I wasn't always an ally to the trans community. In fact, it was only a little over a year ago that I had pretty awful opinions about the trans community and the struggles they face. ("Why can't they just accept that if they have a penis, then they're a dude?")
But then something happened. I met some people who changed my life and the way I see the world, the gender binary, and so forth. You see, it was really easy to judge what a trans person goes through, because I didn't know any trans people. I thought drag queens were exactly the same as trans people (with a little more makeup and an extra boa or two). I also just assumed that a trans woman was just an overly effeminate gay male who wanted so much to be submissive that he decided to get an operation to have his dick chopped off. I know. I wasn't a great human being, but is it really that far off what many members of the gay male community think? Or society at large? Maybe not, but that doesn't make it okay.
I have these friends, and they're some of the greatest parents I've ever had the privilege to know. Their fabulously autistic daughter was working in her phonics book when she came across the question: "Would a prince wear a fancy gown to the ball?" Her answer: "Sure! If he likes the dress, he should wear it everywhere!" It's astounding that the one diagnosed with a social interaction "disability" is also the one with the purest innate understanding of gender identity and expression. It's not a complicated notion for her, yet many of us in a progressive educated community can't wrap our heads around the concept.
What it really comes down to is this: if a trans person is telling you he or she or ze is offended by the language you're using, are you going to be the asshole that keeps doing it anyway? If a person says they're a particular gender, whether you agree or not doesn't change how they want to live their life. Does that sound like anything you've faced in the struggle for acceptance?
We're an LGBT community, but somehow in our gay agenda we have lost sight of the misunderstandings and external ignorance transgender persons face on a day-to-day basis. So to keep it simple for now (because there is indeed so much more to learn), here are five things you can do to be a better trans ally. I mean, if we don't stick together, what sort of community are we?
1. Pronouns: A person who was pronounced male at birth but identifies as a female (M2F) is a female. Don't identify her with male pronouns (he, his, him...). It's one of those microagressions that can really tear at a person's heart. The same goes for someone who is F2M, but the opposite.
2. "Cisgender" v. "Normal" or "Regular": Refer to a non-trans person as "cisgender" or "cis" when needing to disclose their non-transgender status. When you refer to a non-trans person as "normal," you're effectively calling a trans person abnormal. Not cool.
3. Operations: No operation necessary to identify as a particular gender. It's not about body parts, remember?
4. Gender and Sexuality: Very different things. Just because someone is trans does not mean they're gay or lesbian. There are straight trans people just like there are straight cis people.
5. Verbiage: How dumb do you think a person sounds when he or she says, "Moving to L.A. gayed that boy," or, "I heard Jennifer has been lesbianed by her friends at Hot Topic"? The same goes for when someone is "transgendered." "Transgender" is not a verb. I can't "transgender" a person any more than a church in Idaho can "straight" me, so make it easier on yourself. Drop two letters, or eight! It's "transgender" or "trans" (or even "T").
Gay dudes, we're awesome. We have an awesome culture and history. We live awesome lives and go to awesome parties. We volunteer for awesome causes and we have awesome taste in just about everything. It's hard to believe we can be more awesome, but we can! Be an awesome ally. Don't you remember being told you were unnatural or against God's creation? Were you ever isolated? Haven't we been fighting for the rights we deserve? We have a lot of work to do to gain full acceptance and equality, and our trans brothers and sisters have even more. We're stronger together, so if we can change some minor behaviors and pave the way for understanding, then why not?
If you're looking for some additional resources to continue learning how to be a better ally to the trans community, Being Transgender in America with Melissa Harris-Perry is fabulous, as is Kate Bornstein's My Gender Workbook.