1. Don’t compliment them on how well they “pass”
When you compliment someone on how well they conform to performative binary gender expectations, you’re forcing them to either endure discomfort or dredge up the emotional energy to walk you through the concept of “passing.” They might have to talk about passing as a survival tactic for some trans people and how being easily identified as trans can incite harassment and violence from people in public. It may remind them of scary experiences that happened to them before they got “so good” at passing.
2. Don’t make assumptions about their fertility or reproductive needs
Would you tell a cis woman (a woman whose gender identity aligns with the gender assigned at birth) who has experienced infertility issues they’re lucky they can’t have children? Would you tell them to adopt a dog? Congratulate them on not needing birth control? No. Trans folks deserve the same courtesy. Fertility and reproduction are complicated concerns during transitioning, medically and socially. Depending on finances and geographic location, it can be a painful compromise they don’t need your jokes to be reminded of.
3. Don’t introduce them to others as your trans friend
Besides the threat to their safety, outing your friend as trans is rude. It’s not your place to bring up and it’s kinda weird to include in an introduction. Mentioning their interests as a person makes it easier to segue the conversation into something more engaging. It lets trans people remain in control of their privacy, if and when they disclose.
4. Don’t come to them with stories of debates over trans rights with bigoted family, friends, coworkers, etc.
Venting about those frustrating discussions to your trans friend doesn’t always make them feel more secure knowing you’ve got their back. Trans people spend a lot of our time trying not to think of those things while going about our lives. Save the venting for someone who is not personally impacted by the debate.
5. Don’t probe them for updates on their transition.
Transitioning is self-determined by the individual. Asking your friend when they’re gonna start certain aspects of medical or social transitioning can be invasive and anxiety-inducing. Give your friend time to share their progress at their own speed. Be supportive of their journey as they disclose information to you. You’ll remain a treasured friend for that kindness, instead of a shrieking alarm clock on a make-believe schedule.
6. Don’t assume their partners are queer for being with them.
Sexual orientation and gender identity are self-determined. If a trans woman is straight and dating a straight cis man, then they are both straight. Wanting to break the ice with your girlfriend’s new straight boo by saying “WELCOME TO THE RAINBOW FAMILY SIS” and handing him a pride flag might be well-intentioned but have disastrous results. Let people share personal aspects of their identity on their own time. And if they say they’re straight, then believe them.
7. Don’t bring them up for clout.
Unless they specify otherwise, don’t tag them in online discussions as a token trans resource. It’s a combination of #3 and #4 in this list. Of course, some people don’t mind it and enjoy the opportunity to educate but even that might vary day by day. If you’re uncertain of whether or not they’d appreciate spontaneously being outed and thrown into a death arena of political discourse, just shoot them a private message and ask.
8. Don’t force them into uncomfortable situations to spend time with you.
There’s a well-known bar in McAllen that started enforcing rigid bathroom policies for customers in the last couple of years. Trans people going to the restroom have been stopped and harassed by security for using the restroom of their choice and told they had to use the other one or leave. There is no gender-neutral option. If you’re lucky enough to get some free time to hang with your friends, don’t invite them to bars like that one. Instead of having a memorable evening, your friend could be put in a potentially violent encounter in public just for needing to use the bathroom.
9. Don’t exclude them from social and political discourse
I’m gonna speak from my own perspective here. I was assigned female at birth and raised as a femme. I menstruate. I’ve accessed birth control through Planned Parenthood. I’ve taken Plan B. I get annual pelvic exams. I’m trans. And I’ve been told I had no business in conversations surrounding access to women’s reproductive health care, despite all of those lived experiences. The current discussion surrounding reproductive healthcare doesn’t make room for trans masc and nonbinary participation. Non-binary trans is a person who does not feel they fit in the traditional gender binary, man or woman. They may be a little of both or neither. Trans masc is a trans person who presents and feels more masculine but does not necessarily identify as a man. Trans people will not stop being affected by these policies and mindsets, and unless we are included, the struggle for resolution will not be done.
10. Don’t make them feel like their needs are a burden
There are two kinds of people in this world: folks who know the effort of supporting and loving their trans friends is worth it, and people who haven’t realized it yet. If you’re waffling in the latter category right now, take a moment and breathe. Yes, there’s a lot of things covered in this list. All these ways to improve as a trans ally and friend involves admitting there is room for improvement. Don’t doubt the value of trying. Think of your loved one and even one time they tried for your benefit. The longer you think, the more you probably remember times when they were there, physically or emotionally or financially, like a true friend.
Vote like our lives depend on it— because they do. Recent rollouts from the Trump administration are threatening the civil rights protections and personal safety for trans individuals in the US. Housing protection, job security, insurance coverage, bathroom access— all are at stake. Do your research and vote.
This post was published under Neta’s “Community Voices,” a space for community members of the Rio Grande Valley to publish stories, opinions, information, and ideas. Posts in this section solely reflect the views of the authors. To read more from Community Voices, click here.