Trans Allies: How to Help

A supportive reader of my recent “Trans Genocide” post asked me what cisgender allies could do to educate themselves and help our community in the current political climate. Here are some suggestions!

The first step is to have a more critical mindset toward news coverage of “trans issues” in mainstream media outlets like the New York Times and the Atlantic. Was the story written by a trans journalist? (Probably not.) If not, why is such outsider coverage the norm? Compare it to your standards for reporting on other minority or marginalized groups. Nowadays your average liberal would rightly give the side-eye if abortion-debate stories were only written by cis men, or if only white writers were assigned to review books by Black authors. Reading past the byline, ask yourself next whether the journalist has included eliminationist talking points in service of “journalistic neutrality”. Why is it considered appropriate, in an article about trans healthcare or civil rights, to credit the opinions of people who don’t want us to exist?

In response to Emily Bazelon’s New York Times feature on evolving standards of care for trans youth, a piece that has been widely criticized by trans commentators for the above errors, historian Jules Gill-Peterson wrote this helpful Substack essay, “Three Questions for Every Paper of Record That Publishes a Story on Trans Healthcare”. Keep this next to you while you read the news. It’s eye-opening. Gill-Peterson wants us to be aware of this baseline fact: “Unlike many fields of medical practice, transgender medicine was deliberately intended by its architects to prevent and limit as many trans people as possible from transitioning.”

Notice when double standards are being applied to transition-related choices, compared to other body-altering decisions with permanent effects–teenagers playing football, going on a diet, or even having an abortion. No more or less so than transition, these personal desires are inextricably bound up with community norms, gender roles under patriarchy, and practical survival concerns. But only trans healthcare is barricaded with prerequisites such as psychological tests that are biased against people with autism, PTSD, and minority cultural identities. This imbalance reflects the presumption that trans-ness is a fate to be avoided, a path you should only be allowed to follow if you’ve ruled out all the other options. Being a good ally means noticing and challenging that narrative everywhere.

Some other simple everyday things you can do: Ask public facilities like restaurants and hospitals in your town to make their single-stall bathrooms gender-neutral. Donate LGBT-affirming books to your local school and library. Include your pronouns in your self-introduction so that trans people don’t feel conspicuous for stating theirs. If you know someone who’s conflicted about a friend or family member transitioning, help that cisgender person process her feelings with you (or a therapist), so she doesn’t dump them on the trans person. Here’s a queer books list for young people, from Western Mass indie bookstore High Five Books.

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