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how to be an ally to your trans friends by sophia field


Hey. You know the way you’re walking through the halls at school or on the bus or in the mall or on facebook or at the library or just in the world in some way and you have a friend who does something AWESOME that is so freaking cool and great and helpful and supportive and makes you happy and feel like they are so kind and nice and they “get it” and they make a positive difference in your day? Yeah, that does happen, but sometimes, people need some tips and help to be that awesome ally even more often and in bigger more excellent ways! We were lucky to work with the brilliant Sophia Field, who created this HOW TO booklet just for you! When you become an ally to your transgender friends, you really make a difference. By speaking up and educating yourself and being an excellent human, your actions will help make your school and community a better, safer place for transgender people and for anyone who transgresses expected gender norms in any way. Which is kind of awesome and great. So, thank you, and read on! 2 

Table of Contents 1) Understanding the basics: what is transgender? Trans 101: an introduction The gender binary A plethora of identities Gender identity vs. sexual orientation 2) Cisgender privilege and what it means to be cis What is privilege? What do I need to understand about cisgender privilege? Stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination of trans people Why is it important to “check” my privilege? 3) Steps for being a cisgender ally How to tell if someone is trans What to say when someone comes out to you What language to use Which questions to ask Pronoun and name sensitivity Advocating for your trans friends

4) Further reading 5) Glossary 3 

*If you see a word or phrase you don’t know, chances are it is                   defined in the glossary. Go give it a look!     

Section one: The Basics: What is Transgender? Trans 101: an Introduction ‘Transgender’ is an umbrella term that refers to anyone whose gender identity does not align with their sex assigned at birth (SAAB). While most people tend to think of ‘transgender” as the media-fed image of a “woman trapped in a man’s body” (and vice-versa), ‘transgender’ is a much bigger, and more complex story than that. The term ‘transgender’ includes thousands upon thousands of potential identities, which will be covered more later on. While some trans people fit the idea of a “suchand-such trapped in a such-and-such body”, many don’t! Some may feel they are a combination of different genders. Some may feel they are mainly one gender, with some tendencies and influences of another. Some people may feel like they don’t have a gender at all. What’s most important for you to understand is that there are many ways to be trans, and there is no limit to the potential identities that one person may feel they are. ‘Cisgender’ is another word that you will see frequently in this booklet. Essentially, ‘cisgender’ refers to anyone who is not trans. To put it in 4 

different terms, a cisgender person is someone whose gender identity and SAAB align. Later on, there will be more info on what it means to be cis and what cisgender privilege is. The “Gender Binary” “The ‘Gender Binary’ is a term given to the limiting societal view of gender throughout much of the world. This view is that gender is either/or, where you are either male or female with no room for people who don’t identify as such.

The ‘Gender Binary’ is a term given to the limiting societal view of gender throughout much of the world. This view is that gender is either/or, where you are either male or female with no room for people who don’t identify as such.

What is the problem with the gender binary? There are many issues with the idea of gender being classified into two opposite identities. The main issue is that it alienates and antagonizes those who do not identify as a man or a woman. It creates legal barriers, such as not being able to have their true gender identity recognized by the government, and social barriers, such as being forced to choose between two gendered restrooms, both of which make them uncomfortable. In order to make the world a more accepting place for trans people, we 5 

must stop limiting ourselves to this outdated, dichotomous view of gender. A Plethora of Identities There are many possible identities for trans people. Some of the most common ones are outlined below.

MtF/FtM: These stand for Male to Female and Female to Male, respectively. MtF and FtM people identify as male or female, and generally change their outward gender expression to match their gender identity. MtF and FtM trans people may take medical steps to change their bodies, but remember that this is entirely their business and not something that should be asked about. Genderqueer: similarly to ‘transgender’, ‘genderqueer’ is an umbrella term.

“Genderqueer” refers to people that don’t identify within the gender binary. Some will simply identify as ‘genderqueer’, or choose to self-identify a different way. Genderqueer can also be referred to as non-binary (NB). Those who identify as MtF or FtM generally do not fall under the genderqueer umbrella.

Agender: an agender person is one who does not associate with the structure of gender and chooses not to identify as any gender at all. They may also prefer terms such as ‘genderless’, ‘nongendered’, or ‘neutrois’. Gender fluid: one whose gender fluidly moves between various identities. They may feel  6 

more like one gender a certain day, and more like another a different day. Some gender fluid people may go by different pronouns and/or names at different parts of their lives, and express their gender in varied ways.

Bigender/Pangender: One who identifies with multiple genders. Intersex: Refers to a person who was born with sex characteristics (sex chromosomes, genitals, or reproductive organs) that do not perfectly fit “male” or “female”. Due to society being uncomfortable with these types of people, they are often surgically “corrected” as infants before they can make their own choices for themselves, and are then forced to live in a gender role that may or may not be for them. There are many more ways to identify as trans. Everyone is an individual and should be treated as such. If someone says to you that they identify as X, prefer Y pronouns, and would like to be called Z as their name, respect that! Keep in mind that regardless of identity, trans people may seek medical options such as hormones and surgery. Sometimes, NB people will choose to undergo medical changes. This is why it’s important to not think of being trans in the “such-and-such trapped in a such-and-such body” way.    7 

Spotlight: Surgery Many cisgender people consider gender confirmation surgeries to be necessary for transgender people to “fully” be their gender. In fact, many trans people choose to not undergo surgeries. Not only are they okay with it, but they are empowered by their decision! As stated earlier, there are many, many ways to be trans!   Gender Identity vs. Sexual Orientation One thing that confuses people is gender identity and sexual orientation. These two ideas are very different, and a trans person may be straight, gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, etc. Trans and cis people both have varied sexual orientations.

Cisgender Privilege and What it Means to be Cis What is privilege?

‘Privilege’ is a term used to describe a set of unearned advantages given to people in life based on things such as race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability, etc. There are many ways to have privilege. While you shouldn’t hope to completely eradicate the privileges you have in life, you can “check” your privileges. This means

you can accept what privileges you have, acknowledge them, and use them in a positive way- to change the system of privilege!

What do I need to understand about cisgender privilege? People whose gender identity and SAAB align have many privileges in life. Some basic privileges you have include: 1) You have the ability to use the gendered restroom of your choice without having your authenticity questioned. You can use a gendered restroom without feeling uncomfortable having to choose between Women’s and Men’s when that isn’t who you are. 2) You can use locker and changing rooms without fear of “exposing” your identity. 3) You can be in public without worrying about “passing” and whether people will see you as authentically your gender. 4) You can feel confident that if you are denied a job, housing, etc., it is based on merit and not on your gender identity. 5) You have the ability of feeling comfortable seeing “M” or “F” on official documents without wishing there was another option for you. 6) You will never be asked about your genitals or which hormones you take in order to “prove” that you are one gender or another.  9 

Stereotypes, Prejudice, and Discrimination Against Trans People Transgender people face discrimination every day based on their gender identity. Many states don’t offer protections for them, and they face social discrimination and bullying in their daily lives. It can be very hard for trans people to obtain jobs, housing, or loans, because many states do not have antidiscrimination policies based on gender identity. Transgender people are at a higher risk for mental health issues, housing issues, and unemployment than their cisgender peers. Keep in mind that when you use transphobic language and actions, you are perpetuating the unfair marginalization and discrimination of trans people.

Why is it Important to “Check” My Privilege? “Checking your privilege” is a somewhat charged term that has received some negative attention. Checking one’s privilege is the act of acknowledging the inherent privileges that one has in their life, and the need to work towards overcoming them. The reason that this has attracted negative attention, particularly in online communities, is because it makes people uncomfortable to admit that they have unfair and unearned advantages in life. Most of the people who oppose the idea of checking their privilege are in fact very privileged themselves. Because of this, it’s


important to make people uncomfortable. No one likes to admit the fact that they are privileged, but it is the only way that we can ever hope to overcome privilege. Checking your privilege doesn’t mean you need to apologize for being cis every time you meet a trans person. This would be incredibly cumbersome and probably uncomfortable for trans people as well! If you want to check your privilege, you just need to be aware of it. One very helpful activity is to think of all the ways in which you receive privilege (for your race, ethnicity, gender, geographic location, ability, socioeconomic status, etc.) and to list 5 privileges you have in each category. This will bring privilege to the forefront of your mind and help you see it every time you benefit from it.

Steps for Being a Cisgender Ally How to tell if Someone is Trans The short answer is that you can’t. Many cis people try to tell when people are trans because they don’t have much exposure to trans people and are simply curious. Often, cis people will ask all sorts of invasive questions- again, out of simple curiosity- when they meet


a trans person. This is often not hostile, but you need to imagine how uncomfortable this makes trans people feel. Instead of trying to diagnose someone as trans, simply introduce yourself, ask their name, and ask for their preferred pronouns. If it comes up that they are trans, follow the steps later in this chapter. Your friendship with this person should go wonderfully!

What to Say When Someone Comes Out to You When someone comes out to you as trans, you need to understand first and foremost that this is probably one of the hardest things they have ever done. By coming out to you, they risk you reacting negatively, treating them differently, or even losing their relationship with you entirely. Coming out is a very daunting prospect that cannot be taken lightly. Keeping this in mind, it’s very important when someone comes out to you to not take the “it’s no big deal” route, no matter how cool you are with it or how little it surprises you. This is minimizing to their struggles and does not recognize the incredible leap they’ve taken to come out to you. Instead, thank them! Say that you are proud of them for coming out to you, and you are glad and honored that they chose to come out to you. Ask who else knows, so you don’t risk outing them without their permission, and ask them who it’s cool to talk to about. Ask them which name and pronouns they will prefer from now on.


Do not ask many questions past this. It’s understandable that you are curious, but you cannot make your only trans friend your primary source of trans knowledge. Educate yourself online or with a gender counselor. If they would appreciate it, give them a hug. It may feel cliché, but physical touch can be comforting and healing to someone who’s been under emotional stress.

Spotlight: OuƟng People Ou ng a trans person without their permission is never okay! It puts  their well being in danger, it takes away their autonomy and the  choice to tell who they want to, and makes them weary to tell you  things in the future.      What Language to Use Language is an extremely sensitive subject with the trans community, because many frequently used words and phrases (such as “tranny”, “transgendered”, “born a ___”) are now recognized for what they are: outdated, limiting, and offensive. Below is a basic list of words and phrases to avoid, and what you can use instead.

The word or phrase: Tranny/Transgendered/A Transgender  Why it’s wrong: “Transgendered” and “a transgender” are both                          


grammaƟcally incorrect. “Transgender” is an adjec ve, not a verb or a noun.  “Tranny” is an incredibly offensive transphobic slur that should never be used  by the cisgender community. What to say instead: “A transgender person”; “A trans person”    The word or phrase: “Born a ___”; “Used to be a ___”; “Back when you were  a ___”   Why it’s wrong: When someone is trans, this means that they have been  their gender their en re life. Because of their outward characteris cs, they  were assigned a gender as birth that turned out to be incorrect. It’s their  birth cer ficates that are wrong, not their minds! Addi onally, it is o en  uncomfortable and triggering to trans people when their pre‐transi on life is  men oned. What to say instead: “Born a baby”; “Assigned ___ at birth”; “Before you  transi oned”  The word or phrase: “Sex reassignment surgery”; “SRS”; “Gender reassign‐ ment surgery”   Why it’s wrong: All of these terms are medically incorrect and outdated. One  cannot change their gender or sex.   What to say instead: “Genital reconstruc ve surgery”; “Top/bo om sur‐ gery”; “Gender confirma on surgery”; “GCS”; “GRS”   The word or phrase: “Gender iden ty disorder”   Why it’s wrong: Though this used to be what transgenderism was consid‐ ered in the DSM, it was changed because it suggests that being transgender 


is a mental disorder‐ that there’s something wrong with you.   What to say instead: “Gender dysphoria”   The word or phrase: “Pre‐op”; “Post‐op”; “Non‐op”   Why it’s wrong: Using these terms reduces trans people solely to the medi‐ cal aspects of their transi on, and suggests that surgery is required to be a  certain gender. What to say instead: “Transi oned” (only if you must use it! Just avoid this  type of language altogether).   The word or phrase: “Passing” Why it’s wrong: The term “passing” suggests that trans people are ac vely  involved in trickery of cis people‐ that they are not authen cally their gender,  but are deceiving people into thinking that they are.   What to say instead: Don’t say anything! If you want to compliment a trans  person on their looks, do it just how you would with a cis person!   The word or phrase: “Transwoman”; “Transman”; “Transperson”   Why it’s wrong: Using language such as this where trans people’s iden es  are condensed into one word suggests that they aren’t authen cally their  gender. You wouldn’t say “Catholicwoman” to describe a woman who’s      catholic!   What to say instead: “Trans woman”; “Trans man”; “Trans person” (they  might even prefer that you not iden fy them as “trans” at all!)  


Which Questions to Ask This was touched on above, but it needs to be stressed again that questions must be kept to a minimum. Most trans people understand that you are just curious, but imagine how it feels to them to be asked these same questions day after day! The questions that you are encouraged to ask, and are not invasive or overly personal, are listed below: -What pronouns should I use for you now? -How do you self-identify? Is it okay for me to use that term for you? -Who knows that you are trans? -Is there anyone you are comfortable with me telling? -I don’t want to overwhelm you, but I am curious. Please tell me which questions you are okay answering, and which ones I shouldn’t ask. I promise to respect what you say.

These questions should not be asked unless you have explicit permission to ask them: -What surgeries have you had? -Are you on hormones? -Well, how do you have sex..?

Additionally, questions about what it means to be transgender,


which celebrities are trans, if they know your trans friend from another school, etc., are just plain annoying to trans people and often tedious to answer, even if they aren’t invasive or overly personal. Try to educate yourself using online resources or a gender counselor if you are curious. And, of course, you can always refer to this booklet as a resource!

Pronoun and Name Sensitivity Pronouns and names are very, very sensitive subjects for trans people. Since most trans people will choose to go by different names and a new set of pronouns, hearing their names and pronouns from before their transition can be uncomfortable, triggering, and upsetting. Imagine how it feels to when someone accidentally uses the wrong pronoun for you. It might be a bit weird, or uncomfortable, but you’re able to brush it off. This is not the case with trans people. When the incorrect pronoun is used for a trans person, it is called “misgendering” and is always incredibly uncomfortable for all parties. Misgendering makes trans people so unhappy because they might identify the use of that pronoun for them with a very horrible, uncomfortable part of their life. To avoid misgendering someone or using their old name, practice! It might be helpful to look at a picture of them while repeating their new name and preferred pronouns. This will reinforce them in your brain and reduce awkward slip-ups.


Additionally, as we touched on earlier, there are many different ways to express gender. Therefore, pronouns should never be assumed about a person based on their expression and external characteristics. It’s understandably very hard to unlearn something that you have probably done your entire life, which is to automatically use female gendered pronouns for more “feminine” people and male gendered pronouns for more “masculine” people. This may be fine for cis people, but as we covered earlier, misgendering a trans person can be very upsetting to them. Therefore, you should always do your best to never assume pronouns, and to use They/Them pronouns for people until you know for sure what to use for them.

Spotlight: Using Inclusive Language Another important way to be inclusive with pronouns and gendering is to always automatically use gender-neutral pronouns and titles when referring to something unspecific. For instance, you should always use “They/Them” instead of “He or she/Him or her”. You can also use gender neutral titles for unspecific people, such as “police officer” instead of “police man/woman” or “server” instead of “waiter/waitress”. Finally, store referring to gender in a binary way. For instance, say “another gender” instead of “the other gender”. Say “all genders” instead of “both genders”. Instead of using binary terms like “boys and girls” or “ladies and gentlemen”, use terms like “children” or “your attention please”.


Advocating for Your Trans Friends Okay. Several of your friends have come out to you, you’ve read the literature, you know how to act around them and what to say, you’ve checked your privileges and you’re ready to advocate. What does advocate mean in this scenario? It means to stand up for your friends, for their rights, to defend them, and to assist in the cause of normalizing being trans in our society. This is what we call putting your privilege to good use- as a cisgender person, you can get people to listen to you and fight for trans rights almost more effectively than trans people can. This is because cis people will really pay attention to the cause when they can see that other cis people are. And right now, the fight is at a critical point, and trans people need cis allies to further the cause. Standing up for your friends and educating people who say ignorant things is possibly the most helpful thing you can do right now to improve your school climate.

Example: someone says, “just because everyone is now using “they” pronouns for him, that doesn’t mean I have to also, right?” How do you respond? Example: someone uses a slur against your trans friend and  19 

they don’t know how to respond. How do you respond? Example: your trans friend is now out, and someone comes up to you and asks if they’ve had “the surgery”. How do you respond? Further advocaƟng for your friends: ‐Join your school’s Queer student groups‐ most of them will be open  to cis/straight allies!  ‐Help host school‐wide ac vi es like the annual Day of Silence, a  Queer Pride Week, or a movie screening  ‐Talk to school administrators about changing policies in your school  based on gender iden ty  ‐Help host sensi vity trainings for teachers based on gender iden ty,  pronoun usage, etc.  ‐Spread this booklet around!             20 


For Further Reading   ‐GLAAD Transgender 101‐ Online    ‐TSER‐ Trans Student Equality Resources (TransStudent.org)    ‐Trans Ally Tips‐ UC David LGBTQIA Resource Center    ‐The Social Jus ce Advocate’s Handbook: a Guide to Gender (By  Sam Killerman)    Glossary   Agender One who does not iden fy with any gender.    Bigender One who iden fies with two genders.    BoƩom Surgery Any gender confirma on surgery that alters genitals or reproduc ve  organs.    Checking Your Privilege Accep ng, acknowledging, and moving forward with privilege.     22 

Cisgender Used to describe someone whose SAAB aligns with their gender   iden ty.    Coming Out The act of telling people you are trans. This may or may not include a  change in gender expression.  DiscriminaƟon Social or legal policies that oppress or marginalize trans people.    FTM Stands for “Female to Male” and refers to a trans man.    Gender A form of classifying society into different characteris c groups.    Gender Binary The social and legal a tude of there only being two genders in exist‐ ence that are exact opposites with no middle ground.    Gender ConfirmaƟon Surgery Any surgeries that change one’s body to match their gender iden ty   23 

(e.g. vaginoplasty, mastectomy, metoidioplasty, etc.)    Gender Dysphoria A strong feeling of mis‐match between body and brain, which o en  leads to uncomfortability, anger, sadness, and more.  Gender Expression The way gender is communicated in society through the way people  dress, act, interact, and talk.    Gender Fluid One whose gender iden ty fluidly changes throughout their life.    Gender IdenƟty The gender classifica on that one believes themselves to be.  Gender IdenƟty Disorder The outdated DSM term for being transgender, which was changed  to “Gender Dysphoria” with the release of DSM‐5 in 2013.    Genderqueer An umbrella term for anyone whose gender iden ty does not fit  within the gender binary.   24 

Gender Reassignment Surgery An outdated and medically incorrect term for gender confirma on  surgery.    Genital ReconstrucƟve Surgery Any gender confirma on surgery that alters genitals (e.g. vaginoplas‐ ty, orchiectomy, scrotoplasty)    GRS Stands for “Genital Reconstruc ve Surgery”.    Intersex Used to describe one who was born with genitals, sex chromosomes,  and/or reproduc ve organs that do not perfectly fit Male or Female.    Misgendering The act of (inten onally or not) referring to a trans person with the  incorrect pronouns.    MTF Stands for “Male to Female” and refers to a trans woman.       25 

Outdated A word frequently used in this booklet. “Outdated” here refers to a  once accepted word, term, or idea that is now found to be divisive,  hur ul, offensive, exclusive, or socially/medically/gramma cally in‐ correct.  Pangender One who iden fies with mul ple or all genders.    Passing An outdated term which refers to “passing” in society as cisgender.  Tends to be divisive and unhelpful.    Pronouns A set of words (which change based on the gramma cal context) that  are designed to refer to someone in a shortened way (so you don’t  need to use their name repeatedly in the same sentence). Pronouns  may be gendered (he/she) or gender neutral/non‐descrip ve (they/ ze/e)    Preferred Pronouns The set of pronouns (he/him; she/her; they/them; etc.) that a person  (trans or cis) prefers to be referred to with.   26 

Privilege Unearned advantages in life based on race, gender iden ty, sexual  orienta on, ability, etc.  Queer An umbrella term for anyone who iden fies as a sexual or gender  minority (can be used as a more inclusive replacement for the out‐ dated “LGBT” acronym).  SAAB Stands for “Sex Assigned At Birth” and generally refers to the legally  recognized sex marker of a trans person. O en is a source of anxiety  and uncomfortability for trans people.    Sex Reassignment Surgery An outdated and medically incorrect term for gender confirma on  surgery.    SRS Stands for “Sex Reassignment Surgery”.    Top Surgery Any gender confirma on surgery that alters the chest of a trans per‐ son (e.g. mastectomy, breast augmenta on, chest contouring).   27 

Tranny An extremely divisive and hur ul slur that may be reclaimed by the  trans community.  Transgender An umbrella term for anyone whose SAAB does not align with their  gender iden ty.    Trans The shortening of the word “transgender” to make it less cumber‐ some.    TransiƟon The act of changing one’s gender expression to match their gender  iden ty.  Trans Man An FTM person.    Trans Person Can refer to any trans person. Generally refers to genderqueer                people as it is gender neutral.    Transphobia  28 

A fear or hatred of trans people, o en which leads to transphobic acts such as usage of social aliena on and discrimina on, slurs/name ‐calling, and violence.  Trans Woman An MTF person.   

Trigger Ac ons, images, or language that “trigger” intense emo onal  reac ons. Triggers may lead to anxiety, depression, and/or self  harm. These ac ons, images, or language are referred to as  “triggering”. 



Thank you for reading! Wri en and designed by Sophia Field  Illustra ons Calvin Kasulke      Find more at queer ps.org  Ou orhealth.tumblr.com  Facebook.com/ou orhealth       


Be nice. Educate yourself. Speak up.

2nd edition, 2016 outforhealth.tumblr.com queertips.org ppsfl.org/transgender 32  lgbt@ppsfl.org

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How to be an Ally to Your Trans Friends By Sophia Field for Out for Health  

You know the way you’re walking through the halls at school or on the bus or in the mall or on facebook or at the library or just in the wor...

How to be an Ally to Your Trans Friends By Sophia Field for Out for Health  

You know the way you’re walking through the halls at school or on the bus or in the mall or on facebook or at the library or just in the wor...