There are so many ways to be a better ally in every domain of life for many different communities - but today we’re going to focus on 3 ways you can support those in the transgender community as a cisgender caregiver.
Quick vocab lesson! “Cisgender” (cis) is a term used to describe someone who identifies as the gender they were assigned at birth. So if the doctor said you were born a girl and you agree that you are a girl, that would make you cisgender. “Transgender” (trans) is a term used to describe someone who does not identify as the gender they were assigned at birth. So if the doctor said you were born a girl but you identify as a boy or something different, you would fit in this category. For a frame of reference from an article posted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, one study in 2017 estimated that “about 1 in every 250 adults, or almost 1 million Americans” are transgender - this study also anticipated that this was a very conservative estimate.
I thought this topic would be fitting for a post for November, which is the month when we truly acknowledge and focus on the annual loss of trans lives across the globe. On November 20th, we have the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) where we honor those lives lost too soon due to hatred, ignorance, and fear. Please keep an eye out for a local event, as usually organizations gather together in the Tri-Cities to hold a candlelight vigil.
1. Get Educated & Stay Open to Learning
A lot of us are raised with fairly strict ideas of gender roles, what it means to be a certain gender, how many genders exist, and what our life is “supposed to” look like based on the gender assigned to us at birth. The first step in becoming a true ally is not declaring “I support all types of people” but instead to start dismantling the myths around gender that you were taught. Dig deep into the scientific research around gender (and brains and bodies and hormones and chromosomes), the cultural background of gender and oppression, and the societal history relating to why someone is given a gender at birth (as well as what that has meant for folks born intersex.)
Read and watch the stories of transgender people or fictional tales authored by transgender writers. Whenever possible, learning from transgender creators is better than cisgender creators because they have lived experience in this realm, whereas cisgender authors are just guessing. If you’re not sure where to start, look up the work of Laverne Cox, Imogen Binnie, Janet Mock, Akwaeke Emezi, Thomas Page McBee, and Kate Bornstein. If you are interested in learning more about someone that is intersex and gender expansive, “Born Both: An Intersex Life” by Hida Viloria speaks to this experience. “The Other Boy” by M. G. Hennessey is not authored by a trans person but is a quick fictional tale to read that provides more than just a surface level look at the life of a transgender male character (this one is especially good if you’re interested in reading something with your middle schooler or high schooler.) Again, though, it is so important to hear these stories from actual trans people as well. As an example, “Before I Had the Words: On Being a Transgender Young Adult” by Skylar Kergil is a non-fictional account of his life as a transgender male.
Another great place to learn is YouTube - find some transgender and gender expansive creators and watch their vlogs to learn about their daily lives. Many trans creators on YouTube also make videos where they answer commonly asked questions, which can give you a look into their unique perspectives around gender and their experiences being transgender. Blogs are another great place to learn when you explore ones written by transgender authors.
One thing you must realize is that the trans community is huge and everyone has their own experience relating to gender. So even all of this learning may not be enough to stay up to date or to know everyone’s unique experiences. To be a great ally, you have to be constantly learning and checking in to make sure you’re on top of what’s happening in the community, what challenges are arising, and what help is needed from our cisgender allies like you!
2. Normalize Transgender Identities in Your Home
There are many ways to do this! This is a fun step and you can get creative in how you decide to incorporate this into your family culture. If all of your toys, books, movies, games, and artwork features cisgender characters, these can be places to start to branch out. Can you find some good representations of transgender identities to bring into your home?
Think for a moment about how important representation is. If you have features that are not typically shown or aren’t often shown in a positive light in the media, how nice is it when you see someone that looks or acts like you on TV or in a book? If you live in an area surrounded by folks that are different from you, how cool would it be to go into someone’s home and see that they appreciate your diversity?
Maybe your child is cisgender and won’t go through a period where they question their gender, but imagine that they have just one friend that comes to your home and is transgender or questioning their identity. Your home may be the first one where they see positive representation of gender expansive characters or art. You may be the first person they feel comfortable exploring that topic with, prompted by your home appearing to be a safe space. (By the way, this is a huge part of why education is important! It would help prepare you to navigate that and help that child know they’re safe and normal.)
In 2019, The Trevor Project posted a study where it was found that “one in three transgender youth reported attempting suicide, almost one-third reported being a victim of sexual violence, and more than half reported a two-week period of depression.” Your home being a safe haven for gender expansive youth with lots of representation could make all of the difference in the many lives that you touch.
3. Get Involved
Once you have gotten some solid education and are making lifestyle changes to be affirming to gender expansive identities, please reach out to the local community. See if there are ways where you could help progress human rights or safety for your local transgender citizens. Check with your child’s school - do they have a Gender Sexuality Alliance (previously called Gay Straight Alliance) where kids can meet others like them in a safe space for support? If they do, do they need volunteers for any events or meetings? If they don’t, can you work with a staff member to start one? Extend a greeting to local support groups and transgender affirming organizations so they know you’re here if they need your help! If you’re not sure what’s around you and you live in Washington state, check out this resource page I’ve put together (it’s not perfect or complete, but it does cover a lot!)
Thank you for reading this!
Just clicking on this post and taking the time to let all of the content sink in is a wonderful first move in the right direction to be an ally. Before you leave, I would encourage you to jot down a few ideas that you’re taking with you and pick one or two “next steps.” Share with your family and friends what you're working on, a link to this post, and spread the love and awareness.
The world needs more people like you!