Last Friday, ODEI and Unity House hosted a panel on Transphobia and Cis-Allyship in the wake of new legislation which threatens the legal and personal identity of trans people in America. The panel, hosted by co-leaders of Gender Group Micah Fisher ’21 (he/him) and Cat March (they/them), Teddy Hannah-Drullard ’20 (she/her or they/them), Professor Gilda Rodriguez (she/her), and ODEI’s Timothy Bussey (he/him) answered anonymously submitted questions having to do with resources for trans people and what cis people can do to be better allies.
Just in case you missed it, here are some of the questions answered by the panel.
How can a cis person be a better ally?
- Being an ally goes beyond using the right names and pronouns. Names and pronouns are bare minimum respect. Advocate for trans people in situations where their status or identity is being challenged. Because of our society, you (as a cis person) will sound more valid to someone who’s challenging someone else’s gender identity. You don’t have to fight all the time, but you may be asked to help.
- If you hold an administrative position in an extracurricular activity, use gender inclusive language whenever possible. Encouraging the sharing of pronouns during introductions, using gender-neutral terms. For example, ASTs call their members “siblings” and Adelante is a Latinx group. Don’t be afraid of the singular “they.”
- Don’t call yourself an ally if you want to be taken seriously.
- Ask your trans buds (if you don’t got ‘em, find ‘em) what they need from you. Continue to educate yourself. Seek out that education and don’t rely on trans people to always tell you what’s right. They may not always have the emotional energy to educate you, and you should check if they do before you ask a question. Prefacing a question with “I want to ask something but I’m not sure if it’s offensive” is a double-edged sword of sorts. If it’s from a friend it shows you care, though the question may be taxing, which is why it’s important to ask about their emotional energy as well. That being said, if a trans person tells you what you’re doing is bad or makes them feel uncomfortable, reconsider what you’re doing, and don’t try to justify yourself to them. They’re not calling you out to feel superior, it takes respect and their emotional energy to let you know about this. They trust you to listen.
- Become comfortable with the uncomfortable. Your views about the world may be challenged, especially the binary of either/or we hold gender to, and you have to feel comfortable with that.
- Say What You Mean. Some examples: don’t say ‘female’ when you’re talking about women or ‘male’ when you’re talking about men. If you’re talking about people who get periods, don’t say “women” say “people who get periods.” There are a lot of things that we might commonly think of as only applying to men or women, but this is not necessarily the case. People who identify as men can still have periods, people who identify as women may not necessarily. Though this oversight is common and baked into our language, it’s hurtful for trans people to hear because it implies that they’re not being considered or valued by the person speaking.
- When talking about “female” or “male” bodies, it’s better to say “assigned female at birth” or “assigned male at birth.” The terms “female” and “male” are generally frowned upon because they refer to the biological assignment of genitals. On the other hand, terms like “masculine” or “feminine” refer to a kind of clothing, means of speaking, or general aesthetic tied to our already existing expectations of gender. Though problematic in their nature for this reason, it’s difficult to have other words to describe this.
- The process of understanding these shifting definitions and conceptions of gender is challenging for everyone. “Gender builds,” said panelist Micah Fisher. “It takes time. I didn’t come out as a trans man at first. It took time. It can take time for people to find their identities and that’s okay.”
Should I share my pronouns as a cis person?
Yes, because it normalizes the practice. When people are introducing themselves in class and a cis person starts with pronouns, it makes trans people feel safe, secure, and better about putting their pronouns forward too.
As a cis person, what should I do if I misgender or deadname someone?
- The practice of “deadnaming” is calling a person by the name they were given at birth but no longer go by.
- If you mistakenly call someone by the wrong gender or name, don’t launch into an apology in the instant. This can be overwhelming to the person you misgendered. Instead, correct yourself in the moment and wait until later to apologize to the person one on one. This will give you time to better articulate your apology.
- After that, don’t bring this up every time you see them. Just let it go after your apology. Don’t rehash it.
How do you correct someone else’s misuse of pronouns?
- If you see a peer or professor misuse someone’s pronouns, ask the person who was misgendered about it before you say anything. If they are okay with you saying something, you can tell that person about it. If that person then apologizes to you, tell them not to, just be sure they correct themselves in the future.
“The trans community isn’t monolithic.”
- These identities don’t exist in a vacuum. Being trans doesn’t mean you adhere to one monolithic political ideology. Trends in the community don’t necessarily hold up for the individual, and there’s a lot of ideological diversity in the trans community. For cis people, keep talking to trans folk and asking questions, they will be less combative than you think. For trans people, know that no one should stop you from being your kind of trans in a space.
- Teddy Hannah-Drullard: “There’s this crazy hierarchy where we think our super progressive liberal view is the right thing and it makes us deaf to other’s opinions…We need to get better at listening to each other.”
- Trans people don’t need to validate how trans they are for you. Often the question, “How/when did you know you were trans?” asks that person to validate their transness to someone else. As an ally, you can change the subject if the trans person appears uncomfortable or burdened by the answer. Don’t use people as Human Google! Remember you can educate yourself.
What can professors do to be more trans-inclusive?
- Don’t call roll at the beginning of class. The name in the system that pops up is probably wrong, and using it will make the student feel uncomfortable. Instead, have students introduce themselves and offer up their pronouns. Make it so every student gives their pronouns, trans or cis.
- It doesn’t have to be a sociology of women and gender studies class to put trans work on your syllabus. Chances are, no matter your field, at least one trans person has created a body of work worth studying.
- Some people may be out to certain people or professors but not out to others. They may not want to put forth their identification for reasons of safety or comfort.
Can I use “guys” or “dude” as a mixed gender term?
- This depends on the individual. Like all things, it’s good to ask. Some people may feel different about it. Trans women, for example, may be uncomfortable with “guys” or “dude.”
What about multiple or shifting pronouns?
- Again, depends on the person. This is why it’s always good to ask. Some have preferences, and if someone identifies as genderfluid, they may change based on the day. You can ask them to let you know if they change and what they prefer.
What’s wrong with calling them “preferred pronouns”?
- The pronouns a trans person identifies as are not “preferred,” they should be used because they ask for them to be used. There is the “Golden Rule,” to treat others the way you want to be treated, and what Professor Gilda Rodriguez calls the Platinum Rule: treat others the way they want to be treated.
All of this talk about emotional energy and making others feel safe might seem over-sensitive to skeptics, but this is all very real and important. Obviously I can’t speak to the day-to-day experiences of any trans person on this campus, let alone the country, but those who have been able to come out as trans, just because of the framework of our society, have their own selves questioned and delegitimized every day. If everyone doubted or worse, outright refused to believe who I said I was on a daily basis, I would find it emotionally taxing too. The vocabulary and thinking may seem difficult and strange at first, but if it makes people feel at ease with themselves in a world that tells them not to be, isn’t that worth the small shift in habits? This is not just in a bubble either. Rethinking how we define gender can loosen gender constraints on cis people too, encouraging us to act in ways that make you feel comfortable as opposed to ways we think we’re made to.
Finally, remember to Vote Yes on November 6th for a nondiscrimination policy on gender identity in Ohio. There’s also a law being proposed that if a student comes out as trans in school, faculty are legally required to let their parents know. A trans person should be the only one in control of when they come out, and who they come out to. Vote no on this law, but yes on the nondiscrimination policy!