Become a Transgender Ally

By Sunnivie Brydum, Guest Blogger

As we continue through Transgender Awareness Month (TAM), we want to provide tools to help those who know and love transgender people become stronger allies for the trans people in their lives and community. For the sake of this article, we’re going to define an ally by the University of California – Berkley’s Gender Equity Resource Center’s description:

“A person who advocates for and supports members of a community other than their own; [Who reaches] across differences to achieve mutual goals.”

Through Transgender Awareness Month, we are hoping to reach across our own differences and achieve the mutual goals of raising awareness of and equity within the transgender and larger gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer community.

While the actual experience of being transgender is something us cisgender folks may not be able to directly relate to, that doesn’t preclude us from including our trans siblings in our fight for equality and in our daily intentional, considerate communications. Becoming a transgender ally begins with the most fundamental of emotions: compassion and respect.

Strong allies show compassion for those whose experiences differ from our own, along with deference to those experiences. How?

  • It’s important not to equate your own experience with gender to that of someone who is transgender. Certainly, there may be common ground, and many trans people I know enjoy a solid, intellectual evaluation of gender roles and how they are performed in society. But keep in mind that if you have always felt at home in your female-assigned body, but also happened to like playing with trucks as a child, that experience is entirely distinct from that of your FTM friend who has never felt comfortable with their female-assigned body, but who also happened to like playing with trucks as a child.
  • Show compassion for the reality that moving through life as a trans person is often difficult — society is strictly gendered in nearly every daily interaction, and existing outside those perceived “norms” can be a challenge. Trans people are more likely to be victims of harrassment and violence than anyone else in the LGB community, largely due to society’s ill-informed fear of gender non-conformity. Strive to be a safe place for the trans people in your life, and whenever possible, advocate for gender-neutral restrooms and health care policies at your place of work, and trans-inclusive policies in other areas of your life.
  • Remember that sexual orientation is entirely separate from gender identity, and that transgender status makes no statement about the gender(s) to which a person is attracted. Sexual orientation refers to the type of people that someone is attracted to, whereas gender identity refers to the gender someone views themself as. But don’t assume that someone’s transgender identity automatically makes them gay, straight, or pansexual.

Respect is a key aspect to allyship, and in being a transgender ally, it takes myriad forms:

  • Respect the courage it takes to come out — don’t ask your trans friends if they’re “sure about this” or if it’s “just a phase,” or worse, if they’re “confused.” Accept that they know themselves best, and remember that coming out to others only happens after a lot of soul-searching and internal work — this person wouldn’t be coming out to you if they were unsure of who they are. In fact, they are probably coming out to you in an effort to show you their authentic self.
  • Respect the person’s authentic gender identity by using appropriate pronouns. If you’re unsure whether someone prefers masculine, feminine, or gender-neutral pronouns, just ask. Perhaps the most considerate way I’ve heard someone ask about gender-pronoun preference came from a college student I met at One Colorado’s LGBT People’s Caucus. Throughout the weekend, I heard her ask people, “What pronouns can I use to best honor your identity?” I think she’d be just fine with others adopting her terminology.
  • Not totally sure what gendered or gender-neutral pronouns look like? Here’s a cheat-sheet: Gendered pronouns are those used — almost subconsciously — to designate a person’s gender, which may be different from their biological sex. Gender-neutral pronouns are those used more often within the LGBTQ community, and while they are ever-evolving, they are gaining popularity, particularly among gender-non-conforming people and their allies.
  1. He/Him/His: Masculine pronouns, most often used to describe someone who identifies and/or presents as male.
  2. She/Her/Hers: Feminine pronouns, most often used to describe someone who identifies and/or presents as female.
  3. Ze/Hir: Gender-neutral pronouns, which combine the sound of traditionally gendered pronouns to create a new pronoun type which does not adhere to the societally imposed gender binary of male vs. female.
  • Correct others if they use the wrong pronouns to describe your trans friends. This does not need to be overly confrontational — a simple “he prefers male pronouns” or “she identifies as a female, so let’s use ‘she’ to talk to her” will do the trick.
  • It’s OK to ask questions. But make sure those questions are coming from a place of compassion, and don’t adopt a threatening or invalidating tone. Also, whenever possible, avoid questions that are overtly focused on sex or sex organs. A good general rule is to avoid asking questions you wouldn’t be happy to answer about yourself.
  • Do your own research on transgender identity, rather than expecting your trans friends to answer every question you might have.
  • Don’t ever out a trans person. This can be a safety issue, but it’s also about allowing the person their own agency in determining when, where, and how they want to come out.
  • Affirm your acceptance of and feelings for the person — this is the time and place to confirm for your friend that you still love them, and are happy that they are being true to themselves.


Sunnivie Brydum is the Denver LGBT Issues Examiner and a guest blogger for One Colorado. This article is also available on Examiner.com. You can also find Sunni on Facebook and Twitter, exploring and talking about her passion: the politics of equality.