Being a trans ally: where to begin
Hi! My name is Sara Botero and my pronouns are she/her. Just like how we don't assume someone's name or nationality when we first meet, we should also not assume anyone’s pronouns. You might say okay but I don’t go around saying “Hi my name is Sara, my pronouns are she/her and I’m from Colombia” and you’re right. So, what is different about pronouns? The difference is that pronouns impact the language we use, for example, because my pronouns are she/her then you would refer to me as so in conversation and not he/him or they/them. So it is important to use people's correct pronouns because otherwise, you would be misgendering and that's not ok! In this article, we will be talking about how to be an ally to the trans community.
How to be a better trans ally
In the following article/blog post we will be going over how to be a better trans ally. This will include educating yourself, why we should normalise sharing our pronouns as a cis person, listening to the trans community and challenging the transphobic beliefs your cis friends and loved ones might have.
The trans community or your trans friends aren't there to educate you, that is our job as a trans ally. We have cis privilege and should therefore be using it to be an ally instead of burdening the trans community. Also, it's just super easy to google things! At the end of this blog post/article, you will be able to find resources; we have added pdfs, websites and educational sources for a good place to start. However, this is not an exhaustive list so go explore! There's so much beautiful content created by the trans community, from books to movies, to tv shows!
- transgender: a person whose gender identity is different than the sex they were assigned at birth.
- non-binary: is used to describe people who feel their gender cannot be defined within the margins of the gender binary. Instead, they understand their gender in a way that goes beyond simply identifying as either a man or woman.
- cisgender: a person who identifies as the same gender they were assigned at birth.
- assigned female at birth (AFAB): the sex assigned to a child based on external anatomy
- assigned male at birth (AMAB): the sex assigned to a child based on external anatomy
AFAB and AMAB are terms that replace the outdated terms of biologically female and biologically male. These outdated terms are harmful because they perpetuate the idea that a person is innately male or female, which they were assigned at birth, which is false. Additionally, not only is gender a social construct but biological sex is not as binary as XX and XY. There are actually five characteristics that make up biological sex: chromosomes, hormones, hormone expression, internal and external genitalia. And just within chromosomes variations exist of XXY, XXX, XYY and X, Schuyler Bailer does a great job of explaining this and other misconceptions over in his Instagram (@pinkmantaray) or over here, so go check it to learn more!
You might be someone who is cis, goes by the pronouns she/her, you present in the way society deems women to look like and you are wondering why you should state your pronouns if to you it seems pretty obvious that you use she/her pronouns. There are two key reasons for doing so, one is that by not stating your pronouns you are upholding the societal belief that how we look denotes our gender, which is not true and we will go into later. Secondly, if you don't state your pronouns as a cis person you are leaving all the work to the trans community to normalise stating pronouns, consequently singling out trans people. By everyone stating their pronouns it normalises it and it means that we are using the correct pronouns for people. Until you know someone's pronouns, the pronoun "they" is a neutral pronoun that you can use.
Ways in which you can start using your pronouns:
- In your social media bios, for example, Sara Botero (she/her)
- At the end of your emails where you sign your name
- When meeting new people "Hi, nice to meet you, my name is Sara and my pronouns are she/her"
- When hosting a group (online or IRL) "if we could please go round and people can share their name and pronouns"
Like with everything in life, take into consideration the situation. The aim is to normalise the use of pronouns so as to be an ally to the trans community but if you're hosting a group and one of your friends is trans and you know them well enough to know that sharing pronouns will make them feel uncomfortable, then don't. Additionally, if someone doesn’t have their pronouns in their bio don’t call them out on it because we don't know why they are not sharing them, as they might be questioning their gender or they don't feel safe sharing their gender.
How we look and gender
How we look doesn’t denote our gender. Growing up we were told that long hair equalled woman and short hair equalled man. We were taught to make these assumptions. So, when we meet people we automatically assume their gender by how they are dressed and present. We need to stop doing this because how someone presents doesn’t necessarily have to do with their gender. Gender is a social construct and we can dress however we like, the two don't have to be linked.
Trans people don't owe you and anyone to look a certain way. Trans women are women and just like cis women can choose to wear whatever they want and wear however much makeup and so can trans women. The same goes for trans men. Don't impose your restrictive views of how someone should look onto other people, you dress and present how you want to and let other people do the same. Additionally, non-binary people don't owe society or anyone to look androgynous, they too can dress and present however they like. Everyone can! The gender that we are is about who we are and not the clothes we wear.
Finally, don't ask someone what their "preferred" pronouns are, "preferred" implies that using their correct pronouns is an option, which it isn't. Just like how we don't choose our sexuality, we don't choose our gender. So instead, simply ask for their pronouns! It might seem like a trivial thing to cis people but we live in a heteronormative and cisnormative world and if our use of language can make some feel more included, why wouldn't we want to do that?
Other things not to say to a trans person:
- "what's your biological sex?"/"what were you born as?". You're just asking them what their genitalia looked like when they were born and that's just weird and it's intrusive. Don't do it!
- don't ask for their birth name and don't call them by that name, that is called deadnaming.
- "I wouldn't be able to tell"/"you're good looking for a trans person"/"you don't look transgender". This is transphobia as you are essentially saying that trans people look a certain way when like we've spoken about before gender is not about how we look but who we are.
- asking about ANY kind of surgery. It's not your business.
It goes without saying that if you hear someone say transphobic or do any kind of bigoted behaviour and if it's safe for you to do so, you should call them out on it. They might be unaware that their behaviour is bigoted or it might even be well-intentioned but that doesn't stop you from calling them out in a compassionate way. Have conversations that will lead to growth and hopefully then, a trans person won't have to experience this bigotry. Additionally, correct people when they deadname someone or misgender them (only do this if you're not outing someone as you could be placing them in danger).
Listening to the trans community
Being an ally is a continuous effort and one of the ways is by being an active listener. Language is continuously changing, trans people are facing different challenges across the world so listen to the trans community alongside getting educated. Listen to trans experiences and believe them. Yes, you might make mistakes and someone might call you on it, thank them for this, as this is an opportunity for growth.
So to recap these are some of the ways in which you can be a better ally to the trans community: educate yourself, normalise sharing your pronouns, actively listen to the trans community and believe their experiences and finally speak up when people are being transphobic. And remember that being an ally is a verb and so at no point does a cis person achieve the title of trans ally, it’s a continuous journey of actions and active learning!
Inclusivity – Supporting BAME Trans People by Xavier and Sabah
A guide to being a trans ally by the University of York
Much more terminology can be found in GILES' website:
Schuyler Bailer's website with resources:
Mermaids: (UK) 08088010400
LGBT Foundation (advice, support & information): 0345 3 30 30 30 (UK)
Trans Lifeline: (US) 887 565 8860 (Canada) 877 330 6366
The Trevor Project (crisis intervention and suicide services to the LGBTQ youth) 866 488 7386
@translifeline (US and Canadian crisis hotline and provide microgrants for ID changes)
@mermaidsgender (UK hotline)
@genderintelligence (UK education)
@trevorproject (US hotline)