A Beginners Guide to Being a Good Trans Ally

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As part of Trans Awareness Week, our LGBT+ Officer has shared a beginners guide on how to be a good ally to the trans community, and a guide to some of the terminology you might hear.

Beginners Guide to Being a Good Ally

  1. Listen with an open mind to transgender people speaking for themselves. Understand that their experiences are particular to them and give them the audience to share that experience how they please. Listening in allyship involves continuous conversation, creating spaces where trans people feel safe and heard and action being taken in the best interest of trans people.
  2. State your pronouns when introducting yourself and don’t assume someone else’s. This creates a more inclusive and safe environment for trans people to share how they will like to be addressed. This can be done through adding your pronouns to your social media bios and email signature. By normalising this practice in our communities it makes it easier for others to refer to trans people as their preferred pronoun.
  3. Use gender inclusive language. Simply changing some of the words we use can make for more trans-inclusive spaces. So, instead of saying “Hey, guys” you can say “Hey, everyone”. Your intention may not be to misgender someone but the impact of your words could result in someone taking it that they are being misgendered.
  4. Recognise that being transgender is not about how someone looks. Being trans is a state of existing as one’s truth regardless of their outward appearance. Trans women don’t need to be feminine, trans men don’t need to be masculine and gender non-conforming, non-binary and agender people don’t need to be androgynous. Their identity is valid regardless of what they do or wear.
  5. Be accountable and commit to doing better. Mistakes such as forgetting a person’s pronouns, using their birth name instead of their chosen name can hurt people or even put them at risk. In these moments it’s important that you take responsibility for your actions, privileges and experiences which could contribute to your biases. Treat it as a learning experience and commit to doing better- the most authentic apology is meaningless if it’s not backed by changed behaviour.

Most of all, it’s important that ally’s remember not to centre themselves in an attempt to stand in solidarity with the transgender community. The ‘A’ in LGBTQIA+ does not stand for ‘ally’.

Trans/Cis Gender Terminology

Transgender (Trans): Encompassing term of many gender identities of those who do not identify or exclusively identify with their sex assigned at birth. The term transgender is not indicative of gender expression, sexual orientation, hormonal makeup, physical anatomy or how one is perceived in daily life. Note that transgender does not have an “ed” at the end. 

Cisgender (Cis): Term for someone who exclusively identifies as their sex assigned at birth. The term cisgender is not indicative of gender expression, sexual orientation, hormonal makeup, physical anatomy, or how one is perceived in daily life.

Cissexism: Systemic prejudice in the favor of cisgender people.

Queer: A term for people of marginalized gender identities and sexual orientations who are not cisgender and/or heterosexual. This term has a complicated history as a reclaimed slur.

Gender Expression/Presentation: The physical manifestation of one’s gender identity through clothing, hairstyle, voice, body shape, etc. (typically referred to as masculine or feminine). Many transgender people seek to make their gender expression (how they look) match their gender identity (who they are), rather than their sex assigned at birth. Someone with a gender nonconforming gender expression may or may not be transgender.

Gender Identity: One’s internal sense of being male, female, neither of these, both, or other gender(s). Everyone has a gender identity, including you. For transgender people, their sex assigned at birth and their gender identity are not necessarily the same.

Sex Assigned at Birth: The assignment and classification of people as male, female, intersex, or another sex assigned at birth often based on physical anatomy at birth and/or karyotyping. This includes: Assigned Female at Birth (AFAB) and Assigned Male at Birth (AMAB).

Sexual Orientation: A person’s physical, romantic, emotional, aesthetic, and/or other form of attraction to others. In Western cultures, gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same. Trans people can be straight, bisexual, lesbian, gay, asexual, pansexual, queer, etc. just like anyone else. For example, a trans woman who is exclusively attracted to other women would often identify as lesbian.

Transition: A person’s process of developing and assuming a gender expression to match their gender identity. Transition can include: coming out to one’s family, friends, and/or co-workers; changing one’s name and/or sex on legal documents; hormone therapy; and possibly (though not always) some form of surgery. It’s best not to assume how one transitions as it is different for everyone.

Queer: Umbrella term for gender and sexual minorities who are not cisgender and/or heterosexual. There is a lot of overlap between queer and trans identities, but not all queer people are trans and not all trans people are queer. The word queer is still sometimes used as a hateful slur, so although it has mostly been reclaimed, be careful with its use.

Transphobia: Systemic violence against trans people, associated with attitudes such as fear, discomfort, distrust, or disdain. This word is used similarly to homophobia, xenophobia, misogyny, etc.

Trans Woman/Trans Man: Trans woman generally describes someone assigned male at birth who identifies as a woman. This individual may or may not actively identify as trans. It is grammatically and definitionally correct to include a space between trans and woman. The same concept applies to trans men. Often it is good just to use woman or man.
Sometimes trans women identify as male-to-female (also MTF, M2F, or trans feminine) and sometimes trans men identify as female-to-male (also FTM, F2M, or trans masculine). Please ask before identifying someone. Use the term and pronouns preferred by the individual.

Note: this is by no means a full list of all the terms and definitions that apply to the Trans community. This is a mere starter pack that should compel you to carry out individual research. Check out /transstudent.org/ for more information. 

Amam Azike
LGBT+ Officer 20/21

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