The goal of Beyond Zero’s Unmute Me initiative, apart from providing sensitized, free healthcare is to engage the broader community to help them learn more about transgender issues. By gaining a proper understanding of gender identity and what it means to be transgender, you can become a trans ally. To do this, we are focusing on education and providing information on what transgender actually means, the differences between sexual orientation and gender identity, and how you can demonstrate respect for all trans people.

Understanding Transgender People

Transgender (or ‘trans’) is a broad term that describes people whose gender identity is different from the gender that was designated to them at birth.

This means that there are transgender women (individuals who were assigned male at birth but whose gender identity is female) and we have transgender men (individuals who were assigned female at birth, but whose internal sense of their gender identity is male).

This is a basic explanation and we have to keep in mind that, like with any group, there is diversity within the transgender (or ‘trans’) community. Transgender people are one part of the spectrum of identities in this space – and the space is constantly evolving and changing.

To gain a deeper understanding, you need to become more familiar with the concept of gender identity. Gender identity is the term that is used to describe a person’s deeply held personal, internal sense of being male, female, some of both, or maybe even neither.
The important thing to remember is that a person’s gender identity may not always correspond to their assigned biological sex. How you identify can be completely separate from how you look on the outside.

Some transgender people identify as neither a man nor a woman, or as a combination of male and female, and may use terms like non-binary or gender-queer to describe their gender identity. Those who are non-binary often prefer to be referred to as “they” and “them.”

What does it mean to ‘transition’?

This is the process one goes through to discover and/or affirm their gender identity. Transitioning is the period of time during which a person starts living day to day according to their gender identity. The process not an overnight event but rather a long-term journey that may take years.

For most transgender people, transitioning is made up of 2 aspects:

Social and legal transition

Change of name, pronoun selection, modifications to appearance, dress, changes to an individual’s vocal tone, etc. For many people, this will also entail legal changes to their name and gender on identification documents such as ID’s, driver’s licenses and passports.

Medical transition

The introduction of hormones (testosterone for trans men, oestrogen and testosterone blockers for trans women) into the body. For some people, it will also involve surgical procedures that align the physical body with one’s gender identification. These may include ‘top’ surgery, ‘bottom’ surgery, and, for trans women, facial feminization.

Like every human, a transgender person wants to be treated with kindness and respect. And all transgender people are entitled to the same dignity and respect, regardless of whether they have been able to take any legal or medical steps to express their gender identity externally. This is about how they feel on the inside and your efforts to understand and respect that.

How to support Transgender People: Become an Ally

One of the most important parts of being an ally to transgender people is learning what it means to be transgender. Find out more here

To be respectful, it is important to treat transgender people as you would treat any other person and to use respectful terminology that goes according to their gender identity, and not the sex that they were born with. This includes using the name the person has asked you to call them by (not their old name) as well as the pronouns they want you to use. If you aren’t sure what pronouns a person uses, just ask politely. For example, a transgender person who identifies as a woman would want to be called ‘her’ or ‘she’. Likewise with someone who identifies as male, you should refer to them as ‘him’ or ‘he’. If they have chosen to change their name, use the new name and never use their old name.

Like any other, the transgender community is diverse. Trans people come from every part of the world, and from every racial, ethnic and religious background. This means that different trans people will have different needs and priorities. There is no one right way to handle every situation, or interact with every trans person. Be respectful, do your best, and keep trying.

  • Lead with Acceptance:

    Everyone has the right to define their gender, regardless of the ‘sex’ they were assigned at birth.
  • Use the Right Terms:

    Respect and use people’s preferred gender identifications, pronouns, and names.
  • Challenge Society Bias:

    Stand up for the trans community by challenging anti-trans and sexist remarks, jokes and comments.
  • Be there to Listen:

    Listen to the stories of trans people to better understand their experiences.

Interacting with Transgender People

Pronouns & Language:

  • Use the language that a transgender person uses and prefers for themselves. Keep in mind that different transgender people may use different words to describe themselves so it is best to follow the lead of each individual.
  • If you don’t know what pronouns to use, ask. A simple way to see what pronouns someone uses – he, she, they, or something else – is to wait and see if it comes up naturally in conversation. If you’re still unsure, ask politely and respectfully. If you accidentally use the wrong pronouns, apologize and move on.

Asking Questions:

  • To determine if a topic is appropriate to bring up, ask yourself “Do I need to know this information to treat them respectfully?” and “Would I be comfortable if this question was turned around and asked of me?”
  • If you don’t know what pronouns to use, ask. A simple way to see what pronouns someone uses – he, she, they, or something else – is to wait and see if it comes up naturally in conversation. If you’re still unsure, ask politely and respectfully. If you accidentally use the wrong pronouns, apologize and move on.

Keep Privacy & Respect at Top of Mind:

  • There are a few topics that are best to avoid completely when interacting with a trans person. These include their birth name (never call it their ‘real’ name!), photographs from before they transitioned, what hormones they are (or aren’t) taking, what surgeries they have (or have not) had, and questions related to sexual relationships.
  • Keep in mind that someone’s transgender identity is private and just because someone has told you that they are transgender does not necessarily mean that they have told everyone in their life – so don’t out them!
  • A transgender person may not choose to tell others that they are transgender because it is unsafe to do so, because they’re worried they’ll be mistreated or fired, or simply because they don’t want to share that information.
  • Transgender people should be the ones to decide how much information is being shared: a transgender person may be open about being trans, but only want to discuss medical issues with certain people whom they are close with.

Are trans men just really masculine lesbians/trans women really feminine gay guys? Are you sure you’re not just gay?

  • Transgender men are men, not masculine women. They might be straight and attracted to women, but they might not be.
  • Transgender women are women, not feminine men, and they might or might not be attracted to men.
  • It’s important to remember that transgender people can be gay (like transgender women who are attracted to other women, and transgender men who are attracted to other men), they may be straight, or have any other sexual orientation.
  • Many transgender people are upset with this question because it implies that their ‘real’ gender is the gender they were thought to be when they were born. It also makes assumptions about who they’re attracted to.

Becoming an Ally in Your Community

Don’t Be Afraid To Speak Up

  • Speak out in support of transgender people and transgender rights:

    Politely correct others if they use the wrong name or pronoun for a transgender person. More broadly, it is important to challenge anti-transgender remarks, jokes, and conversations. It can be scary to speak out, but loud and visible support for transgender rights can show transgender people that they are accepted, encourage other allies to speak out, and help change the minds of people who aren’t supportive of transgender people yet.

  • Support transgender people who experience discrimination:

    Transgender people may feel that they don’t have support from others when making complaints about discrimination or bringing their experiences to authorities, administrators, or others in positions of power. Make it clear that you will support the transgender people in your life whether or not they decide to make formal complaints.
  • Think about how you use gendered language:

    Do you regularly greet groups by saying, “Ladies and gentlemen?” Do you have a co-worker who refers to everyone as “guys?” Is there a particular gender-based joke your friend loves to tell? Many transgender people are fine being called ‘ladies’ or ‘gentlemen,’ but you can’t know without asking first. Consider changing your habits to avoid making assumptions about people's gender or pronouns, and encouraging the people in your life to do the same. This can take time and effort, but is an important way to be an ally and support transgender people outside of individual, face-to-face interactions.
  • Learn about policies affecting transgender people:

    Are there any laws that protect transgender people where you live? Any policies at work or school that are inclusive of transgender people? It’s important to learn more about the challenges that transgender people face and the goals of transgender advocates, and, if you’re comfortable with it, even help push to change bad laws and policies or support good ones.

Changing Businesses, Schools, and More

  • Rethink gender on forms and documents:

    When creating forms and documents, consider whether you need to include gender at all. Many times, we default to asking for gender without considering why or how that information will be used. If you do need to ask for gender information, consider using a blank space for people to fill in as they feel comfortable, rather than boxes marked “male” and “female,” or make it clear that people can fill in forms in a way that matches their gender identity.
  • Ensure everyone has access to bathrooms and other facilities:

    Everyone should be able to safely and comfortably use bathrooms and other gendered facilities. Push to allow people to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity rather than what’s on their ID. In addition, providing gender-neutral or private bathrooms is a great way to provide a safe and comfortable space for everyone (but never require anyone to use them if they don’t want to!). And if a restroom is designed for just one user at a time, make sure that it’s gender-neutral – there’s no reason to make it a men’s or women’s restroom. Take down that ‘Women’ or ‘Men’ sign and put up new signs that just say ‘Restroom’.
  • Push for support and inclusivity, not simply tolerance:

    A baseline of tolerance allowing transgender people to exist is an important start, but we can do more. If your school brings outside speakers or hosts events, make sure that some of them include transgender people and topics. If your business donates to non-profits, look into partnering with organizations that support the transgender community. If your organization posts community events on social media, include some from the transgender community.
  • Craft a transgender-inclusive non-discrimination policy:

    Shifting the culture of an organization takes time. Crafting a transgender-inclusive non-discrimination policy can help clarify how your organization supports transgender people, and ensure that there’s a way to respond to those who aren’t supportive.

Changing the World

  • Change the curriculum of medical, health, crisis response and social work programs, or bring in trainers to teach these providers about transgender people and how to treat transgender people with respect and professionalism. Include information about the rejection, discrimination and violence that transgender people face and how to provide services and support to transgender clients.
  • Work with schools to make them safe for transgender students.
  • Work with suicide prevention, HIV prevention and treatment, alcohol and drug abuse treatment, and anti-smoking programs to ensure that their work is trans-inclusive and their staff are knowledgeable about transgender issues.
  • Work with police departments to have fair written policies with regard to interacting with transgender members of the public, regardless if they are seeking assistance or being arrested, and make sure all police officers are trained on following the policy and treating transgender people with respect.
  • Work with jail and prison systems to ensure the respectful and safe treatment of transgender prisoners.
  • Take a step back. Transgender people come from every population, and are of all races, religions, ages, and more. There are transgender immigrants, employees, prisoners, sex workers, and every other category imaginable. Make an effort to be as inclusive as possible of all kinds of transgender people when working to support transgender communities.