“I keep wondering how bad does it have to get? How many of us have to die? How many of us have to be beaten? How many incidents like Colorado Springs do there have to be for non-trans people to recognize that this is a state of emergency?”
As writer and artist, ALOK, alludes to in this quote, the situation for transgender individuals across the globe is dire. They are targets of hate crimes; in Russia, the US, UK, Switzerland, Pakistan, Uganda, and more, there have been cases of violence and killings against the transgender community. In 2022 alone, there were 327 reported murders of trans and gender-diverse people around the world.
The murder of 16-year-old Brianna Ghey, a trans teenager in the UK; the fatal shooting of Maria Jose Rivera Rivera in Texas, US; and the stabbing of Renna Rodrigues in Brazil are just a few shocking examples from the first months of 2023 that underscore what the UN Human Rights office has called “levels of violence and discrimination that offend the human conscience.”
We must all recognize that the fight for liberation for transgender people is far from over. If you care about human rights, here are 10 ways you can be a better trans ally.
1. Call or email your representatives to oppose anti-trans legislation.
In the US, more legislation was filed in 2022 to restrict the lives of trans people than at any other point in the nation’s history.
Meanwhile, the UK government has made unprecedented moves to block gender recognition reforms in Scotland and removed trans people from a ban on “conversion therapy.”
And in Ghana, the clampdown on LGBTQ+ identity has come in the form of a law that would criminalize “sex reassignment and intentional cross-dressing to portray a gender different from a gender assigned at birth.”
Find out who your elected representation is and call or email them. Use this email template as a starter or if you’re in the US, check out this script generator which allows you to add your state, lawmaker title, and which bill you want to oppose.
2. Mind your money.
When Pride month rolls out, so do the mass-produced rainbow-themed goodies.
While wearing your support on your sleeves is great, it’s worth being mindful where the proceeds are going. Some companies wave the Pride flag with their right hand while donating to homophobic and transphobic politicians with the other.
If you shop directly from trans-owned businesses you can be confident your Pride purchases are going directly to the LGBTQIA+ community itself.
3. Don’t make assumptions.
No matter who you are, looking beyond first appearances and checking your preconceived notions is an important practice.
According to GLAAD Ambassador Syd Stephenson, when you assume someone's gender based on how they look or what they're wearing, you're reinforcing outdated and insular ideas about sexuality and gender.
"It can be devastating as a trans person to have your gender incorrectly assumed," Stephenson adds.
Similarly, don’t make assumptions about a transgender person’s sexual orientation. Transgender people can be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or straight.
If you don't know what pronouns to use, listen first. If you must ask which pronoun the person uses, start with your own. For example, "Hi, I'm Toni and I use the pronouns she and her. What about you?" Then use that person's pronouns and encourage others to do so.
4. Celebrate trans joy.
As Gillian Branstetter of the ACLU put it: “The suffering of transgender people is a policy choice disguised as an inevitability. This is why our joy — your joy — is so indispensable as a fuel for action.”
In a world where trans suffering is splashed all over timelines and front pages, celebrating trans joy is radical and needed. Share trans people’s successes, applaud milestones, and be your trans friends’ wingpeople.
5. Avoid backhanded compliments.
While you might think that “S/he was born a wo/man? But s/he is so good-looking” is flattering, it's not the compliment you think it is. Also known as the surprise response, the assumption here is that trans people are always identifiable as gender-nonconforming and could never actually be mistaken as being cisgender (read: normal).
Next up, the comparison response: “Ugh – she’s even more attractive than me.” This is the internalized pressure of mainstream beauty culture on women across the spectrum to look a certain way in order to be considered worthwhile as human beings.
As Raquel Willis writes: “Regardless of your gender identity, my hope is that you divest from cisheteropatriarchy. You can’t win. You will never be man enough or woman enough within these systems of oppression.”
If you’re not sure what to say, try these compliments.
6. Dispel myths about trans people.
Harmful myths about transgender people prevail. Here are a few of them and information that dispels them.
The first myth is that being trans is a mental illness. In recent years, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the American Psychiatric Association (APA) have clearly stated that being trans is not a mental health disorder. There is nothing inherent to being trans that makes a person more likely to experience poor mental health.
Another myth is that regret and detransition are common. In fact, very few trans people regret gender-affirming treatment, with one longitudinal study indicating a regret rate of less than 0.5%. Other than the low rates of regret and detransition, access to gender-affirming care improves mental health and quality of life.
But not all trans people want gender-affirming treatment; another myth to dispel. Hormones and surgery can also be difficult to access, involve prohibitively high costs, and are simply out of reach for many trans people.
Often erased from history, it might seem like trans people are a fairly recent phenomenon.
As Gabby Omoni Hartemann writes: “The erroneous idea that we, transgender people, 'have no past', feeds the notion held by many cisgender people that we don’t belong in the present.”
You can also do your own research to find out more about the contributions trans people have made in the fight for LGBTQIA+ liberation. While Stonewall gets a lot of attention, it’s often overlooked that the movement was led by trans women of color including Marsha P. Johnson, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, and Sylvia Rivera.
8. Understand the unique issues trans people face.
While the LGBTQIA+ umbrella is an inclusive one, trans people face their own unique issues.
While great strides have been made for gay and lesbian people and there is a growing acceptance globally, the same can’t be said for trans people.
Lawmakers globally have introduced a slew of anti-trans legislation in recent years that inflict on trans people’s human rights, including the right to life, freedom of expression, and freedom from discrimination. Trans people already experience shocking rates of violence and discrimination, and such anti-trans legislation puts an already vulnerable community further at risk.
9. Listen to transgender people.
Trans people are the best people to speak about themselves. So listen.
Check in with your local LGBTQIA+ center to see if there are any groups or events you can attend.
Try these books by transgender people, such as Redefining Realness by Janet Mock, Trans Bodies, Trans Selves, edited by Laura Erickson-Schroth, and The Transgender Issue by Shon Faye.
Follow trans advocates and activists such as Addison Rose Vincent (@breakthebinary), ALOK (@alokvmenon), Charlie Amáyá Scott (@dineaesthetics), Chella Man (@chellaman), Meg (@megemikoart), Josephine Jones (@josephinejonesdiary), Qween Jean (@qween_jean), and Raquel Willis (@raquel_willis).
10. Know your own limits as an ally.
Don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something. It is better to admit you don’t know something than to make assumptions or say something that may be incorrect or hurtful. Seek out the appropriate resources that will help you learn more.
Remember being an ally is a sustained and persistent pattern of action; not an idle or stable noun.