Awhile back, about a year and a half ago, I wrote a piece on allyship. You can see that here. However, the past few weeks I learned a lot more about being an ally. The reason this post is a little later than usual is because I was out being a camp counselor at Camp Aranu’tiq, a summer camp for transgender and gender variant youth. Here is their website for more information. While I was there, I learned a lot about my privileges as a cisgender woman, and how I can be a better a trans ally. This post will highlight these ways so we all learn together!
I often talk about the importance of asking and respecting the pronouns people use, but I learned an even more important reason to do so. For trans folks who use binary pronouns, they may have fought hard to “pass” as the pronouns they want folks to use for them.
An example of allyship here is to keep asking others’ and sharing your own pronouns, but also to take it seriously. I think an example of this not being taken seriously is when someone who is not trans says that all pronouns are fine for them. For example, if a cisgender person says, “she, but all pronouns work for me” I would be ignoring that struggle that trans folks face as someone who may not struggle with being misgendered.
In an effort to keep trans folks safe from gender-related violence in going to the bathroom and while traveling, two years ago, a campaign called “I’ll Go With You” was created. The idea is to wear a button/sticker to advertise your willingness to travel with a trans person to keep them safe. This might sound funny, but even without pins, this is easy to do as an ally to trans people. For me, this came up easily when I also had to go to the bathroom so I used that same phrase of I’ll go with you, and was later thanked for it. So whether you are wearing a pin or not, be aware of who is around you and try to be open to using the buddy system so no one has to travel alone.
Racial intersections of any identity automatically puts folks at risk of racial discrimination. Trans women of color are specifically targeted; there have already been 15 transgender women murdered in the US, nearly all people of color. My advice is to keep your race lens on, acknowledging that people of color have different experiences and may need more support.
When I was at camp amongst trans youth, it was interesting to see how dysphoria can be heightened by older folks who may not have had the same experiences of maybe going on hormones earlier. While I’m not trans, this was another way of seeing how dysphoria can be experienced even while in community of other trans people. I think it’s important to make sure folks who may be struggling have support, so try to listen and hear them and don’t put your own opinions in. In our society that is oftentimes very appearance based, know that these topics can come up at anytime.
On Gender Expression
Gender expression is so fluid, and contrary to popular belief, does not have to aline with one’s gender identity. For example, a trans man can wear dresses and a cisgender woman can have a buzzcut. I find a lot of power in not conforming to society’s norms and I think it’s great when this doesn’t have to be questioned. To practice allyship here, don’t assume someone’s pronouns or identity by the way they dress/act and don’t be rude about it.
Of Trans Experience
In spending two weeks in a camp of trans youth, I thought about how some folks identify as trans, and some who may conform to the binary gender, may just identify as a woman or a man. In a conversation, I found another version this: “___ of trans experience.” The blank can be filled with woman, man, or person. Here is a reddit discussion post on the phrase. I think it’s interesting because no two people have the same experience as a trans person. As an ally, be sure to recognize this.
On Coming Out
Coming out is something people of marginal groups have to do, some more than others. Often dependent upon how/if a trans person is transitioning, they may have to make the decision to come out, which can be a difficult one. As a trans ally, be aware of these scenarios and open to conversations about coming out, without interjecting your own ideas unless you’re asked.
Being around folks of different identities can be a very enriching and valuable experience. When you are not the minority, you have a chance to recognize your own privileges and see the struggles others’ face. I encourage folks’ to take advantage of opportunities where you can be in that space, like I was at camp. This was written from personal experience, with cited sources below. Be sure to check out the additional resources as well!
Camp Aranu’tiq of Harbor Camps http://www.camparanutiq.org/
I’ll Go With You Campaign http://www.illgowithyou.org/
Ebony Morgan 15th Transgender Woman Murdered https://www.hrc.org/blog/hrc-mourns-the-loss-ebony-morgan-a-trans-woman-murdered-in-virginia
Reddit on “Of Trans Experience” https://www.reddit.com/r/asktransgender/comments/5wcrhh/how_do_yall_feel_about_the_phrase_of_trans/
Finch, S.D. (2015) Is Your Allyship Half Baked? Here Are 6 Mistakes That TRans Allies Are Still Making. Everyday Feminism. http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/06/6-common-mistakes-trans-allies/http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/06/6-common-mistakes-trans-allies/
Thorpe, J.R. (2015). 11 Ways to Be a Trans* Ally, According To Transender People Themselves. Bustle. https://www.bustle.com/articles/76762-11-ways-to-be-a-trans-ally-according-to-transgender-people-themselves