & wear dresses).  Like non-trans people, we have varying forms of gender expression.
  • Recognize the diversity of trans & genderqueer lives. Remember that these identities are part of other identities, and intersect with race, class, sexual preference, age, etc.
  • Do listen if a transperson chooses to talk to you about their gender identity.  Be honest about things you don’t understand—don’t try to fake it!
  • Be aware of places transpeople may not be able to go (pun intended). Be understanding if a transperson doesn’t feel safe using a gendered bathroom or locker room. If your organization is holding an event, designate a gender-neutral bathroom in the building.
  • Recognize that not all transpeople or genderqueer folks are out there trying to smash the gender binary. Recognize that it’s not their responsibility. If you want to smash the gender binary, then you do it!
  • Don’t ask transpeople to educate you.  Do your own homework & research.  Understand that there is a difference between talking to individuals about their preferences/perspectives and forcing someone to be your educator.  Try not to view individuals as spokespeople; the trans communities are diverse, not one monolithic voice or viewpoint.
  • Don’t assume transmen are exempt from male privilege, misogyny, sexism, etc, just because of a so-called “girl past.”
  • Recognize that transwomen deal with sexism in a very real way (on top of transphobia).
  • Recognize that transwomen deserve access to “women-only” spaces/programs/shelters/etc.
  • Recognize your privilege & prejudices as a normatively gendered person.
  • Think about what makes you uncomfortable & why.
  • Don’t let transphobia slide.  Confront it as you would confront all other forms of oppression. Trans issues are rarely discussed & when they are it is often in a negative light. Transphobia is equally oppressive as (& works in conjunction with) sexism, homophobia, racism, classism, etc.
  • Talk about trans issues/rights.  Engage people in discussions & share your knowledge. The majority of “information” people have about trans issues is based on stereotypes & assumptions.  To most people, trans folks are the freaks from Jerry Springer.
  • Be aware of the vital role you play as a non-trans person. Remember that the way you talk about transpeople (e.g., using the right pronouns) influences how others perceive us & can make a difference in whether we pass, & whether we feel safe/comfortable. Always remember that people may be more likely to listen to & take cues from non-trans people than from transpeople.  What you say & do matters!
  • Don’t just mourn or take action when transpeople are murdered.  Celebrate trans lives & work at making trans & genderqueer issues more visible on a day-to-day basis.
  • Don’t tokenize.  Simply adding the “T” to LGB doesn’t make you or your organization hip, progressive, or an ally.  Make sure you have the resources, information & understanding to deserve that T.
  • Above all respect and support transpeople in their lives & choices.