7 Things Everyone Should Know About Supporting Trans & Gender Non-Conforming Folks

by Dee Rene

Last week, Caitlyn Jenner broke the Internet when she debuted her new identity by sharing images of her Vanity Fair photoshoot online on Monday morning.

And she slayed.

The slayage was less about her appearance—although she did look great—and more about what her high profile coming out represents. She’s living authentically for the first time in decades, and that is a freedom many of us take for granted, if we experience it all. As trans women continue to fight for acceptance, there are a few things those of us who consider ourselves to be allies and supporters need to keep in check.

1. It’s important to use the right pronoun and the right name.

We all have a friend or family member that goes by a nickname that isn’t on their birth certificate. Yet, when that person says, “This is my name; call me by this name,” we have no problem obliging. When trans women say, “I have a new name. Call me by this name,” it is the same thing. Bruce Jenner, the man, no longer exists. Her name is Caitlyn and, yes, “her” is the right pronoun. Some trans women may want to go by “she,” and some may want to use “he” or “they.” When in doubt, ask. You don’t have to agree with or fully understand the changes a trans person is making, but it is considered disrespectful and offensive to still call a trans woman by a name or pronoun they no longer use.

2. Watch what you say when discussing a trans person’s appearance.

You know how when someone says you’re really pretty for a Black Girl, Dark-Skinned Girl, Big Girl, etc., it’s really just a back-handed compliment? Well, don’t do that to trans women. You may think it’s nice to say, “You’re so pretty. You can’t even tell you were a man!” Or, “You look almost like a REAL woman now!”

It’s not.

A trans person is not pretending. They are no less a “real” man or woman (or however they choose to identify) because of their transition. They are not playing dress up and have no obligation to adhere to the gender norms of either sex after a transition.

Trans women want to transition into an outward appearance that matches who they’ve always identified as inwardly. This means, they transition to a look that they love and not necessarily one that fits conventional beauty standards. That is their right. They are living out their truth in an authentic way. There’s no need to see "before" and "after" pictures as a point of comparison or make suggestions on how a trans person can look more like a “real” woman/man. Accept them for who they are now and learn how to properly speak about their experience.

3. Trans is actually an umbrella term for a number of gender identities.

It’s also important to understand different terms for various gender identities, as not all trans identities are the same. Here are a few definitions to know and learn:
  • Transgender: Identifying as a gender/sex other than the one assigned at birth
  • Cisgender: Identifying as the gender/sex you were assigned at birth 
  • Bigender: Identifying as two genders
  • Genderfluid: A person whose gender and gender expression changes 
  • Agender: A person who identifies as being genderless or having no gender
  • Adrogyne: A person who has both masculine and feminine qualities 
  • Transition: The process during which a person makes the physical, emotional, and lifestyle changes to live and be known as their true gender. It is important to note that someone is trans or transgender, not “transgendered.” Trans is an adjective, not a verb. 
  • Tranny: An outdated and OFFENSIVE term used to describe trans people. Do not use this term. 

4. Check your assumptions and privilege.

Checking your assumptions is a big part of being an ally. Be careful that you are not making assumptions about how this person lives, dates, or loves simply because you know they identify as transgender.

Remember your own privilege. As a cisgender person, you cannot totally relate to trans people, just because you are also part of another marginalized group based on your race, sexual orientation, or other social identity. Your role is to provide support, love, and encouragement—not to have all the answers or assume you totally get what it’s like to be on that journey.

5. Do NOT out a trans person. Ever.

Be careful with how you share this person’s story or talk about them to other people. Outing a person as trans can have deadly consequences. Let them share their identity as a trans person, if they choose to share it at all. They may choose to share their journey with the world, or with only very close friends. Not every trans person wants to be an activist or an example. That is their choice and their right. They may never choose to disclose at all. It’s your job to be a good friend and a good ally, which means not sharing this person’s story with anyone else unless given permission to share.

6. Recognize some things are none of your business.

Would you like someone to walk up to you and ask intrusive questions about your body? No, you would probably want to punch them in the face. Well, asking a trans person about their body or what kinds of surgery they’ve had is none of your business. Laverne Cox, famous trans activist and actress, read Katie Couric and all of America when asked about surgery during an interview:
I do feel there is a preoccupation with that. The preoccupation with transition and surgery objectifies trans people. And then we don’t get to really deal with the real lived experiences. The reality of trans people’s lives is that so often we are targets of violence. We experience discrimination disproportionately to the rest of the community. Our unemployment rate is twice the national average; if you are a trans person of color, that rate is four times the national average. The homicide rate is highest among trans women. If we focus on transition, we don’t actually get to talk about those things.

7. Trans women of color experience alarming rates of violence.

Caitlyn Jenner’s struggle to live as her true self is one that many trans women can identify with and understand. And yet, many trans women end up in a casket rather than on a magazine cover. As of May 2015, eight trans women were killed; seven of them were women of color. There is a certain privilege that Caitlyn Jenner has that other trans women do not. As an ally, you must be conscious of this struggle.

Trans women will not experience less violence or oppression because of Caitlyn’s magazine cover any more than Black people have experienced less violence or oppression because Obama is president. Although this seems like a time when you want to celebrate trans women and encourage them all to share their story, always be mindful that there is a very real danger for these women.

Trans women ARE women too and suffer not only the gender discrimination that all women face, but they also face transphobia. From Caitlyn’s interviews—and other interviews/stories from trans women—we know that the journey to live openly as a trans person is difficult. As women of color, we also know what it’s like to be ostracized and killed simply for existing, because even our lives are viewed as a threat.

Caitlyn’s flawless photos and very public journey have taught us a valuable lesson: The bravest and most beautiful thing you can do is live as your authentic self.

Photo: Lev Radin / Shutterstock

Dee Rene is a connoisseur of snacks and brunch. Her focus is holding onto faith in all the things that make us laugh, cry and cuss. Follow her on Twitter: @deerene_.

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