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How to be an Ally to Transgender People: A Crash Course in Gender Etiquette

Collin Stettler

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It goes without saying that one of the most oppressed minorities in America right now are transgender people. As hate crimes against LGBT+ citizens have begun to increase over the past few years, it becomes ever so crucial that we act as allies and advocate for our transgender citizens. For many, the primary issue is that they are uneducated on how to be a proper advocate for the LGBT community.

Before we dive into some tips on how to be an ally, it is important to point out that everybody must start somewhere. We mustn't look down on people for not knowing what to do in certain situations. As allies, it is our job to educate those who do not understand. For too many years, the responsibility of education has fallen onto the shoulders of the oppressed minority. The responsibility to educate cannot and should not fall solely on transgender people. They should not be expected to fight their fight alone. This goes for every minority ally-it may be their struggle, but it does not excuse your silence. Educate yourself, and once you understand their struggles to the best of your ability, do not be afraid to discuss the injustices minorities face in America.

The first thing I would like to point out for many people looking to become an ally for the trans community is that sex is not the same as gender. Gender can loosely be defined as a social and cultural distinction of self-while "sex" is used to refer to a biological distinction that marks someone as male, female, or intersex, "gender" is a social construct. We are constantly learning gender roles, and as we identify with various roles, it shapes who we are as a person. Because of this, gender is often much more flexible than sex. It allows for people to identify somewhere on a spectrum-some can identify with predominantly male gender roles while being female, some can identify with predominantly female gender roles and be male, and some can identify with both and fall somewhere in the middle.

The second thing to remember is that not all transgender people are going to be "visibly transgender." There are many reasons for this, but regardless of their reasoning, it does not take away the validity of their gender identity. Even if someone comes in presenting as female and requests that you use the pronouns "he/him," use the pronouns that they identify with. Remember to not assume their pronouns-the safest bet that I have always found helpful with identifying someone's pronouns is announcing your own when greeting them. Saying something like, "Hi, I'm Collin. My pronouns are he/him. What's your name?" or something simple and along those lines will not only make your pronouns clear, but it will also show transgender people that you actually care about and support their gender identity.

I know many people ask the question: What do I do if I accidentally misgender someone? My first recommendation is to make sure that you are not defensive if someone corrects you. Everybody makes mistakes. In most cases, being misgendered is painful to someone who is transgender. As embarrassing as it may be for you, it is just as embarrassing, if not more embarrassing for them. That's why it is important that if someone corrects you, I've found that the best way to proceed is to express gratitude. Thank them for correcting you, and make sure that you learn from the experience. Mistakes happen, and that's okay as long as we do our best to be inclusive and accepting.

It's also important to remember that gender is not the same as sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is specifically who you're attracted to. Gender is centered around who you are. There are differences between "coming out" as somewhere on the sexuality spectrum and "coming out" as transgender. A transgender person that has transitioned, for example, and can "pass" as a natural-born male or female, can feel extremely disempowered when people learn they are trans because people will not consider them to be a "legitimate" or "real." If you learn that someone is transgender, try your best not to disclose their gender history.

The final point I'd like to make is that as allies, we must know our limits. If you are not as educated on a topic as you should be, don't be afraid to admit that you need help. Listen to transgender people. Talk to transgender people in your community and stay up to date on transgender topics as much as you can. Read about their experiences in America and support them as best you can. Being an ally demands effort and action-you cannot sit idly by and call yourself an ally. Work toward educating those around you and encourage more people to become allies to join in the fight for equal rights for transgender people.

About the author: Collin Stettler is a social media intern at WITI and a senior at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania. He studies English, professional writing, and LGBT studies.

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