To be a good ally means more than just carrying a flag, walking in a march or changing your profile picture to “we are Orlando”. Movements such as “HeforShe” have highlighted the fact that men need to be feminists and use their male privilege to make changes for the benefit of non-men. In the same way we need non trans* people to use their privilege and platforms to bring about positive changes. It is unfortunately a matter of course that trans* people don’t get the massive media platforms to share their experiences. Trans* parts in films are taken by cis people, most often it seems by cis/het/male actors who already reap the benefits of their privileges. They play these parts, show up for media interviews and yet, still, do not accurately depict or describe the experiences of trans* people. Why? Because they are not good allies.
To be a good ally means sharing the burden of oppression, so how can you do that? Here’s a handy guide!
- Educate yourself! This seems so simple but it’s the point so often missed by allies. How can you expect to stand up for your friends and family if you don’t understand their struggles and experiences? It’s not difficult to get yourself educated either, there’s so many accessible resources out there including the ones HERE. The key to educating yourself is to be open and willing to learn, there is no point in asking questions and seeking information if you are not ready to have your opinion changed or see things from another point of view. It can be tough to share the burden of an oppression that you cannot ever understand or experience, so the first step is to read, ask and listen to trans* people’s experiences. This doesn’t mean skim reading a quick article, I mean really read, really delve deep and put yourself in their shoes. I don’t mean ask a question and vacantly nod while they respond; I mean ask and really listen, absorb and experience the pain alongside them.
- Share your knowledge. Once you have taken the time and effort to ask questions and learn, your responsibility doesn’t stop there. It is not enough to simply educate yourself and then sit quietly while the oppression and harassment continue. If you truly want to be an ally you must be prepared to share your new found knowledge. As Uncle Ben in Spiderman said “with great power comes great responsibility”. Equally so with great knowledge comes great responsibility, it is now your responsibility to educate those who are ignorant, whether accidentally or wilfully so. Which leads nicely onto the next step…
- Stand up for trans* rights. As Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor”. So, if you hear trans*phobia and do nothing, you have chosen to side with the oppressor. If you are told a trans*phobic joke and don’t call that person out, you have chosen the side of oppression. It isn’t good enough to know and silently scorn, you need to be prepared to stand up for your trans* siblings whether they’re there or not. This is your opportunity to put your new found knowledge from Step 2 into action, to share what you’ve learnt and continue educating people. For example, I came out as non-binary to my work colleagues and have taken time to answer their questions and educate them (as well as pointing them in the direction of resources to find out more themselves). Because of this, one of my managers was able to have a conversation about non binary and trans* identities and the customer left correctly gendering me and using the right pronouns and having learnt something. So the cycle continues and that customer can go and inform people who ask about non binary and gender neutral pronouns.
- Finally, this is not a finite “3 steps to success”, I’m sorry if you thought it was so simple. Unfortunately, or fortunately, things change; terminology updates, protocols and laws change. It’s imperative to keep up to date and that involves continually educating yourself and checking in with the trans* community. It means finding out what it is that is oppressing them, their erasure in LGBT* spaces? Their erasure in the media? Their misrepresentation in the media? (Think The Danish Girl etc..).
So there it is, how to be a good ally in 4 simple steps, that can be condensed into 4 words. Learn, Love, Educate, Repeat.
***DISCLAIMER: I am aware some cis/het/male actors are good allies. Some trans* parts are played by trans* people. This is, in my opinion, the minority.