Here is a brief overview of just a few of the ways in which you can be a good ally to the transgender community; there are both things you can do more often and things you can avoid, which together help create an environment that is safer and more supportive for transgender, nonbinary and gender non-conforming people.
DO – introduce yourself using your own pronouns if you feel comfortable to, eg. “Hi, I’m Charlie, my pronouns are he/him”. Feel free to also have your pronouns visible, for example by wearing pronoun badges, or including them in social media bios or email signatures. This lets other people know how to refer to you, and also can encourage other people to share their pronouns; this can be particularly helpful for transgender people who may feel more anxious about doing this.
DON’T – single someone out in a group setting to ask them what pronouns they use. Even if you mean well, in a lot of cases this happens when someone suspects a person is transgender and tries to “figure out” their identity by asking them various questions – even if this is not your intention, because of this it can be very uncomfortable. Instead, you can say your own pronouns and ask everyone in the group to also share their names and pronouns if they feel comfortable, eg, “My name is Charlie, I use he/him, what about you guys?”.
DO – practise using the correct pronouns and names for people if you find yourself slipping up often. This comes in most useful if someone you know has recently changed their name or pronouns. It’s very easy to accidentally use the words you’re used to, which is likely to be uncomfortable for them. Making sure you intentionally use the correct name and pronouns for them as often as possible, whether they are in the room or not, helps you to get used to them – and get them right – faster.
DO – correct yourself if you misgender or deadname someone by accident. It’s likely to happen, especially towards the start of someone’s social transition, and can be a very upsetting experience for many transgender people; however, they will understand that mistakes are bound to happen. The best thing to do is to apologise for the slip-up without making a huge deal of it, correct yourself by saying the correct name or pronouns, and then move on, eg. “I’m going to his – no, sorry – I’m going to their house tomorrow”.
DON’T – ever intentionally use the wrong pronouns or name, for any reason. People’s pronouns and names are a part of their identity which deserves as much respect as any other. Even if you are upset with someone, or you feel you’re saying it as a joke, never use someone’s deadname without explicit permission, as it can be an incredibly hurtful experience to get intentionally deadnamed.
DON’T – use someone’s new name or pronouns around other people when they have asked you not to. Socially transitioning can be very difficult, and a lot of trans people may choose to come out to a few close friends first. If they ask you to only use their new name or pronouns around certain people, make sure to respect their wishes and continue to use their old name and pronouns with people who they aren’t ready to share this with yet. This is especially important when it comes to parents, guardians or other family members – they may not always be accepting, so if a trans person asks you to refer to them by their old name or pronouns around unsupportive family, you should ensure you do so for their safety – even if it feels wrong or uncomfortable to deadname or misgender them, if they ask you to then it’s absolutely essential
DO – use gender neutral language wherever possible for people you don’t know. For example, when talking about someone you don’t know, use words like “person” rather than “man” or “woman”, or “child” rather than “boy” or “girl”. When talking about someone whose pronouns you don’t know, use they/them pronouns rather than assuming either he/him or she/her, eg. “The driver forgot their key”.
DON’T – assume people’s pronouns or identity based on their appearance. Gender identity is how a person feels about their own gender, whereas gender presentation is how they want to express themselves to others, and these things are by no means equal for everyone. People who use he/him pronouns may dress in a way that is considered typically feminine, people who use they/them may dress in a way that is considered typically masculine, and so on. You should always use the correct pronouns for people even if they don’t necessarily match up with what you see as “conventional” for their appearance.
DON’T – intentionally use they/them pronouns for people who don’t use those pronouns. If, for example, you use they/them pronouns for someone you don’t know, then you find out that person is a trans man who uses he/him pronouns, don’t continue to use they/them pronouns – this would be misgendering him. These pronouns are “neutral” when you don’t know which pronouns to use, but once you know they are not someone’s pronouns, they shouldn’t be used for that person.
DO – remember that the transgender community includes people who are binary (ie. trans men and trans women) and also those whose identities lie outside the binary and under the nonbinary umbrella – some examples are nonbinary, genderqueer, genderfluid, demigender and agender, and there are many more labels used by people to fit their own experience with gender.
DON’T – exclude people who don’t fit within the gender binary from the transgender community. Transgender refers to anyone whose gender differs from the gender they were assigned at birth – if someone identifies as transgender, don’t assume they are necessarily either a trans man or a trans woman.
DO – try to gain a better understanding of the community – the best way to do this is from trans people themselves. Feel free to ask trans friends appropriate questions to learn more about the community, but only if it’s a person you are comfortable with in a suitable setting.
DON’T – ask overly personal questions or put people on the spot, especially in front of a group of people, and always check that it is okay to ask these questions and let them know that there’s no pressure to respond if they don’t feel comfortable. There are some types of question that it’s never okay to ask people, as they are disrespectful, uncomfortable and invade their privacy, for example “what gender were you born as?”, “what’s your ‘real’/legal name?”, “have you had gender-related surgeries?” and outright asking people “are you transgender?” – these are details that trans people are not obligated to share with anyone unless they choose to do so, and you should never ask or try to find out this information without their permission as it is a massive breach of their trust and privacy.
The most important thing to do is to listen to transgender people. The trans community is often one that gets spoken over and has misconceptions spread about in the media, so ensure you listen to trans and nonbinary voices to be the best ally you can.