5 Ways To Be A Trans Ally This Thanksgiving

Photographed by Winnie Au.
Coming out as myself meant coming out for everyone around me. Embracing my female identity was not a choice, nor was facing this new reality for my immediate and extended family. As the holiday season begins, countless families around our country are welcoming home (or, tragically, not welcoming) children or adults who are bravely expressing themselves in different genders than they did last year. It could be your own child or parent. Here are a few tips from the trans and nonbinary world to help you be an amazing ally this Thanksgiving and beyond:

1. Learn — then use — our names and our pronouns.
Referring to a trans person by an old name is like calling out your last partner’s name while in bed with your current partner. It’s irrelevant, hurtful — intentionally or not — and nothing good comes from hearing it. Mistakes are human, but try to avoid them. Some individuals prefer “they,” as a neutral singular pronoun, rather than “he” or “she.” If you aren’t sure, just ask, “What are your pronouns?” Practice offering your own, too, even if they feel obvious.

Around the table, correct yourself, or anyone else who slips up, quickly and politely. Long apologies or excuses aren’t needed. We’re not mad — it’s more of a facepalm feeling — so don’t drag it out. Use a person’s current name and gender pronouns when referring to their past, too, even if you’re talking about a time before they came out.

2. Gender transition is nuanced; be careful what you say.
Say, “Congratulations on your bravery.” Ask, “How are you doing?” or stick to discussing any aspect of our diverse lives and interests. Many comments we hear can be inadvertently hurtful. Avoid "You must be so happy now!" or “Well, if it’s what makes you happy.” Coming out and transitioning is pain in the ass. It doesn’t inherently make anyone happy. It makes us us, and gives us our best chance at fulfillment. Just like any new romantic relationship could be "the one" or could leave you devastated, the potential reward justifies taking leaps of faith.

Never ask, “Why didn’t you come out [to me] sooner?” You might not like the answer. Your relative might have feared you would be unsupportive or leave their life. School, work, other family, or lack of resources were likely barriers, too. An overwhelming regret we share in the trans community is time lost — often decades — by not living authentically. Perhaps I tried to open up each day we spent together but chickened out until today. It may not have been you at all.

3. Surgery and sexuality are off limits until we bring you there.
Nobody is probing you about your genitals, so please offer the trans and non-binary people in your life the same courtesy. Not everyone wants surgery, can access it, or is a healthy candidate to undergo it. Likewise, try not to ask with whom or how we have relations. Trans people can and do have amazing sex and intimacy, with any combination of bits between themselves and their partner(s). Transgender individuals, like the rest of humanity, can be monogamous or polyamorous, and be sexually attracted to the same gender, differing genders, or nobody at all.

Look out for places where your everyday language implies cisgender and straight norms. If a female relative announces her engagement, for example, instead of asking, “Who’s the lucky guy?” try “Who’s the lucky person?”

4. We love presents just as much as anyone else.
Gift-giving in a gender-expansive world deserves its own discussion, but Thanksgiving itself is increasingly materialistic. Nobody likes waiting to unwrap their Black Friday loot. Expressing masculinity doesn’t necessarily mean playing football and video games, nor does femininity imply loving lipstick and scented candles. The point of gifting is getting to know your loved ones better, not how much you spend, so don’t default to norms in either direction.

For kids and teens, I can’t endorse Classic Legos enough. Take it from an obsessed little boy who grew into a woman with an engineering degree. Legos are for all genders, and need no screens or batteries. Consider a good winter coat. People who transition often build their wardrobes gradually, but investing in gender-affirming outerwear often comes last. When I still only owned men’s coats, it felt invalidating to wear one over female attire. Winter became a barrier to expressing Hannah at all. Turn the coat concept into a shopping day with all your self-identified gals, guys, or everyone. Include us, and stand beside us in whichever aisle we choose, regardless of what anyone else thinks. Solidarity means more than anything money can buy.

5. It’s easy to open your own home or get involved.
Ask your trans or non-binary loved one if a friend needs an invitation this season. On November 20, the queer and allied community marked the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance to name and remember more than 20 murders and just as many suicides reported in the U.S. this year, disproportionately of trans people of color. Despite progress, there are still many people who are not welcomed by their own families during the holidays.

If you are looking to get involved charitably, reach out to Community Kinship Life in New York City, which has been helping trans and questioning youth and adults since 2007. Nationally and in Canada, Trans Lifeline (1-877-565-8860) formed the first anonymous listening and crisis hotline exclusively for and by trans individuals, where I myself have volunteered as an operator and trainer. Ask your loved one which services are making a difference in their life. Consider even a small contribution of money or items in their honor.

Hannah Simpson, a transgender advocate, medical student, marathoner, and unabashed nerd, appeared in Refinery29’s Trans America series. She frequently comments on trans issues and was recently featured as a guest with Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC, as well as on WNYW Fox 5's Good Day New York. You can follow her on Twitter at @hannsimp.

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