Being transgender generally comes with more complications and distrust than other LGBTQ identies, and it can be difficult to know the social expectations, even for allies or supporters of trans people.
The word transgender, or trans, refers to a person who identifies as a gender other than the sex assigned to them at birth, according to Merriam-Webster.
Here are some tips to help you be a better ally.
Trans people are people
A good rule of thumb is to treat trans people like anybody else, said Jessica Sanchez, LGBTQ+ program assistant director, in an email.
“As an ally, you can treat everyone with respect and dignity,” she said. “Overall, treat someone who identifies as transgender the same way you treat everyone else who is in your circle of friends and family.”
Sometimes, just being there for your LGBTQ friends and family is enough, art history sophomore Rome Heitzman said.
“Just being like, a shoulder for like your, your LGBT friends,” he said. “I feel like there's sometimes a lot of drama in LGBT circles, and it's kind of like, you don't really know who to turn to.”
Use the correct pronouns
Physics sophomore Finn Mikeal, who is trans, said something seemingly small but important for allies to do is use people’s correct pronouns.
“If you're not sure of somebody’s pronouns, just try to step to the side privately for a moment and ask, ‘What are your preferred pronouns and name?’ and then just use that,” he said. “We don't want any special treatment than other people, we just want the same exact treatment, and we just want people to be decent.”
Heitzman said he doesn’t mind when people ask his pronouns and doesn’t think many trans people would.
“I would rather have somebody ask me than assume the wrong pronoun, so I could assume that other people would as well,” he said.
Trans isn’t a phase
Another common misconception of being trans is that people often think it’s just a phase, Heitzman said. A good ally shouldn’t question or insinuate that, he said.
“The biggest misconception I get is like ‘Oh, you're just going through a phase, like, just you’ll grow out of it in 10 years and realize what you did was wrong,’” Heitzman said.
Even though it’s wrong to treat being trans or any other queer identity like a phase, he said it’s important to remember that sometimes people do have experiences that change their identities. So if it does turn out to be a phase, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“So what? In 10 years, if I decide that like, I'm not trans, I would have rather lived through that phase than just spent my whole life questioning it,” he said.
Trans is an identity
Being trans isn’t something you choose, Mikeal said. It’s who you are, and it can make your life significantly harder, even if it’s what’s right for you.
People often ask too many personal questions but should learn not to, he said. Bringing up surgeries or trying to figure out which way a person is transitioning is a big no. And so is asking if someone is mentally ill because they are trans.
A common misconception he’s dealt with is that sometimes people don’t think being trans is a real thing or that it’s something people do for attention, Mikeal said.
“It's who we are,” Mikeal said. “It's not something that we choose, not something that we wish upon ourselves, because it's a struggle.”
Be an active bystander
Transgender people are at a higher risk of harassment and misunderstanding than other LGBT people, and many trans students experience this firsthand, Sanchez said.
If you do notice anyone being harassed (not just presumed trans people, because assuming someone’s identity can be hurtful), it’s generally appreciated if you can get involved nonviolently, she said.
“Be an active bystander and insert yourself into the equation if you feel safe to do so, to deflect the attention off of the individual who is experiencing the harassment,” Sanchez said.