Transgender Awareness Week falls on the week leading up to Transgender Day of Remembrance (20th November) every year. TDOR itself memorialises the victims of transphobic violence, and TAW raises awareness of the trans community through education and advocacy.
I know I haven’t done many of these articles this year – 2020, we all know what’s happening. I’ve been trying to keep up with the short stories as respite from some of the heavier stuff (and, geez is there a lot of it). But it felt remiss to not mention even one trans-related awareness day (or week) since it was this year that the UK government decided not to reform the Gender Recognition Act even though over 70% of responders were in favour of it.
So I wanted to chat about how to support trans people every day (even if you don’t think you know any trans people). I’ve got 5 big tips here and some further research suggestions if you’re feeling enthused by the end of it. Each tip comes with a why and a how, because I’m thorough like that.
A couple of quick terminology things before we get into it
- Transgender/ Trans – someone who does not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. Trans is an umbrella term that encompasses lots of gender identities including trans man, trans woman, and nonbinary amongst others.
- AGAB/Assigned Gender At Birth – the gender given to a baby by the doctor/midwife/whoever based on their external genetalia
- Transman/ Trans man – someone who’s AGAB was female but who’s gender identity is male (typically uses he/him pronouns, is a Mr, would be father of a child, boyfriend/husband in a relationship etc)
- Transwoman/ Trans Woman – Someone who’s AGAB was male but who’s gender identity is female. (typically uses she/her pronouns, is a Miss/Mrs/Ms, would be mother of a child, girlfriend/wife of a relationship etc.)
- Nonbinary – someone who’s AGAB does not match their gender identity, and who’s gender identity does not fall in line with the binaries of male or female (can use any pronouns or no pronouns at all, any title or no title at all, would be the parent of a child, datemate/partner/spouse in a relationship). Nonbinary is also an umbrella term for many gender identities including genderqueer, agender, genderfluid, bigender, and more.
- Transphobe – someone who is bigoted toward trans people, usually holds false beliefs about what it means to be trans, and how trans people access medical aid, among other things.
- Cisgender/ Cis – someone who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth (cis has the same latin root as trans but the opposite meaning. Where trans is to travel or shift – think transporter, cis is to remain in place – think water storage in a Cistern)
- Cis Woman – someone who’s AGAB was female and who’s gender identity is female (typically uses she/her pronouns, is a Miss/Mrs/Ms, would be mother of a child, girlfriend/wife of a relationship etc.)
- Cis Man – someone who’s AGAB was male and who’s gender identity is male (typically uses he/him pronouns, is a Mr, would be father of a child, boyfriend/husband in a relationship etc)
Tip Number 1 – Put your pronouns in your bio, name tags, email signatures, etc.
Pronouns are important to a lot of people, not just trans people. I’m sure you wouldn’t like it if someone assumed you were a different gender than you are, and pronouns are a part of that. But for trans people it’s even more important. Using the correct pronouns for trans people communicates that you believe they know their own identities, you support them, and it can even create a sense of gender euphoria (when often trans people struggle with gender dysphoria [link to nhs website], which is a serious condition that can lead to depression).
Making pronouns easily available for everyone reduces misgendering both for trans people and for people with gender neutral names like Sam and Alex. It also normalises sharing one’s pronouns, which makes life a lot easier for nonbinary people who may not use he/him or she/her pronouns.
Format wise you’re looking at he/him, she/her, they/them, etc (just to be clear, you only write the ones you use for yourself).
You know those boxes on social media, your bios? Stick them in there.
Your zoom name? Add them on the end. My zoom name is “Will (they/them)”
Your email signature? Add them underneath your own name and before the company name.
Name badges at work? If you can’t redesign your name badges to include a spot for pronouns, add a little piece of tape with pronouns on or put it next to people’s names on the printed paper insert. Or just bulk buy some pronoun badges and ask staff to wear them in addition to their name badges. Don’t wait for a trans member of staff, if you put it in place now they won’t feel othered and singled out for you implimenting the system.
Tip Number 2 – don’t support transphobes.
Like I said a transphobe is someone who holds untrue, negative beliefs about trans people, which often make them critical or hostile toward trans people.
Transphobic sentiments include things like the idea that AGAB (or “birth sex” or “biological sex” <– these are both bad terms, please don’t use them) determines behaviour and personality traits; the idea that trans people might be lying in order to exploit other people (this is commonly attributed to trans women); that trans people are just confused (this is a particularly common statement about trans men); among other things.
Things that are less blatantly transphobic include: refusing to use correct pronouns, spewing non-arguments and strawmen arguments like saying reproductive services should be titled “womens reproductive services because only women need to access them” – which puts trans men and nonbinary people at risk of some pretty nasty situations like: being unable to access care for their uterus, ovaries, etc, being unable to access birth control or baby-carrying services, being unable to check for cervical cancer, being unable to be treated for issues like PCOS and Endometriosis, and being unable to access fertility services if they want to pursue carrying a baby. Compared to using gender neutral language which puts nobody at a disadvantage.
If you support people who act in ways aligned with transphobic ideology (be they public figures, article writers, family, coworkers, etc), it says you don’t value or believe trans people’s lived experiences, that you share these transphobic views (even just a little).
Trans people aren’t hurting anyone by being trans. And, statistically speaking, we’re more likely to get hassled in a gendered space (like a bathroom or changing room) than a cis person of any gender.
Don’t buy books, or films, or tv shows created by transphobic people, it’s okay if certain books/films about child-wizards at magic school hold a special place in your heart but bear in mind that the creator is consistently transphobic and has a huge platform she dedicates to spreading misinformation about trans people. And try not to be upset if someone worries you might be transphobic if you share your love for things created by transphobes, we deal with a lot of aggression for simply existing, it’s a survival mechanism.
Correct people’s mistaken beliefs (ideally direct them to specific sources, but it’s okay if you can’t), read up on trans issues, life experiences, and so on. If someone is spreading misinformation the best thing you can do is correct it with accurate information. Knowledge is power! Use it.
Tip Number 3 – Stop calling them “preferred pronouns”
They’re not “preferred” they’re accurate or correct.
I have a whole article on this but at its most basic: “hi I’m [insert name here] my pronouns are [insert pronouns here]”
Or “Hey, I didn’t catch your pronouns before, may I ask what they are?”
(Please don’t just go “what are your pronouns!” and not give your own, it’s othering and that’s pretty much the opposite of what we’re going for.)
Tip Number 4 – Support people questioning their gender identity (even if the questioning leads to them identifying with their AGAB)
It normalises being trans. It makes it easier to explore one’s gender, which leads to knowing oneself better. It dismantles gender expectations (which is a good thing because humans are variable and we should celebrate that).
If someone asks you to try using new pronouns for them, do it. (mistakes happen, you apologise, correct yourself and move on).
If someone tells you they think they might be trans, ask them how they would like to be supported and then follow their instructions to the best of your ability.
Just trust and support people. And, if they come back to you and say something like “thanks for helping me explore that but I’m definitely [insert AGAB here]” just ask again how they would like to be supported and remind yourself (and them if it proves necessary) that people exploring their gender identity is always a good thing and that trans people do exist even if this person isn’t trans.
Tip number 5 – Read up on trans issues, transition options, and anything else the confuses or concerns you
Yup, concerns you. It’s okay to have concerns. But be wary of ending up in an echo chamber, social media and search engines are designed to show us what they think we want to see and if you’ve interacted with transphobic stuff you’ll probably see more of that.
Like I said, it’s okay to have concerns, the best way to assuage those concerns is to get accurate information. If you’re worried (for example) that trans children or teens are ending up with irreversible hormone replacement therapy or surgeries, the best way to assuage that worry is to research the ways trans people (particularly young ones) access transition related medical care. Preferably from a reputable source like the NHS website.
I’ll be leaving some jumping off points at the bottom of this post, but the main things are
- Make sure the source is reputable (newspapers don’t count. Places like the NHS website, your local – or most local – Gender Identity Service, LGBT+ organisaitons and charities)
- Look for honest testimonials from trans people (to use my above example, if you’re concerned for trans teens and HRT, try to find some trans teens experiences with access or lack of access to HRT)
- If you can’t find a reputable source, or are struggling to understand, try to find trans educators who are open to questions (don’t just find any random trans person and start asking invasive questions).
Bonus Tip Number 6 (because why stick to a plan?) – Stop Asking Trans People About Their Genitals Unless You Desperately Want In Their Pants And Even Then Maybe Think Twice About It.
Would you ask a random cis stranger what’s going on in their pants? No! So why do you think it’s appropriate to do so to a trans person? It’s not! Stop it!
Also, stop asking our partners what’s going on in our pants. That’s even more inappropriate!
If you think I’m kidding you need to reassess because I can’t even count the number of times someone has asked my wife that question.
Some jumping off research spaces include [these are all links that will open in new tabs – they’re very UK based, so I apologise for that]:
If you liked this please do share it with your friends, family, or that coworker you kinda tollerate.
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and I’ll see you all next week for another Short Story.