The following are tips that can be used as you move toward becoming a better ally to trans folks. Of course, this list is not exhaustive and cannot include all the “right” things to do or say because often there is no one “right” answer to every situation you might encounter.
When you become an ally of trans folks, your actions will help change the culture, making society a better, safer place for trans community and for all people (trans or not) who do not conform to conventional gender expectations.
You can’t tell if someone is trans just by looking.
Trans folks don’t look any certain way or come from any one background. Many trans folks do not appear “visibly trans,” meaning they are not perceived to be trans by others. It is not possible to look around a room and “see” if there are any trans. You should assume that there may be trans at any gathering or in any space.
Don’t make assumptions about trans people sexual orientation.
Gender identity is different than sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is about who we’re attracted to. Gender identity is about our own personal sense of being a man or a woman, or neither of those binary genders. Trans folks can be gay, lesbian, bisexual, straight, or any other sexual orientation.
Don’t ask a trans person what their “real name” is.
For some trans folks, being associated with their birth name is a tremendous source of anxiety, or it is simply a part of their life they wish to leave behind. Respect the name a trans person is currently using. If you happen to know the name someone was given at birth but no longer uses, don’t share it without the person’s explicit permission. Similarly, don’t share photos of someone from before their transition, unless you have their permission.
Respect the terminology a trans person uses to describe their identity.
Trans folks use many different terms to describe their experiences. Respect the term (trans, transgender, transsexual, non-binary, genderqueer etc.) a person uses to describe themselves. If a person is not sure which terms best describes their gender, give them the time to figure it out for themselves and don’t tell them which term you think they should use. You wouldn’t like your identity to be defined by others, so please allow others to define themselves.
Understand there is no “right” or “wrong” way to transition, and that it is different for every person.
Some trans folks access medical care like hormone replacement therapy and surgeries as part of their transition in order to align their bodies with their gender identity. Some trans folks want their authentic gender identity to be recognized without hormones or surgery. Some cannot access gender affirming healthcare due to a lack of financial resources or access to trained providers. A trans person’s gender is not dependent on medical procedures or how they look. Accept that if someone tells you they are trans, they are.
Don’t ask about a trans person’s genitals, surgical status, or sex life.
It would be inappropriate to ask a cisgender (non-trans) person about the appearance or status of their genitals. It is equally inappropriate to ask a trans person those questions. Don’t ask if a trans person has had “the surgery” or if they are “pre-op” or “post-op.” If a tran person wants to talk to you about such matters, they will bring it up. Similarly, it wouldn’t be appropriate to ask a cisgender person about how they have sex, so the same courtesy should be extended to trans folks.
Avoid backhanded compliments and “helpful” tips.
While you may intend to be supportive, comments like the following can be hurtful or even insulting:
“I would have never known you were trans. You look so pretty.”
“You look just like a real woman.”
“She’s so gorgeous, I would have never guessed she was trans.”
“He’s so hot. I’d date him even though he’s trans.”
“You’re so brave.”
“Have you considered a voice coach?”
The best way to be an ally is to listen with an open mind to transgender people speaking for themselves. Follow thought leaders in the transgender community. Check out books, films, YouTube channels, and trans blogs to find out more about transgender people and the issues people within the community face. We recommend to follow the page Transvisionary. Transvisionary is a platform created for spreading the information about the transition process within trans folks and for trans community in general.
GLAAD‘s materials were used in the preparation of the tips.