How to be an ally to someone who is transgender

If you are reading this, chances are you know someone who is transgender. Maybe you are a friend of mine. Perhaps you suspect your child is gender non-conforming. Are you trying to understand one of your students? Did a family member just come out? If you are reading this, it is likely that you’ve come here with an open mind.

transgender allyAs with any situation that we don’t fully understand, sometimes we are afraid to ask questions. We don’t want to offend or use the wrong terminology. We want to show that we care. We want to demonstrate acceptance. We want to talk the talk and walk the walk.

So, I asked my transgender son where he thought there was an information gap regarding understanding the “trans” community. He gave me some pointers to share when talking with, about or on behalf of a transgender individual.

Hunter’s Advice

If you have a friend who has entrusted you with the extremely personal secret of being a trans person, do yourself and your friend a favor; go on the internet and research what you don’t understand. This shows that you’re not just pushing the secret aside; knowing the basics can make it so much easier for the friend trying to explain themselves to you.

Use correct pronouns. He, she, they, them, and xe are some that are widely used. If you aren’t sure of their preference, ASK!! It may sound weird saying in your head “so what pronouns do you prefer?” but it isn’t weird. No one will be offended.

Refrain from using derogatory terms like tranny, he/she, she-male, “a trans”, it, fake, etc. The phrase “a transgender” is incorrect grammar. Transgender individuals are people. The word transgender is an adjective not a noun.

Another important factor is the person’s name–the transgender individual’s chosen name is their name no matter what it says on their birth certificate.

It took us awhile to transition to using male pronouns and changing names. We took our cues from Hunter. When he asked, we complied. Some want to change names as soon as they come out. For Hunter, it was a slower process. For that, I am grateful. The months that passed gave us a transition period. We were able to get used to changes in little bits and pieces.

Remember, to quote a famous poet, “a rose by any other name smells as sweet.” Just because your child wants to be called by a different name or dress differently doesn’t mean he is a different person. If your friend identifies as a gender other than the one she was assigned at birth, she is just expressing a desire to live authentically. She is the same person.

Please share and encourage others to be an ally to the transgender community. Plenty of teens and young adults are supported. However, many are not. They could use a friend, an ally.

This post is in honor of Leelah Alcorn’s memory.

If you are a transgender individual and need an ally, you can click here for a list of Ally Moms.

I stumbled across this video about being an ally. It’s a really well done YouTube video and worth a couple of minutes to watch.

First time for everything

birthday to my sonI will never forget the day I was rifling through the pile of mail and there was a letter addressed to Hunter. WOW. This was his first official piece of mail. If you had asked me ahead of time how seeing his name in print would make me feel, I probably would’ve responded squeamishly. Honestly, just the idea of it is rather weird. However, I didn’t feel weird at all. I felt really excited. Somehow, having your name on an envelope that traveled through the US Postal system makes it real and official. Of course, I had to point out to Hunter that this was his first official piece of mail. Like any teenager, I got the head nod and shoulder shrug all in one gesture. For me, mom of a transgender teen boy, the event was noteworthy.

It took awhile for me to feel comfortable using male pronouns when referring to Hunter. Like others before me, I just avoided using he/his/him. It was “Hunter” will be home soon. Or, “Hunter” will be glad to see you…and so on. Slowly, little by little, I began to integrate the new vocabulary into my daily speak. I knew I had turned a corner when I went birthday card shopping. There I was, standing at the “Happy Birthday to My Son” section. MY SON. Now that was weird. But you know, I had to do it. I had to let MY SON know that I was proud of him and loved him and that he deserved an appropriate birthday message.

I have to admit that when I go shopping these days, I find myself drifting over to the boys’ or young men’s department. That’s right. I now shop in the MEN’s department for my SON.  Yeah, I know. It’s kind of strange. There is actually a part of this that is gratifying. I like being able to make him happy. You see, Hunter really likes clothes — now. And though he is still figuring out his own style and what feels right to him, he enjoys shopping. That is pretty cool to me. As Olivia, we had many battles at the mall, in the middle of Kohl’s, at TJ Maxx, trying on party clothes, finding shoes, etc. In hindsight, I now understand what was going on.

Another first, was when we had to shop for dress shoes. That was a bit weird for me but I was up for the challenge. Keep in mind, I have lots of experience buying girlie sandals, sparkly flats, spikey heels and pink, pink, pink. But, I had never shopped for dress shoes in the Men’s department for my SON. His skinny, long, arch-less foot never really fit properly into a girl’s shoe — unless of course it had laces or came in a quadruple narrow and had a strap to ensure that it would stay on the foot. So, off we went to find the shoe of his dreams…well, maybe that’s an exaggeration. He did know exactly what he wanted though and when we found it I was rewarded with a nod, a smile and a thanks, Ima (Hebrew for mom).

As we move along this journey there will be many other firsts. I anticipate some will be joy-filled and others wrought with worry and angst. Each first feels like passing GO — sometimes you collect $200 and sometimes you go straight to _____________.

(Fill in the blank: jail, Chance, …)


In Denial

We are not a family breakfast kind of family. Most weekends we do our own thing. Since we are on a schedule all week long, when the weekend comes no one wants to commit to a wake up time or a group breakfast. There are, however, a couple of exceptions. Birthdays, mother’s day and father’s day are family breakfast outings. We have our favorite place; the kids know that we are committed and typically there are no complaints about getting up…in fact, I think they actually look forward to it.

Mother’s Day 2013 — we are seated at the Breakfast Club, stomachs rumbling, saliva forming as we ponder the yummy, drool inspiring offerings. Our server comes to our table, pen and pad in hand; one by one we place our order. Just an ordinary family out for an out-of-the-ordinary breakfast together.

Finally, our food is delivered — piping hot, aromas wafting, deliciousness waiting to be devoured. Oops. Olivia’s food hasn’t come. We call over our server and she says, “I’m so sorry. What did he order?”

She ordered waffles and bacon.”

Did you catch that? I know it took me a long time to get to this point in the story. Now remember, this happened a year ago. Hunter didn’t exist yet — at least not in his current state of being. Olivia was still very much Olivia to us and we were still using female pronouns.

Naturally, as a FTM trans guy, Olivia was thrilled to be “mistaken” for a guy. I was indignant. And, in complete denial. This was my daughter. I was just getting used to shopping in the boys’ department. I was definitely not ready to use male pronouns.

If you had told me a year ago that in a year’s time I would be calling my younger child, Hunter, using male pronouns and correcting others when they call him “Olivia,” I would’ve said NO WAY. No question, I was in denial.