Community 10 Tips for Allies of Transgender and Non-binary People

by GLAAD Editorial | October 17, 2020

Learn about how to be an ally to transgender and non-binary people.  

Being seen is the beginning of everything.That’s why at Citi we’re giving our transgender and non-binary customers the choice to have account profiles and credit cards that match who they are — learn more here.

GLAAD, one of the world’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer media advocacy organizations, consulted on Citi’s initiative. The below article is an excerpt from GLAAD’s resource center, please find the original article here.

When you become an ally, your actions will help change the culture, making society a better, safer place for transgender people — and for all people (trans or not) who do not conform to conventional gender expectations.

How can you become a better ally to transgender people? Start with the following tips.

Of course, this list is not exhaustive and cannot include all the "right" things to do or say because often there is no one "right" answer to every situation you might encounter.

1. You can't tell if someone is transgender just by looking

Transgender people don't look any certain way or come from any one background. Many people do not appear "visibly trans," meaning they are not perceived to be transgender by others.

It is not possible to look around a room and "see" if there are any transgender people. (It would be like a person looking around the room to "see" if there are any gay people). You should assume that there may be transgender people at any gathering.

Some transgender people are perceived to be trans by others. For some of those trans people, that's perfectly fine. For others, it may be a painful reality they would like to change. Regardless, there's no need to comment on it in any way. Simply treat them as you would anyone else.

2. Don't make assumptions about a transgender person's sexual orientation

Gender identity is different than sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is about who we're attracted to. Gender identity is about our own personal sense of being a man or a woman, or someone who's outside that gender binary. Transgender people can be gay, lesbian, bisexual or straight.

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Transgender people can be gay, lesbian, bisexual or straight.
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3. If you don't know what pronouns to use, listen first

If you're unsure which pronoun a person uses, listen first to the pronoun other people use when referring to them. Someone who knows the person well will probably use the correct pronoun. If you must ask which pronoun the person uses, start with your own.

For example, "Hi, I'm Alex and I use the pronouns ‘he’ and ‘him.’ What pronouns do you use?" Then use that person's pronouns going forward. If you accidentally use the wrong pronoun, apologize quickly and sincerely, then move on. The bigger deal you make out of the situation, the more uncomfortable it is for everyone. Then try very hard not to make the same mistake again.

4. Don't ask a transgender person what their "real name" is

For some transgender people, being associated with their birth name is a tremendous source of anxiety.  For others, it is simply a part of their life they wish to leave behind. Respect the name a transgender person is currently using.

If you happen to know the name someone was given at birth but no longer uses, don't share it without the person's explicit permission. Similarly, don't share photos of someone from before their transition, unless you have their permission.

portrait of a transgender woman

5. Understand the differences between "coming out" as lesbian, gay or bisexual and "coming out" as transgender

"Coming out" to other people as lesbian, gay or bisexual is typically seen as revealing a truth that allows other people to know your authentic self. The LGB community places great importance and value on the idea of being "out" in order to be happy and whole.

When a transgender person has transitioned and is living their life as their authentic self — that is their truth. The world now sees them as who they truly are. Unfortunately, it can often feel disempowering for a transgender person to disclose to other people that they are transgender. Sometimes when other people learn that someone is trans, they no longer see that person as "real."

Some people may choose to publicly discuss their gender history in an effort to raise awareness and make cultural change, but please don't assume that it's necessary for a transgender person to disclose that they are transgender in order to feel happy and whole.

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When a transgender person has transitioned and is living their life as their authentic self — that is their truth.
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6. Be careful about confidentiality, disclosure and "outing"

Some transgender people feel comfortable disclosing their gender history, and some do not. A transgender person's gender history is personal information and it is up to them to share it with others.

Do not casually share this information, speculate or gossip about a person you know or think is transgender. Not only is this an invasion of privacy, but it also can have negative consequences in a world that is very intolerant of gender diversity. Transgender people can lose jobs, housing, friends or even their lives when other people find out about their gender history.

7. Respect the terminology a transgender person uses to describe their identity

Transgender people use many different terms to describe their experiences. Respect the term (transgender, transsexual, non-binary, etc.) a person uses to describe themselves.

If a person is not sure of which identity label fits them best, give them the time to figure it out for themselves and don't tell them which term you think they should use. You wouldn't like your identity to be defined by others, so please allow others to define theirs for themselves.

8. Be patient with a person who is questioning or exploring their gender identity

A person who is questioning or exploring their gender identity may take some time to figure out what's true for them. They might, for example, use a name or pronoun, and then decide at a later time to change the name or pronoun again. Do your best to be respectful and use the name and pronoun requested.

9. At meetings and events, set an inclusive tone

In a group setting, identify people by articles of clothing instead of using gendered language. For example, you could say the "person in the blue shirt," instead of the "woman in the front." Similarly, "Sir" and "Madam" are best avoided.

In some circumstances, where not everyone is known, consider asking people to introduce themselves with their names and pronouns. For example, "Hi, I'm Nick and I use he/him pronouns." Start with yourself and use a serious tone that will discourage others from dismissing the activity with a joke.

However, if you feel this practice will have the effect of singling out the trans people in the room or putting them on the spot, avoid it. Remember: It's easy for people who are not transgender to share their pronouns, but for trans people it can be a very serious decision involving sharing information that may be personal and private.

10. Listen to transgender people

The best way to be an ally is to listen with an open mind to transgender people speaking for themselves. Talk to transgender people in your community. Check out books, films, TV show, documentaries and follow trans people on social channels to find out more and learn about the issues people within the community face.

Remember to know your own limits as an ally and keep learning. It is better to admit you don't know something than to make assumptions or say something that may be incorrect or hurtful.

Seek out the appropriate resources that will help you learn more. Being an ally is a sustained and persistent pattern of action; not an idle or stable noun. To read more and learn about how to be an ally to trans people, you can find more tips and resources from GLAAD

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Remember to know your own limits as an ally and keep learning.
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Being seen is the beginning of everything. That’s why at Citi we’re giving our transgender and non-binary customers the choice to have account profiles and credit cards that match who they are — learn more here.