There Are No Cookies: Ten Ways to Take Action as a Trans Ally (Even If You’re Also Trans)

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Oh, ally…you’re such a complicated, touchy concept. As progressive causes (particularly LGBTQ causes) have gained traction amongst Gen-Xers and Millenials over the last two decades, the concept of being an ally has grown into an identity all its own. For the most part, that’s a good thing. Allies have helped push queer issues into the mainstream discourse, and it’s likely our progress would have been much slower without them.

Now, as transgender issues start to finally make their way into the popular consciousness, cisgender queer people and straight people of liberal stripes are beginning to take up the mantle of the transgender ally. However, advocating on behalf of the transgender community is still far more socially taboo than being a queer advocate. Much of the world still considers trans people to be mentally ill degenerates whose identities are nothing more than myth, so discussing trans issues at all is still substantially marked and carries the potential for huge social penalties. Just being associated with trans people carries a serious stigma, so for many people, their so-called allyhood doesn’t extend much beyond claiming to be an ally and trying not to be shitty to the trans people in their life. I think it’s time we really start to expect more from people who label themselves allies.

While I’m strongly in favor not being shitty to trans people, not being a jerk does not an ally make. You can’t half-ass your way to allyhood. I don’t have the option to only be trans when it’s convenient and safe, so if you’re really interested in progress for our community, you have to jump in with both feet. Trans people are also not off the hook here. All too often we also fail to be advocates for ourselves, and even worse, fail at being good allies to other members of our community, particularly those who are not part of our particular niche or are subject to additional axes of oppression that we’re not.

So, I’ve talked a bit about what being an ally isn’t, so now, you might be wondering, what exactly does go into being a strong ally and advocate for the transgender community. Well, I’ve identified ten things that I think provide a solid framework for calling oneself an ally. While the first eight of these ideas are strongly aimed at cisgender allies, the last two are lessons critical for cis and trans people alike.

1. Know when to listen.

I happen to think this is among the most important things that good allies do, and bad allies utterly fail at. If you’re purporting to be an ally, you should listen when trans people talk. And you certainly shouldn’t speak over them, ever. I’m always simultaneously fascinated and frustrated by feminists who will rage on about mansplaining, but have absolutely no problem lecturing trans people about what the real problems for trans people. Remember, trans people live these experiences every day. When you’re discussing issues specific to the trans community, you should be asking yourself “Is there a trans voice that can address this situation that I can signal boost?” Being an ally means listening to what we have to say, and prioritizing our voices over your own.

2. Know when to speak.

Almost as important as knowing when to close your mouth is knowing when to open it. If you see transphobia or transmisogyny, call it out. Don’t assume just because a trans person is in the room that it’s their responsibility to correct transphobic or transmisogynistic behavior. In fact, it can have a lot greater impact when the correction comes from a cis person, since this demonstrates that the behavior is viewed as unacceptable by the larger community. Point out when people make biological essentialist comments, when they use trans slurs, and when trans people are made the butt of jokes. (Seriously, do not let one more “HAHA BUT SHE HAD A PENIS!” joke go unaddressed.) Remember, subtle forms of transmisogyny and transphobia should be addressed just as often as more offensive and overt forms. Furthermore, don’t let the gangs of internet jerks verbally assault trans activists without being called out for their bullshit. Often times, trans folks feel pretty alone when the denizens of 4chan and Gender Identity Watch are hammering them with abusive nonsense, and comparatively few allies are willing to speak against those situations. Take the time to let us know that you support us, and that you oppose what’s being done to us, and do so publicly. You might get labeled an “SJW,” but your words go a long way in combatting the implicit acceptability of that kind of abuse in online spheres.

3. Educate yourself.

No one is expecting you to be the Encylopedia Trans-anica, so you don’t need to be up on every single detail and concept in transgender discourse. However, you should at least have a solid grounding in the basic concepts that are important to trans people and their struggles. Don’t understand how non-binary gender identities work? Find out on your own, without demanding that individual people in your life with those identities explain it for you. Don’t understand the concept of transmisogyny? Get reading. Google is your friend! If you’re looking for good introductions to the queer theory groundings of trans discourse, I strongly recommend Whipping Girl and Excluded from Julia Serano, and here’s an introduction to gender by b. binaohan.

4. Apologize when you screw up (and learn from it).

Everyone makes mistakes. You aren’t going to have your ally card automatically revoked for occasionally putting your foot in your mouth. The key is to own your mistake. Don’t make excuses, and definitely don’t get offended and defensive if you get called out or corrected for something you’ve done wrong. Give an honest, sincere apology for your misstep, and commit to improving in the future. Most importantly, do your damnedest not to make the same mistake twice. Real allies see their mistakes as learning and growth opportunities.

5. Keep working when trans people aren’t looking.

Being an ally isn’t about gaining social credit for being liberal or progressive; it’s about pushing for real change to improve the lives of trans people. That means you should still be calling out transphobia, even if there’s no trans people around to notice what you’re doing. Even if you’re sitting at Christmas dinner with your 100% cis, straight family and your Uncle Bob drops the t-slur, you still need to speak up. We need to work to make transphobia and transmisogyny socially unacceptable even when trans people aren’t around to experience it.

Of course, it’s not JUST about calling out transphobia. Real allies are also advocating, even when there aren’t trans people around to see what they’re doing. You need to contact your political leaders when legal issues crop up and donate money or time to transgender causes. You should share content created by trans people on your social media accounts, and take the time to educate others about trans issues when they arise. You should be pressing your employer for trans-inclusive healthcare and trans-inclusive non-discrimination policies.

6. Don’t expect cookies.

Trans people are extremely grateful for our allies. You’re absolutely critical in helping us move our causes forward. That being said, don’t expect a constant outpouring of thank-yous for what you’re doing. Don’t get huffy if you don’t get hugs and cookies and rainbow glitter for every single thing you do as an ally. Don’t pout if you don’t get the “props” you deserve for the work you’re doing. And no, you don’t get a special ally flag. Allies don’t do their work because they want gratitude and recognition — they do it because they genuinely care about trans people and want to see the world improve for them. If seeing positive change isn’t enough of a motivator for you, then you’re failing as an ally. Furthermore, claiming to be an ally (and even doing some ally-like things) isn’t a shield from criticism, and it doesn’t absolve you of the fuck-ups you make when interacting with trans people or give you license to act like an asshole. If you do something shitty, you should still expect to get called out. You should not, under any circumstances, accuse trans people of “alienating allies” if they get upset with you over your screw-ups.

There are no ally cookies. (image via  shutterstock

There are no ally cookies. (image via shutterstock)

7. Make sacrifices to push for change.

Call this one being an “advanced” ally. Refuse to accept jobs or contract work from companies that don’t include gender identity in their diversity statement. When you’re interviewing for a new job, ask the employer if they provide trans-inclusive healthcare. If they don’t, press them on the issue as a matter of company culture that you’re concerned about. Much like the push for same-sex partner benefits a decade ago, changes in trans healthcare and trans acceptance by employers will come much faster when companies begin to see it as a potential positive during recruitment.

8. Don’t appropriate our struggles or exploit our experiences.

Don’t compare the experience of being trans to any other set of life experiences, especially your OWN life experiences. That’s appropriation, and it tends to indicate that you don’t take trans struggles seriously. Being trans isn’t similar to anything other than OTHER gender identity situations. Even more seriously, don’t use knowledge of our experiences or struggles as a means to promote your own projects or career, especially if it comes at our expense. Our stories belong to us, and they don’t exist for your to make a name for yourself as a writer, speaker, etc. This also includes attempting to force your way into trans culture for attention or financial gain. Basically don’t be Kate Pierson of the B-52s.

9. Prioritize intersectionality.

The transgender community is full of very complex privilege dynamics along a number of axes. The experiences of trans women of color are very, very different than those of white trans women. Specifically, the experience of trans women of color — especially Black trans women — is that they’re even more likely to face assault, murder, sexual assault, incarceration, and other forms of violence than white trans people, and that needs to be kept in mind at all times when discussing the oppression the trans community faces. Those differences can be further complicated by relative economic privilege and education. There can be a bit of a gulf between straight and queer trans women. Trans women with very cis-normative appearances often have much different experiences than those who are more obviously trans. While white trans women with cis-normative appearances are often the public “face” of the trans community because of their relatively privileged status, it’s absolutely critical to remember that their experiences are not at ALL representative of the entire trans community and their concerns should not dominate the discourse of trans issues. Trans women of color are at considerably higher risk of joblessness, homelessness, and violence, and good allies should make a strong effort to listen to and work for the betterment of those who are most at risk. I think this point is especially salient for OTHER trans people, particularly white trans people. We often get so completely wrapped up in our pet issues because they’re things that affect us directly, and we ignore those who even more vulnerable and in need of advocacy. I think we could be doing a much better job of being allies/being inclusive to members of our own community, especially if we’d like cis people to do the same. This includes prioritizing the voices of trans women of color on the issue of anti-trans violence, and pressing harder for anti-discrimination statutes in public accommodations.

10. Mind the spectrum.

The transgender umbrella covers a whole lot more than just trans women and trans men. The whole range of non-binary gender identities are also important, and often completely overlooked. Good trans allies should be knowledgeable about the spectrum on non-binary identities, and consciously affirming the validity and acceptability of non-binary identities at every opportunity. That includes things like asking what the appropriate pronouns are for someone, and using those pronouns consistently, whether those pronouns are he, she, they, ze, hir, or any other. The larger cisgender world is even more ignorant/unaware of non-binary identities than they are of binary trans identities, which means allies ought to make an extra effort to ensure NB voices are not lost. Non-binary erasure is a constant problem, and good allies are careful to ensure that their work is as inclusive as possible of people of non-binary genders. This is another area where a lot of trans people could also step up their game. There’s a lot of fear/discomfort with NB folks among trans people who identify within the binary, as well as a considerable amount of ignorance about the specific issues and discourse surround NB identities. We need to be educating ourselves about their struggle, and taking care of our own instead of selfishly focusing on our own little niches. We ought to be leveraging our relative social privilege to help our NB siblings.


Being an ally definitely isn’t easy. It takes bravery and a real concern about the welfare of the trans community. It’s a sacrifice, undertaken willingly and without the expectation of getting anything in return. And given the relatively small numbers of the transgender population, we need good allies to boost our voices and help us secure our rights. Just being a good friend to the trans people in your life, generally not being a transphobic, and supporting the rights and acceptance of trans people makes you a pretty awesome person in my book. But, as a community, trans people are so accustomed to being shunned that we’ve been willing to accept even a modicum of kindness and acceptance as a momentous act of allyhood. I think it’s time we move beyond that and expect more from those who would claim to be our allies (and from ourselves.)


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Profile gravatar of Mari Brighe

Mari is a queer lady scientist and educator from Detroit, who skillfully avoids working on her genetics dissertation by writing about queer and trans life, nerd culture, feminism, and science. You can frequently find her running around at science-fiction conventions giving panels on consent culture and LGBT topics or DJing at fantastically strange parties. She is a contributing writer for TransAdvocate, maintains a personal blog at TransNerdFeminist, and can frequently be found stirring up trouble (and posting selfies) on Twitter.

Mari has written 36 articles for us.

39 Comments

  1. I kind of disagree with the first part of number 8 for the reasons outlined in this post.

    identity politics has a pattern of actively discouraging solidarity, and it scares me. these well-intentioned phrases — “if you’re straight you can never understand what queer people go through;” “no, see, this post is about that oppression and you’re derailing;” don’t compare your experiences, or similar patterns of prejudice, or common strands of dehumanization, across oppressions. don’t.
    i understand the intention. it makes sense to caution against over-enthusiastic identification — the able-bodied person who totally knows what you’re going through because they were on crutches once, for example. or the white gay person who claims that homophobia is the last acceptable prejudice, and ‘gay is the new black’. and it’s true that clumsy comparisons often ignore the existence of people who FIT into both of the two categories they compare.
    however.
    identity politics is meant to be one facet of the struggle for justice, or equality, or any of those lofty goals. and in order to work toward those goals, it is necessary to prioritize empathy. you want to identify with people radically different from yourself. you want, and need, to recognize that everyone is human. that everyone is a person. you want to at least try to understand types of pain and cruelty that you yourself have never felt.
    “you can never understand what these people went through” is a statement of cynicism. even if it’s true, it absolves people of the burden of trying. it leads to people tiptoeing around each other, scared to befriend those outside of their exact demographics, withholding their opinions from discussions where they might be useful. it leads, for example, to a white person encountering blatant racism and thinking well, i’m white, so my opinion doesn’t really count here. and i know, i do, that the opposite is a problem. the number of nondisabled people who talk over me and my disabled friends is infuriating.
    but honestly, this “don’t compare / you can never understand” stuff often encourages parroting the lines you’ve heard from only a few activists in groups you don’t belong to, rather than listening. rather than seeing the diversity of opinions and ideas within any demographic. (because, look, we’re talking enormous swathes of people here.)
    i’m saying it now: i want your imperfect empathy. i want you to delve into your own hoard of experiences and scrounge around for something that looks like mine. i want you to interrupt my post with ‘wow, so i’m not disabled, but i know exactly what you mean.’ i want you to talk to me at risk of being wrong, rather than meekly agreeing because i dropped a certain label into the conversation.
    because i can feel it, even among my friends — the barriers that go up when we try to ‘check our privileges’. the intense doubt and loss of interpersonal footing that occurs when you try to backtrack, juggle disclaimers, ‘oh but they’re trans so i have no business relating to them’. ‘oh but they’re mentally ill so how would i know.’ it leads to silence. the mistreatment of human beings is all of our business. and the intuitive ways that friends relate to each other are far more valuable than drawing up mental charts of how your experiences are similar and different. you are allowed to feel shock and disgust and joy for things that have nothing to do with you. it’s the only way we can get anywhere.
    i will honestly take messy, clumsy solidarity over the lines that are drawn when we try to do this properly. of course, people will fuck up, but at least they’ll be trying. it’s dangerous to distrust the natural impulse to relate to others, to say ‘hey, something kind of like that happened to me once’. often, that is all we have. it’s only in a rarefied and hermetic environment that empathy starts to seem blasé. in the world at large, this is what we need. we need to understand each other. we need to believe it’s possible.

    • I dunno, I mean, I try to be an ally because I recognize that I should be using my positions of power for Good in society and helping marginalized people. I shouldn’t have to dig deep inside to connect with a trans or black person (or a trans black person) in order to demonstrate my own compassion for their humanity. I understand where you’re coming from in terms of the fear of speaking over people’s own experiences, but I honestly think that most good people shouldn’t have to find common threads beyond “this person is also human”. I think that this is one case where a slippery slope is more likely to happen when someone claiming to be an ally misappropriates the struggles of the marginalized community. Anecdotally, I can think of examples where this grotesque misappropriation has furthered the delusion that allies are equally experienced and can be considered experts on marginalized struggles simply because they “really care”.

      • ‘I shouldn’t have to dig deep inside to connect with a trans or black person (or a trans black person) in order to demonstrate my own compassion for their humanity. I understand where you’re coming from in terms of the fear of speaking over people’s own experiences, but I honestly think that most good people shouldn’t have to find common threads beyond “this person is also human”.’

        That may be true when it comes to people in generally who simply need help and want it. I don’t have to now much about the people who come to our local food shelf where I volunteer to know there here because they need food and supplies for their families they can’t afford. They wouldn’t be there otherwise and the why of there social standing isn’t as important as knowing their basic human needs.

        It’s different when working closely with individuals and I think that’s close to what Nikki was getting at. If your trying to be an alley to individuals (including those whose problems are compounded by differences you haven’t lived with) than I think you should try to find common ground and not just simply see this person as “still hunan.” There needs to be two way communication if you want to help someone with problems that run deeper or wider than a social service and when anyone says things like “you can’t help me since you’ve never had to live like me” it leaves reason to wonder if there’s any point in trying.

        Yes one has to be cautious about assuming somebody needs your help just because of they’re differences or disadvantages. That’s just a another kind of prejudice. The kind you find in the proverbial scout who tries to walk an old person across the street just to win merit badges and never stops to ask if there even trying to cross. It’s also worth remembering that not everyones going to wants your help even if do you understand there basic problems instead of just looking at them as “the plighted people.” Sometimes the help they need if just something you can’t give and the best thing you can do is point them in direction of someone else. But if your going to at least “work together” than you should at least find some grounds for personal empathy in order to transend feeling of pity or duty.

        • I agree with the points you’ve raised about intentions, but if we’re constantly framing allyship as a way to appeal to the ally’s feelings over the marginalized, then we’re doing a disservice to the marginalized. As an ally to others, I should not be preoccupied with “how does this person’s plight make me feel?” to determine my actions. It should always be “what does this person need me to do?” This ties into the central idea of allyship being an earned distinction going beyond passively avoiding making things worse.

          • “but if we’re constantly framing allyship as a way to appeal to the ally’s feelings over the marginalized, then we’re doing a disservice to the marginalized.”

            Why does it have to be over the marginalized? Why can’t we just acknowledge that everyone’s feelings matter?

            Feelings are absolutely essential for determining actions. People who have had the connection between the part of the brain that processes emotion and the part of the brain responsible for decision making severed, become so indecisive that they can’t function despite being otherwise unimpaired. You can’t just decide to “do whatever marginalized people need me to do”. It’s your emotions that tell you that is the right thing to do. But people aren’t perfect robots, even when we know what the right thing is, we can’t always get ourselves to do it(do you give the majority of your income to effective charities?) One of the ways we can make ourselves more the allies we wished we could be, is to emotionally manipulate ourselves by doing the cognitive work of empathizing with people who are different from us.

          • Because when it comes to us standing against a tide of violence which borders on atrocity, their feelings really DON’T matter. For self-styled allies it’s like community service at best, or a game of saving face at worst, for us it’s a question of to what degree the social environment we live in is caustically eroding our very being.

            I will not center cis people in the conversation about whether or not I deserve to live, and live equally. I will center myself and my sisters, our needs first, always.

          • I was trying to move away from this idea of “plight” or “pity” completely for reasons I stated above. It wasn’t alley to a cause I was thinking of, so much as aid or mentoring to a person. No we should be preoccupied with how feel about other persons problems. I’m just saying sometimes we can’t help someone if they act like we couldn’t possible understand them. When it’s the other person who lets their feelings getting in the way. Than they may be doing it disservice to themselves no matter what their community or marginalization. This is especially true I find with teenagers who already assume no over thirty could understand their problems. They shout people out. Adding the race, sexuality, disability, into the mix and they only make it worse for themselves. The most you can do than is try to be sensitive and hope in listening to them they’ll come to listen to you or others who want to help and those helpful conversations usually DO involve finding common group that transcends differences. But again it depends on the individuals. As Louis Armstrong once put it, “Some folks if they don’t now, ya can’t tell ’em.”

      • “This person is also human” is a great standard for choosing to be compassionate. But when it comes to building friendship and community, it takes a little more work. People LIKE people who are similar to them. Moreover people know this about themselves and know that other people know this too. When a person tries to relate my experiences to their own, they are doing cognitive work, and they’re doing it for a reason. It could be that they are just doing it to signal what awesome allies they are and how they deserve all the cookies. Or it could be that they are treating me like any other human by doing the standard human thing of relating to me in order to build a sense of closeness that could turn into friendship. As a trans person I don’t have the luxury of assuming the latter but the cost of assuming the former is too high.

        Signalers are gonna signal, that’s life. You can come up with lists of rules that can make it harder for people to signal allyship without genuinely being allies (until they find a way to signal anyway), but if in the course of doing so you inadvertently disable one of the prime ways humans have of building closeness with one another, than you are going to make things worse not better. I’ll choose friendship and community over dutiful allies anyday.

        That being said I would like to commend you as a cis ally for having the courage to publicly disagree with a trans person on a trans issue(unless you didn’t realize I was trans). The whole “shut up and listen” attitude is another one of those well intentioned ideas that often ends up disabling productive communication. Yes listen, but also think for yourself, and speak your mind.

        • Ehh, I spoke up against one trans person’s opinion (I remember you from A Camp so I know that you are trans) in order to defend/support another trans person. I’m learning when to insert myself in discussions that aren’t about me.

          I think that basically my stance is that it can be very dangerous if allies are not called out or forced to refocus their priorities away from themselves.

    • When it comes to understanding a marginalized group of people, there is a lot of room where people from non-marginalized groups can identify and understand what that experience would be like, certainly.

      BUT – I would argue that the other piece of what trans people have to deal with – the experience of what gender dysphoria feels like for trans people – is something that would be really hard to imagine for people who don’t have gender dysphoria. For that reason, I think her point in number 8 is valid.

      The disconnect in my brain that is my dysphoria is hard for me to describe adequately sometimes. Wrapping your brain around it when you don’t deal with it is unlikely.

  2. I am continually striving toward being a better ally and this article is very informative and helpful. I do, however, have a question. Is it appropriation if I use my experience as a queer woman to empathize with the oppressions that trans people face? Of course, I know that gender and sexuality are two completely different things and that trans people face a unique type of oppression because of their gender identity that I will never experience. Its kind of just a method I use to better understand what trans people experience. Is this wrong?

    • I have a similar question. I have found comparing experiences in certain contexts to be helpful to empathising with minority groups I don’t belong to-
      Eg. Comparing what it must be like for Trans people to have cis people tell them about their own oppression to when straight ‘allies’ tell me about my oppression as a lesbian has made me more aware of how shitty it is and encouraged me to keep my opinions to myself in situations where the only thing I have to back up my opinion is my own sense of entitlement.
      I’ve also found comparing oppression helpful in accepting that experiencing opression and understanding it from a distance are so very different. Knowing that straight people no matter how much they try/read/listen will never understand the exact experiences and microagressions I’ve gone through On the same
      Level as another queer person has made me realise that no matter how much I try to be an ally to other groups eg Trans or people of colour sometimes I just won’t ‘get it,’ on a certain topic, but I should trust what they are saying and accept that they are right, even if I don’t understand why.

    • This is a problem in allyship across all dimensions of privilege.

      It’s definitely not wrong to work to empathize through common experiences or similar experiences. But, it’s a thing you have to be careful of. As an example:

      Last year I was talking with an old friend who I hadn’t seen in ages. We were talking both about my experiences as a trans woman and her experiences as a neuroatypical woman with impaired vision. Part way through our conversation, I realized that while attempting to share experiences that paralleled hers I was dominating the conversation. I was making it not entirely but mostly be about my experiences, and that was no good. I apologized to her, and she agreed that she was feeling kind of shut out. I explained that I’d been talking out loud as I worked through what aspects of our experiences were similar, and I didn’t realize at first the effect this had. She was happier after the explanation, and I worked harder in the conversation after that to center her experiences when she shared them. Yes, I still drew parallels, but I made sure that drawing parallels didn’t turn into talking about my parallel experiences to the exclusion of her talking personally about the experiences I was trying to understand.

      The other important thing to remember when drawing parallels is that there are very definitely differences in kind even in common experiences. This is a big reason to prioritize the words of a marginalized group over the words of allies when discussing the marginalized group’s problems. When allies dominate the conversation, they can share these flawed understandings of concepts, issues, and experiences with other people outside the marginalized group, without knowing when the flaws become relevant. Sometimes allies can become very defensive when you point out these flaws in their understanding. (See, for example, conflicts that arise between Black feminists and prominently published white feminists when white feminists make incorrect assumptions about Black lives.)

      So: drawing parallels is very important and useful, as long as we always remember that the parallels aren’t perfect, as long as we remember that these analogies are less important than lived experience, and as long as we make sure that words of the marginalized are always spread more loudly than the suppositions of allies.

    • I would never say ‘I know exactly how X feels’ (really about anything because that’s presumptuous as hell) but I can think of several conversations with cis gay people where comparison was helpful in changing someone’s mind, particularly when it’s a 101 kind of exchange. When a cis butch lesbian told me she didn’t like the idea of trans women using the women’s washroom, I compared it to her own experience of being treated as a freak/sexual predator by straight ladies in the washroom and she realized she’d been acting just as horribly. It wasn’t revolutionary, but at least she isn’t going to harass anyone else in the washroom again. When a cis gay acquaintance referred to a trans woman as ‘having been a man’ before she began publicly identifying as a woman, I spent a lot of time trying to get through to him that that’s a false statement. When I finally compared it to the idea of people saying he was heterosexual before he came out as gay, he immediately got it and later told me he’d corrected someone using the ‘used to be a man’ phrasing. It kind of reminds me of the way so many of us learned empathy as children, when the concept of respecting others was brand new (and the idea of not being transphobic is unfortunately new to most cis adults). “You wouldn’t like it if someone took your toy away” becomes “you wouldn’t like it if your family misgendered you.” Eventually people actually come to see the other person as human and don’t need that comparison, but it can be a place to get started.

  3. This is a great article. I love it. I like the nod to race and class as a difference in experiences. I’ve seen folks in the trans community get into flame wars because the experiences are so different.

    I think you should add one more detail for allies. We are not pokemon, you do not need to collect a transgender or queer person to prove to the world how progressive you are. Soon annoying when that happens.

  4. Vis a vis number 8, I think I appreciate what you’re getting at here, but I’m not sure I entirely agree that the comparison of two forms of oppression is appropriation, in and of itself.

    I really think there’s a difference between *comparing* and *equating* two things. Like, if you equate the experience of being black to the experience of being gay, then that’s appropriation and shitty (and pretty obviously ridiculous), but just the sheer act of *comparing* these experiences? I dunno? To me, comparing them implies recognizing both the ways in which they are similar AND different. Moreover, I do think that comparison can be a helpful tool to help people “get it.”

    And I’m sorry but I really don’t agree with the statement that “Being trans isn’t similar to anything other than OTHER gender identity situations.” I mean tbh that sounds kind of patently ludicrous. Not similar to ANYTHING? And how similar is similar? And this is coming from a trans woman with a hair-trigger for these kinds of things.

    • I very much agree with you here. I want so badly to be a good ally, but sometimes , as a white, cis-gender, gay woman, I need to be able to compare my experiences to someone else’s in order to find common ground and empathy. I don’t seek to equate the two, but when this article encourages us to acknowledge intersectionality but then admonishes us to never compare two experiences, it seems contradictory. Particularly for people with a lot of privilege, comparison is often the only way to truly empathize. There is also a big difference between “similar” and “the same.” By finding common elements between two forms of oppression, people from different backgrounds can find solidarity with each other. That doesn’t mean that either person is trying to appropriate the other’s experiences, just that they can see how their two different lives share some common threads. I don’t see how that could ever be a bad thing.

      • Gina, for the most part I agree with you, but there are situations where I think the term”Oppression Olympics” is appropriate. I only use the term to refer to a situation wherein someone tries I invalidate someone else’s suffering. For example, if a POC trans person invalidated a white trans person’s struggle by implying that only the more marginalized of the two can truly understand suffering.

    • Personally I find a lot of similarity between trans and disability issues. Just a few examples:

      -The necessity of interactions with the potentially uncooperative medical establishment.
      -Hidden disabilities being similar to passing.
      -Having bureaucracies make decisions about your best interests at meetings where “experts” were invited, but you were not invited.
      -Being referred to by an adjective as if it is a noun.

      However, not everyone who is trans or disabled (or even both) will agree with my feelings about these similarities. I think the author was well intentioned, but perhaps being a tad too definitive.

  5. Very happy to see this as an Autostraddle post. 🙂 I will continue to strive to be a better trans ally! Thank you, Mari.

    Also that Mister Sister song is HORRIFYING. I’ve never listened to the B-52s, but I know queer women who do listen to them, and now I’m seriously questioning their taste.

  6. “don’t use knowledge of our experiences or struggles as a means to promote your own projects or career, especially if it comes at our expense. Our stories belong to us, and they don’t exist for your to make a name for yourself as a writer, speaker, etc.”

    This is where I struggle. I want to be an ally and, like another commenter said, use my privilege to help those who are marginalized. A lot of my work is dedicated to deconstructing heteronormativity & gender in various social institutions. I use my own narrative here as a queer woman. But I also want to work with trans* and gender non-conforming individuals. While I would never actively exploit these individuals’ stories or personal narratives, it’s almost inevitable that I will benefit from my work with these populations. But this work is also done in the hope that their stories will make an impact and change in society… any thoughts?

    • “While I would never actively exploit these individuals’ stories or personal narratives, it’s almost inevitable that I will benefit from my work with these populations.”

      I think a good first step is to make sure that any work you do trying to help a marginalized group includes providing opportunities for members of that group to represent themselves and to benefit from the career/resume enhancing aspects of that representation. Too often progressive groups get funding that is supposed to be earmarked for helping marginalized people and yet that funding ends up paying the salaries of non-marginalized employees.

      Many young trans folks have difficulty finishing high-school or even attending college, let alone have a chance at internships, mentoring or other opportunities for kickstarting a career. If at the end of the day you provide more opportunities for marginalized people just starting out in the world…then I think few people will hold it against you for being able to pay your own rent.

  7. Thanks for this Mari, I think it’s especially important in light of recent events (rest in peace, Leelah). I think for supporters of the trans community one of the hardest things to do on this list is to stand up for the trans people even when we’re surrounded by people who are hostile to trans folks. That’s when it’s hardest to have integrity, and I do my best every day.

  8. How about a #11. This would be an exact copy of #5, but speak up when we are looking…and in places people think are free from misogyny aimed at trans women.

    Today, the entire time this thread was being discussed, the sole comment on a neighboring thread “Incarcerated Trans Woman Brings Lawsuit Against New York State After Her Rape in Prison” was a comment talking about to protect cis women from the threat of trans women.

    Sure, eventually myself and a few other people pointed out how awful this was…but where were the rest of these so called allies chiming in supporting the original article or at least saying something, anything.

    And people still wonder why trans women sound so angry?

  9. Okay, so this may sound ridiculous but it is a genuine question: when people say never speak over x group, in this case trans people, do they mean when talking about trans issues? Because I’m not sure how I could order who gets to speak if most marginalised groups want priority over speaking at all times.

  10. I’m gender-questioning, myself, but I can relate to this issue (er…am I breaking the rule now?) as a gay woman.

    I used to be an evangelical Christian and really went through social and psychological hell trying to reconcile my former faith with my same-sex attraction. Then I met this 50-something cis, straight, charismatic Christian mother with no familial connection to homosexuality, who absolutely made it her [i] crusade [/i] to help “heal the relationship” between the evangelical movement and gay and bisexual – and eventually transgender – people.

    Some queer Christians don’t like her because of the reasons outlined here – she’s very…in front…self-promotion, confrontational style, long blog posts, argues with critics on social media, a book deal, yadda-yadda. But the way I and a lot of other people see it is that she takes her straight, cis privilege and marches unnoticed into churches and conferences and manages to wrangle the ears of pastors, elders and all sorts of other people who would never get an audience with an actual queer person. Then she goes to Pride parades wearing a “Hurt By Church? Get An Apology Here” t-shirt and waits to be approached by LGBTQ people from all walks of life whom she talks to authentically, hugs, prays over and mentors. And whether it’s these “lost sheep” or fiery pastors, she follows up and she keeps following up and mentors these people as they try to work through these issues on both sides.

    Point is, whatever her motive and whether you agree with her tactics or not, it’s hard to deny that this is an ally who is strong, brave and persistent and has accomplished a lot in building the relationship between these two communities. And even as an ex-Christian, I recognize the potential lives her work is saving and I am extremely grateful for what she does.

    My opinion is, if she’s going to make it about her, well, that’s rather unsavory, but still incomparable to the benefits she has brought to the queer evangelical community.

  11. Great post Mari, thank you.

    I’d also add:

    -(Subset of point 1): respect our anger. If you only listen to us when we’re soft spoken and polite and obsequious and saying chat you want to hear and never never criticizing you – you’re not listening to us at all, but silencing us. Can’t recount the number of times on AS alone I’ve seen myself and other trans women told we were too angry, too sensitive, taking things too personally, unreasonable, unfair, assuming the worst of people, whatever it took to dismiss us and silence us and invalidate us.

    -Prioritize sex workers, listen to sex workers, support sex workers! They’re by far the most targeted for violence. And it’s overwhelmingly sex work related charges (true or not) that police use to feed so many black trans women into the prison industrial complex.

    -Prioritize trans women. I cannot even begin to count how many ~allies~ are all about binder giveaways, packers, mastectomy fundraisers, talking about maleness and manhood and masculinity… and are at best completely silent when it comes to us, at worst actively attacking us. And no, pretending to idolize Laverne Cox while ignoring everything she talks about and all the activism she does, does not count and does not fool any of us. It’s ridiculously transparent how many ~allies~ do that. If you’re uncomfortable with our anger and pain and see us as unreasonable and oversensitive – you’d hate her too if you knew her, and your feigned adulation is insulting.

    -On a different note: i really often see cis women who really want to be good allies to trans folks, and then i see trans men (or occasionally other trans ppl who were cafab’d but it’s usually a problem with men) try to prey on their good intentions. So like, just as reassurance:
    -It is absolutely not transphobic to recognize trans men as men.
    -It is absolutely not transphobic to recognize that, generally, trans men have systemic power over cis women, and very rarely the other way around.*
    -It is absolutely not transphobic to be uncomfortable around men or mistrustful of men. You do not have to make an exception for trans men.
    -It is absolutely not transphobic to not be attracted to men. You do not have to make an exception for trans men.
    -It is absolutely not transphobic to criticize men in general. You do not have to specify cis men. You do not have to make an exception for trans men.
    -It is absolutely not transphobic to call out their misogyny.
    -It is absolutely not transphobic to have women’s spaces that are not for them.
    -It is absolutely not transphobic to criticize their misogynist claims to speak as an authority about women, especially about lesbians.
    -It is absolutely not transphobic to point out that they are male, male-socialized, and do not have women’s experiences.
    -It is absolutely not transphobic to have conversations that focus on women, and aren’t centering men.
    -It is absolutely not transphobic to have conversations that focus on trans women specifically, not ‘all trans people’
    -It is absolutely not transphobic to point out how frequently they get positions of power in ostensibly women’s/lgbtq/”queer” spaces.
    -It is absolutely not transphobic to critique how often they silence, dismiss, and talk over women, being as they are, you know, men.
    -It is absolutely not transphobic to point out their male entitlement.
    -It is absolutely not transphobic to discuss or care about transmisogyny.
    -It is absolutely not transphobic to point out that hatred of trans women and girls is specifically transmisogynist, not genetally ‘transphobic’.
    -It is absolutely not transphobic to prioritize trans women.
    -It is absolutely not transphobic to defend trans women from trans men.
    -It is absolutely not transphobic to point out that trans men making these claims are trying to deflect attention from their own misogyny, or transmisogyny specifically.
    And yeah, every one of these is something I’ve seen prople get accused of ‘transphobia’ for. I’ve personally been called ‘transphobic’ by trans men and cis women for a lot of these, despite the fact that I’m a trans woman, and so has literally every trans lesbian friend of mine. Do not be transmisogynist in the name of being a ~trans ally.~

    …but yeah, I’m getting back into what makes a bad ally more than what makes a good one. Sorry, there are just so many more examples :/

    Refuse to accept jobs or contract work from companies that don’t include gender identity in their diversity statement. When you’re interviewing for a new job, ask the employer if they provide trans-inclusive healthcare. If they don’t, press them on the issue as a matter of company culture that you’re concerned about.

    Like, I’m sure Mari knows this, but since it wasn’t in the article i just want to stress that like, anyone working class who tried to do this would likely never work again… bring it up to HR, sure, but in interviews? I don’t think anyone could possibly get away with that.

    If you are operating from a position of safety, maybe also try pushing against the “job applications require you to list any former names” part. Every job I’ve ever applied for does that, and it is incredibly stressful and humiliating.

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