8 Ways to Be a Great Trans Ally
What does it mean to be an ally? To be a friend? To love a person? To be there for someone? Well sure, being those things for any human is beautiful, but being a real ally to someone is to be all of those things and much more.
I’ll tell you one thing: being an ally isn’t simple. For some, depending on your relationship with the person you’re supporting, it may be natural and therefore easy, but easy and simple are not synonyms. Being an ally takes effort! An ally isn't just there to listen if your loved one calls you on the verge of a breakdown. Allies offer more than passive support. An ally joins their loved one on the front lines of their battle.
Picture an individual under fire: determined, weathered, and battered, they stand tall and lean into the opposing current, amidst shouts that they're wrong, amassing cuts and bruises, and occasionally being pushed back a few steps, but trudging forward nonetheless. An ally is a person who sees this fight and without being asked, steps onto the battlefield, links arms with the fighter, and adds his or her weight to the push. An ally provides active support.
That means taking an interest, asking questions, getting involved, and being a part of your loved one’s journey even if they don’t ask you to be. It’s not being blindly pushy despite obvious signs that they need some alone time, but it’s more than sending a message letting them know they can text or call you if they need to talk. Doing the latter is a wonderful thing. Some of my most positive experiences during transition were through the dozens of people I wasn’t expecting anything from at all, who took the time to send me loving, encouraging and supportive messages. It was so beautiful to see so many open minds and warm embraces being offered by so many people, most of whom had never known another trans person before me. For most people, that’s really the most you’d ever be expected to do, and no matter what please do just that for someone in your life who’s recently come out as trans or is going through transition.
But for those of us who are closer to that person—an immediate family member, a best friend, a new friend!—there’s more to be done, and we’re in a unique position to do it. Our loved ones have a lot to contend with:
- feeling depressed or anxious because of society’s judgment and reluctance to accept them
- difficulty finding or keeping a job due to (illegal) discrimination
- aggression and violence from angry transphobic people
- the pain of gender dysphoria
- the complications of transitioning socially, medically and physically.
They need active support to get through their personal revolution. Being trans is a reality that people awaken to. It's not a choice or a lifestyle, nor is it something a person can just ignore without a great deal of pain and barbaric self-sacrifice. To live in adamant denial of one's true gender is torture and a life sentence of it at that. To claim your identity—just that simple act—as society exists today, is an automatic ticket to activism.
That cause and effect is psychotic. Let me reiterate: for millions of people, simply choosing to accept who they are and live authentically is synonymous with declaring war on mainstream society. There is no in-between. There is no opt-out. If you are visibly transgender or non-binary, according to bigots, radical conservatives, and fear mongers who amazingly still have the spotlight and the attention of the masses, you've thrown the first punch. In today's world, if you stand up and identify as trans, welcome to the fight.
Once that's understood it should be pretty clear why trans people need allies, regardless of how strong or self-assured you perceive them to be. I was lucky. I had more than one early in my transition, when it was both the hardest for me and I imagine the hardest for anyone to be fiercely supportive. The allies in my life get the credit for getting me through some of the hardest and darkest times of my life. Even I didn’t know what I was going through emotionally. But their compassion and love gave me the strength and optimism I couldn't always summon alone.
Okay, okay. I've sold you, eh? "Cut to the chase, babe!" Got it. If you're fired up and ready to get the back of a loved one newly coming to terms with their trans identity, here are some things you can do:
1. Inject yourself into their life and don't leave.
Call them, text them, invite them out, and don't take no for an answer.
When I first started out, I'd never been more insecure in my life. I felt like I stuck out everywhere, and if I could pass a mirror without getting queasy it was a great day. I wanted to shut myself in like Dr. Jekyl preparing to become Mr. Hyde, and I would have, if it wasn't for my allies.
2. Ask them about their transition.
Especially when it's new, transition is huge. There's so much that comes with it, and usually a ton of components. If you want to be able to support and uplift your loved one, find out from them what's most important, and where they want to end up. Understanding what a trans person wants to change in order to feel they're a good fit for their gender identity will help to normalize an otherwise awkward experience for them. It will also prepare you to be helpful and supportive along the way. Not to mention, for several months at the least it will be the current event in their lives, for better or worse.
Important note: Please, always be respectful of any person when asking questions about their bodies, and choose the right time. Before starting this conversation, it's probably a good idea to preface it with your intentions and get their okay to ask personal questions.
3. Be proud to be with them.
Early on I was super self-conscious about my appearance and being thrust into new social situations. But I had allies who saw way past how I looked. To this day I don't even know if I registered to them as awkward-looking to the degree I felt I was, because one way or the other, they either didn't notice or didn't care.
Trans people are often very deep, open-minded, positive, accepting, and creative, not to mention brave and resilient. Your loved one is probably freakin' awesome, period. But social pressure can be crushing. Help them stay lighthearted, be proud to have them in your life and go experience it with them!
4. Set aside one-on-one time for you and them.
Transition can be awkward AF, and sometimes even someone in good spirits just doesn't feel like being surrounded by a bunch of people. Create a safe space at your place, theirs, or a favorite local spot, and do something easy once a week or so.
5. Offer fun, encouraging advice.
If you have an eye for fashion or beauty, offer some suggestions for looks that might flatter your loved one. This sort of thing can make someone in transition feel accepted and attractive, when by themselves they may be having a hard time with that.
Pro tip: apply this to any store, service, brand or app that fits with their expressed interests or gender identity.
6. Talk to them about their new interests.
Realizing you're trans can be so much fun! You get to experience an entire world that you may have previously viewed as off-limits. Allies, send your trans loved ones posts about topics they've expressed a new affection for, be it people, activities, home decor, fashion, art, whatever! And of course, bring it up in person!
Knowing that others associate them with things they link to their gender identity can be extremely validating.
7. Find resources and offer to help them get involved.
In many cases first realizing you're trans can also be a significant shock and come with a hefty emotional and cognitive toll. I didn't know it at the time, but in retrospect I was spinning. Thankfully one of my beautiful angel allies was right there with me, and started throwing out ideas for things I could do to get acclimated to the entire world I had just opened the door to.
During the first few weeks after my revelation I totally forgot that there were tons of online forums, communities, and blogs I could visit to gain some perspective and well, feel normal again. I hadn't even considered that there might be social groups of other trans women meeting in my area. Even if your loved one isn't ready to put themselves out there, just scrolling through a site or two featuring experiences or questions from other trans people can be extremely calming.
8. Get out there with them!
Go with them to their next open support group at the LGBT+ Center; go to a Pride celebration; find a trans-oriented Meetup or event and suggest you both go together.
First of all, many of these events are super positive, fun, and just plain wonderful for everyone involved, but more importantly you'll be doing wonders at helping your loved one feel supported and cared about.
If you want to be by their side, immerse yourself in their community.
Of course, this is just a foundation. If you have other ideas or experiences related to being a trans ally, share them in the comments below.
For anyone going through a trans experience from any perspective, you may find this Resources page helpful.