(TW: for cissexism)
- Some of those trans* people are so angry!
- How can they expect us to know about all of these genders and words and pronouns? There’s too much to keep track of!
- Why won’t those trans* people just sit down and calmly, politely explain everything to me?
- I feel uncomfortable when they get upset with ‘cis people’ as a group. I’m a cis person! My feelings are hurt by that!
- Learning to use the right pronouns is so hard! Give me a break!
- I don’t know about all that stuff about [insert pointlessly controversial issue here that pertains to the health and well being of trans* folks, such as healthcare access, housing, safe bathroom access, etc.]
- Trans* people demand too much of us! Can’t they be happy with a little change?
- Why do they call me out on things? Don’t they know I’m an ally?
These are all things I’ve heard come out of the mouths of people who call themselves “allies.” I could easily add to this list (and I encourage other folks to do so!). In fact some of these are direct quotes from messages I’ve received in the last month, or from people I’ve recently spoken with in person. To save myself the energy of individually replying to each of those messages in the future, I am writing this up.
Cis aspiring allies, if you catch yourself thinking something close to any of the things I listed above, this might be a good time to take a minute and check your privilege.
I could sit here and go through each bullet point to let you know what’s problematic about that line of thinking. In fact, I seriously considered using up my own time and energy to do so. But honestly, that would defeat and undermine the whole point of this post.
When we are in positions of aspiring allyship (as I quite often find myself, as a trans person who holds a number of privileges around race, class, ability, citizenship status, etc.) we cannot expect that the communities we aspire to work in solidarity with will have the time, energy, ability, or desire to explain to us what we are “doing wrong”.
As cis aspiring allies, you have to learn to take trans* folks’ articulations of our anger, rage, pain, joy, frustration, and devastation as hugely generous gifts. When we show you how we are feeling about our lives, about you, about people like you, and about the cissexist culture that benefits you, it is hugely important that you listen. Sometimes listening may feel uncomfortable, especially if you see yourself as an ally but you are being implicated in our pain. That discomfort means you have an opportunity to learn.
It is possible that, after really listening to what we’ve said, it still isn’t apparent to you what might be problematic, hurtful, or wrong about what you’ve said or done. It still isn’t time to go ask a trans* person.
It’s time to first ask yourself. No, I mean really ask yourself. Roll things around in your head for days on end, try your best to figure it out, seek out whatever resources you can possibly find. Then, once you’ve completely exhausted your resources, if you still can’t figure it out, and you want to speak with a trans* person who has called you out, do so with an enormous amount of humility and respect and caution.
Don’t dive into questions without intentionally making the space for us to decline to answer. Don’t expect us to explain to you what you’ve “done wrong”. Don’t frame our call-out as less legitimate if we cannot or will not sit down with you and politely explain everything step by step. Many of us are asked to do this every day just to get people to understand “what” we are.
And don’t be discouraged if you don’t get an answer. Part of allyship is knowing that you may have to live with discomfort, and without answers, and still move forward as best you can to work in solidarity. It may take time and work before you understand the harm your words or actions have caused. That is also okay. Just trust that we’re not calling you out for some sinister reason. We’re calling you out because we recognize your capacity to grow as a person and as an ally. Make good use of that gift.
Just a friendly reminder from your neighborhood queen <3>
So . . . does the fact that I stared at this in confusion for like 5 minutes becasue from the title I had thought it meant "How To Be an Ally To A Cisgender Person” mean it’s time to get some sleep now?