6 Tips for Being a Good Ally:
An LGBTQIA+ ally is a term used to describe someone who is supportive of LGBTQIA+ people. I expect everyone who has a meaningful role in my life to be an ally. Here are some tips to become a more effective ally.
Tip #1: Always Introduce Yourself with Pronouns
First off, when you are meeting someone for the first time and you do not know what pronouns they use, the best thing to do is ask. When asking for someone else’s pronouns, it is always best to set a precedent by introducing yourself with your pronouns so that other people will follow suit. Here is a video showing how to do this.
For example, you can say, “Hi! My name is Sue, and I use she/her/hers pronouns. What is your name, and what are your pronouns?” By introducing yourself with your pronouns, you create an inclusive atmosphere where everyone is free to share their pronouns. Also, people’s gender identities and pronouns do not always coincide with what you’d expect them to be by apperance. As a result, it is very easy to misgender people.
If people have never been asked about their pronouns before, they may be confused by the question. If someone is confused, here’s what you can say. “Some people use he/him/his pronouns to describe themselves. Other people use she/her/hers to describe themselves. And other people use they/them/theirs or other pronouns. I use (insert your own pronouns here). What pronouns should I use to describe you?”
Since many introductions now happen over the internet, it is also important to include your pronouns when you make an introduction over email or social media. In case you forget, it is also useful to include your pronouns in your email signature, on your social media profiles, and professional portfolios (LinkedIn, website bios etc.).
Tip #2: Be Aware That Other Pronouns Exist
She, he, and they are not the only pronouns out there. Ze/hir/hirs or ze/zir/zirs are often used by trans and/or non-binary individuals. Some people do not use pronouns and ask that you just refer to them by their name. Some people are okay with any pronoun. Here is a video showing examples. The most important thing is that you ask people what their pronouns are, and the most polite way of asking is to provide your own pronouns first. If you are confused by someone’s pronouns, just try your best, ask them to clarify if there is an appropriate opportunity to do this, do research online, or ask someone in the LGBTQIA+ community who is clearly in an advocacy position or expresses a willingness to answer your questions.
Tip #3: Do Your Own Research
It is not the responsibility of trans or non-binary people to educate everyone at all times during their day-to-day lives. Some people choose to be advocates all the time. Some people choose to be advocates part-time. Other people do not want to be advocates or prefer forms of advocating other than talking face-to-face about their identities. Be respectful of this. Do not ask trans or non-binary people to explain everything to you. Do some research yourself online or at the library. When finding resources, make sure that everything is coming from advocacy groups controlled by LGBTQIA+ people (anti-LGBTQIA+ groups do spread misinformation).
Some recommended starting points for further reading:
Tip #4: Practice Active Listening
If you are cisgender and straight, queer and trans identity can be confusing, and it is not something you will ever be able to fully understand because you have not experienced it. As a result, to learn about queer and trans identity, you need to listen. Listening means: (1) not talking, (2) not getting defensive, (3) being open to considering and even accepting something you do not fully understand, and (4) understanding that you may not get to hear about everything you are curious about right now.
Regarding this last point, allies should avoid asking inappropriate and invasive questions to transgender and/or non-binary people. Here is a video sharing examples of questions to avoid.
One common example of this is that many people are curious about transitions and the medical decisions that some trans individuals make. Transgender people are not required to tell you anything about their bodies or health care – even if you are curious. These decisions are made in confidence with health professionals, who ensure that these decisions are made to reflect their best interests and health. We also may choose to withhold other information about our identities for a variety of reasons. Some of these reasons may have something to do with you, and some of the reasons may have nothing to do with you. For example, I may enjoy talking about other topics with you and enjoy not having to talk about my identity with somebody. Do not be offended if someone does not choose to come-out to you or if they withhold some part of their identity from you. Oftentimes, it is easier for me to be more open with people I care less about, and sometimes, it takes more time to explain things to people close to me who I actually care more about. It is important to be patient and let transgender people share at their own pace.
Tip #5: Support Policies that Help Transgender People
30 states still allow employers to discriminate against people because of their gender identity or expression, and 28 states allow employers to discriminate due to sexual orientation (report). This means that a transgender person can be fired, turned away at the door, or otherwise discriminated against for no other reason – other than who they are, which is not a choice. Some people may argue that expressing your identity is a choice; however, large amounts of research have proven that closeting or not expressing your identity has enormously negative effects on productivity, well-being, and health (report). Many states have non-discrimination amendments on the ballot every year that affect LGBTQIA+ people, and many politicians have campaigns that are explicitly supporting the rights of LGBTQIA+ people to live and work freely. Supporting these policies and politicians is essential to advancing the rights of queer and trans people in the United States.
Here are some resources to learn more about these policies:
- Out and Equal: Workplace Advocates: 2017 Report
- TransEquality.org: State Initiatives
- The Experience of Transgender Youth in Our Nation’s Schools
Tip #6: Support People of Color in Our Communities
Finally, being queer or transgender is just one minority experience. Many queer or trans people also have other minority identities that intersect with their queer or trans identity that cause them to face a far greater amount of discrimination in our country. For example, LGBTQIA+ people of color and transgender women of color in particular face substantially higher rates of discrimination and violence against them (study/article).
For myself as a white trans person and for the community of white LGBTQIA+ individuals and allies, it is our responsibility to advocate for and support people of color in our communities. A first step for us is to be aware of the discrimination and health disparities people of color face in our country (study/article). This happens through listening to people of color, reading about their personal experiences and disparities that exist, and learning about what people are doing to make difference. The next step is to join in-solidarity with action.
Here are some relevant resources and action steps:
- 30+ Resources to Help White Americans Learn About Racism
- Showing Up for Racial Justice: Resources
- 12 Things You Can Actually Do
Thank you for taking the time to read this guide regarding what people need to know about me to use language that respects and affirms my identity. I appreciate you reading this far.
If you feel overwhelmed by this article, I ask you to remember why I have written it. I wrote this article so that the people I know will have the tools and resources they need to make a conscious and good-faith effort to use accurate language that respects and affirms my identity. Doing this increases my mental health and will also open up the door for greater understanding and dialogue between us. I feel a responsibility to make these requests of you not only for my own well-being but for the well-being of other queer and trans people you may meet moving forward.
If this information about me is new to you, that’s awesome! Please do not feel a need to apologize for being unaware of this in the past (anytime before July 2018 or whenever you first came across this article). Also – do understand that just because this information is new to you or because I am suddenly presenting differently to you, this does not mean that my identity is sudden or new. It is not.
The only actions I am requesting of you right now are to use my correct name/pronouns moving forward and to be an ally.
If you have further questions, please check out some of the resource lists I have provided above or consult a LGBTQIA+ advocacy center in your community. At some point, I may continue this story with some future posts about my journey and about my identity. I may also decide to create a forum for questions and answers, but for now, I appreciate you reading this and digging into the resources.