Recently I’ve been seeing a poster making the rounds entitled "How to be a Trans* Ally". You can see the poster here. Now, this poster isn’t exactly new, but it does seem have garnered particular attention in the run-up to this year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance, which happens to be today.
Now, TDoR itself has its own problems, which I’m not going to touch upon here. What I will discuss is the idea of being an "ally", what it means, and what it ought to mean.
It seems that most people consider being a trans* ally as more-or-less equivalent to not being a transphobe. The poster I referenced above represents this position well; its tips on how to be an ally are simply the same basic 101 we give again and again to cis people to stop them from being actively oppressive, and to stop them from being counterproductive to trans* liberation. But getting pronouns right and not asking about "real" names aren’t magical amazing things that make you a wonderful person. They are the bare fucking minimum you should be doing if you don’t want to be an utter dick. That’s not being part of the solution, that’s merely failing to be a part of the problem. Being an "ally" should be a badge of honour, representing someting above and beyond the call of duty.
As a cis person, your mere presence may well make trans* people uncomfortable, as it is nigh impossible to create a space totally isolated from the oppressive forces of mainstream society. Thus, as an ally you should be willing to make yourself uncomfortable to make trans* people comfortable. Furthermore, rather than just not obstructing trans* liberation, you should bear some of the weight of the struggle, being a campaigner in your own right, while still allowing trans* people to take the lead in their own liberation. I’m not saying that everyone should do this. What I am saying is that if you want me to consider you an "ally", you must.
So here are some things I think you can do to be a true ally. I write this with particular reference to being a cis ally of trans* people, but it’s my intention that the items on this list be adaptable to deal with other axes of oppression.
- Adopt and Internalise Anti-Cis Memes: You know stuff like Die Cis Scum? That’s about you. Until proven otherwise, you are scum to me, and you need to respect my right to see you that way. You need to be almost sorry for not being trans*, because that is what keeps your experience apart from mine and prevents you from being able to see the world through my eyes.
- Always Consider Yourself Wrong Until Proven Right: If I disagree with you about a trans* issue? I’m right, and you’re wrong. If I disagree with you about whether something is a trans* issue? I’m right, and you’re wrong. You don’t get to argue with me. You get to ask questions about my position, and I get to decide whether to answer them. If I’m interested in a debate, I’ll tell you. Otherwise, you have to trust me on my ability to understand my own liberation.
- Always Call Out Other Cis People On Their Transphobia: At the biggest estimates, there is one transgender person for every 99 cis people. That’s absolutely ridiculous. That means if cis people say something fucked up once a week, on average trans* people need to call them out on it 14 times a day each. That’s once every 100 minutes. I don’t have time for that. You do it.
- Campaign for an End to Transphobia and Transphobic Practices: Again. My energy reserves are limited and I can’t do it all. You need to help. And if I tell you you’re doing it wrong, you need to listen and fix it.
- Respect Trans*-Only Spaces: No matter how hard you try, you’re not ever going to succeed at making trans* people totally comfortable with your presence. Thus, you need to let us have our own space if we need it.
- Be an Ally to Other Oppressed Groups: This should go without saying, but you can’t be an ally to trans* people without at least trying to be an ally to other groups. If you don’t care about feminist struggle, then you’re only going to be an ally to trans men. If you don’t care about race, then you’re only going to be an ally to white trans* people. And that’s fucked up.
- Never Call Yourself an "Ally": You don’t get to decide if you’re doing enough. You never get to decide if you’re doing enough. That’s up to us.
Now, go forth and don’t be a shit. And if you think you can handle it, try to be an ally.