5 Steps to Being a Good Ally to the Transgender Community
Helping a group of people who have been marginalized is seen by many as doing the right thing, as being a decent human being. You may see it as being a social warrior or bringing justice to a group that has been denied it. But if you are doing it for the kudos, you are doing it for the wrong reason. Many in the LGBTQ community have been disappointed by “allies” for far too long to freely give away a title that means so much. You would not call someone you just met your “best friend forever’ until you got to know them better. This post is the first in a series of ways you can help someone you know or even love.
5 Steps to Being a Good Ally to the Transgender Community.
1. Don’t call yourself an ally
Your actions are much more important than your words. If you are only doing it to get the title of ‘ally’ you are doing it for the wrong reasons. Commit yourself to your actions and the proof will show through. Everyone wants recognition for what they have done. When we do something nice for someone else, we hope they will say ‘thank you’ to us. It’s just common courtesy to get thanked for our actions. But sometimes it is not always about expecting gratitude. When it comes to helping the LGBTQ community, we want to assume the title of “ally”, but it is not a title we can just appropriate. It has to be earned. And not everyone will see you as the ally you want to be seen as when they see you doing what they call a common courtesy.
Instead of expecting the title and the adulation that goes with it, concentrate instead on doing the right thing. When you can show you are an ally, you will be called one. But do not try to appropriate something you have not earned.
2. Listen, don’t judge
Listening is the most important part of communication. Without it, we are just making noise. It shows that the other person’s point of view is important to you. Let the other person tell you their story. It is also the beginning of affirming. You may be the first person they come out to and tell about their secret, the most important secret of their life. When they know you are listening, it makes a difficult task easier for them.
Educate not only yourself, but others. Learn terms and definitions. They may change and have different meanings to different people, but showing you are at least trying to learn can be important. It proves you are not ‘helping’ just for show.
Use them. They are important. Taking time to learn someone’s name and pronouns can be one of the most valuable and affirming things you do. It shows you care and are not just doing it for show purposes. It demonstrates to the person you are talking to that they matter. Sometimes that can make all the difference in the world. Also it is important to not use dead names (name the person used to use before beginning transition). Don’t even ask about them. And when we do make a mistake, simply apologize sincerely and move on. Making a scene makes it awkward for you and the person you are talking to.
People often ask a new mother what sex her child is. Why can we not ask each other when we are unsure? It does not need to be as blunt as “What’s your sex?” A simple “How do you identify?” is respectful. It may seem like a small thing, but it can possibly be the most important and affirming things you can do!
The dictionary defines ‘affirm’ as ‘to express agreement with or commitment to, to support’. This is the basis of Affirmative Therapy. It does not mean you have to be a therapist to do it. It goes beyond being knowledgeable and friendly. You care, but do not judge. It shows you understand, but do not want to take anything away from what the person is feeling.
Some of these 5 steps to being a good ally to the transgender community may seem like no-brainers. But it is surprising how often people forget or do not even think about them. People always apologize when they misgender someone’s pet. Why can we not do that for each other? If you know someone who is struggling to understand a loved one or a friend who is transgender, share this list with them. Help them to better relate to their loved one, friend, or coworker. By doing that, you become a better ally yourself!
Share any times you have been a good ally or had the opportunity to help someone who is transgender. Are there any tips you would like to share? Let us know in the comments below!
Paul Gross, LPC
411 Lakewood Circle Drive
Colorado Springs, CO 80910