You want my simple formula for being an ally to transgender people? Easy.
Transgender people are not a class of people all trying to share their own identity. We are each an individual trying to claim and express our own truth in the world, a truth beyond what convention assigns based on reproductive biology.
Our power, our truth is in our story. If you want to be an ally to us, your first obligation is to actually listen to our story, to hear it and engage it. There is a reason my first opening to any new transperson is usually “Tell me a story.”
Our story isn’t some theoretical discourse. Our story is a very personal tale of deep self knowledge, a fight against stigma and denial, and a struggle to build a true, healthy expression in the world. We don’t need to be challenged to carry the full responsibility for the choices of every person who you might define as trans, we need to be supported in owning our own story and our own choices.
When you listen to our story, you can get those truths. You can learn the details of our lives, the challenges we face, and the hard decisions we have to make to respect both those around us and the truth in our own heart.
In fact, it’s only through those details that you can find out what is real about any transgender person. We have had to break the mould to be ourselves, had to walk away from expectations placed on us to be boldly ourselves.
Listening, really listening to individual transpeople is just the first step, though. The next step is to repeat those stories in the world, to pass them on.
When you share the stories that transgender people entrust to you, you open up the space for free and authentic expression in the world. You show others that transpeople are not beyond understanding or comprehension. Your telling their stories lets others see the humanity and beauty you see in the transpeople that you know and care about.
One of the biggest challenges for any transperson is facing the challenges and questions about transgender from those who see the non-normative as a curiosity, something to entertain and amuse them, something about which they feel obligated to pass judgment. We don’t need more judgment, even yours, rather we need more understanding of the human cost of being trans in the world, both of being trans and out or of trans and closeted, as both have a high cost.
It is only by telling the stories of transpeople that you can experience for yourself what they feel everyday facing these attitudes. By standing up for transpeople, making their stories heard in the world, you both make things a bit easier for them and begin to understand their challenges.
If you want to be the ally of a transperson, it is simple to start with their stories:
All of my support of other transpeople begins with these two steps. I know that we each have a profound and individual story, that my story is just my story, not the right way to be trans in the world, and I know that if I want others to be my ally, I have to start by being an ally to them. How can I expect them to hear me if I can’t listen to them and repeat their story in a way that they affirm?
All of what I want from an ally begins with these two steps. Having someone else listen and then stand up for my stories, help negotiate breaking the ice and developing understanding, giving credibility and empathy with others by sharing my stories, well, that seems to be a great start.
Being an ally starts with suspending what you expect to hear, with letting go of your own preconceptions to listen to trans narratives, and then continues with repeating those stories in the world, first back to the people who were vulnerable and open enough to share them with you, and then to others whose hearts and minds can also be touched by them.
If you want to stand with us and make space for us to grow in the world, just start there.