Transgender Issues: “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves” and “Tips for Allies”

Transgender issues figure prominently in the resources described below.

I. An Important New Resource Book

Trans Bodies, Trans Selves is a new highly praised 672-page book compiled by Laura Erickson-Schroth, “with each chapter written by transgender or genderqueer authors. Inspired by Our Bodies, Ourselves…Trans Bodies, TransSelves is widely accessible to the transgender population, providing authoritative information in an inclusive and respectful way and representing the collective knowledge base of dozens of influential experts. Each chapter takes the reader through an important transgender issue, such as race, religion, employment, medical and surgical transition, mental health topics, relationships, sexuality, parenthood, arts and culture, and many more.”

Jamison Green, President of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), co-director of the Transgender Law & Policy Institute, and author of Becoming a Visible Man, says about this new volume, “If you are new to transgender, transsexual, or trans* experience, prepare to be swept away.” 

II. A List of Things to Know

Research for yesterday’s post on transgender issues in the news led me to several resources advising readers what to know if wanting to open their minds to trans people. What’s presented below is taken from GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), whose “Tips for Allies of Transgender People” was adapted from MIT’s “Action Tips for Allies of Trans People.”

All of GLAAD’s main points are listed here, but I’ve chosen to shorten most of the corresponding explanations, believing the abbreviated versions suffice:

  • You can’t tell if someone is transgender just by looking. You should assume that there may be transgender people at any gathering.
  • Don’t make assumptions about a transgender person’s sexual orientation. Transgender people can be gay, lesbian, bisexual or straight.
  • If you don’t know what pronouns to use, ask. If you accidently 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.
  • Understand the differences between “coming out” as lesbian, bisexual, or gay and “coming out” as transgender. 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 as their authentic gender – that is their “truth.”…(P)lease don’t assume that it’s necessary for a transgender person to be “out” to everyone in order to feel happy and whole.
  • Be careful about confidentiality, disclosure, and “outing.” Knowing a transgender person’s status is personal information and it is up to them to share it.
  • Avoid backhanded compliments or “helpful” tips. While you may intend to be supportive, comments like the following can be hurtful or even insulting: “You look just like a real woman.” “She’s so gorgeous, I would have never guessed she was transgender.” “He’s so hot, I’d date him even though he’s transgender.” “You’re so brave.”
  • 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 find out what identity and/or gender expression is best for them.
  • Respect the terminology a transgender person uses to describe their identity. Respect the term (transgender, transsexual, genderqueer, cross-dresser, etc) a person uses to describe themselves. If a person is not sure of which identity label fits them best, give them the time and space to figure it out for themselves.
  • Understand there is no “right” or “wrong” way to transition – and that it is different for every person. A transgender identity is not dependent on medical procedures. Just accept that if someone tells you they are transgender – they are.
  • 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, or it is simply a part of their life they wish to leave behind. Respect the name a transgender person is currently using. If you already know someone’s prior name don’t share it without the person’s explicit permission.
  • Don’t ask about a transgender person’s genitals or surgical status. It wouldn’t be appropriate to ask a non-transgender person about the appearance or status of their genitalia, so it isn’t appropriate to ask a transgender person that question either. Likewise, don’t ask if a transgender person has had “the surgery” or if they are “pre-op” or “post-op.” If a transgender person wants to talk to you about such matters, let them bring it up.
  • Don’t ask a transgender person how they have sex. Similar to the questions above about genitalia and surgery – it wouldn’t be appropriate to ask a non-transgender person about how they have sex, so the same courtesy should be extended to transgender people.
  • Challenge anti-transgender remarks or jokes in public spaces – including LGB spaces. Someone may think because they’re gay it’s ok for them to use certain words or tell jokes about transgender people. It’s important to confront the former and educate the latter.
  • Support gender neutral public restrooms. Encourage schools, businesses and agencies to have single user, unisex and/or gender neutral bathroom options. Make it clear in your organization that transgender and gender non-conforming people are welcome to use whichever restroom they feel comfortable using.
  • Make your organization truly trans-inclusive. If an organization or group lists “transgender” as part of its name or mission statement, it needs to truly understand the needs of the transgender community and involve transgender people in all aspects of the group’s work.
  • At meetings and events, set a transgender-inclusive tone. At a meeting where not everyone is known, consider asking people to introduce themselves with their name and preferred pronouns – for example, “Hi, I’m Nick and I prefer he and him.”…As the leader, start with yourself and use a serious tone that will hopefully discourage others from dismissing the activity with a joke. Also, in a group setting, identify people by articles of clothing instead of being using gendered language – for example, the “person in the blue shirt,” instead of the “woman in the front.” Similarly, “Sir” and “Madam” are best avoided.
  • Listen to transgender people. The best way to be an ally is to listen with an open mind to transgender people when they talk about their lives.
  • Know your own limits as an ally. When speaking with a transgender person who may have sought you out for support or guidance, don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something. Volunteer to work with the person to find appropriate resources. It is better to admit you don’t know something than to make assumptions or say something that may be incorrect or hurtful.

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