In posts and comment threads on trans topics, there’s a common theme that has been attracting my attention. There are a lot of sincere cis people trying to be good allies acknowledging the gaps in their knowledge and discussion. “I’m trying to learn about trans issues, use the right language, not derail threads with 101. Right now, I don’t know enough to engage, so I’m just keeping quiet for fear of doing something wrong. I don’t want to hurt trans people through my ignorance.”
Well, fair enough. I’m sure that’s the case for a lot of people on a lot of issues. (I’ve been covering some of mine recently and there’s a thread here in which I invite you to share yours.) Many of us are at the 101 stage. But I see this come up a lot more for specifically trans issues than, say, LGQ* issues or racism or misogyny. And the intersectionings of those issues aren’t acknowledged a whole lot either. (In another type of invisibilising, such groups as people with disabilities rarely come up at all, and in such a case it’s usually as a side note. (Oh my, I just realised that I did that sidenoting thing myself. That was silly. Well, please take it in the context of my dedication to addressing disability issues and my getting to address disability however I like, being disabled myself. (And now I’ve distracted you all from the point of this post. Let’s keep talking about trans issues.)))
So why are so many cis people, who would like to be good allies, so reluctant and so uninformed? Well, maybe a bit of apathy. Maybe, like me, they’re trying to devote regular blocks of time to learning more (and learning enough to learn that they’re still very very uninformed). Maybe they feel that all this is just so new to them.
I’ve heard a number of trans people say that it’s important for cis people to engage and further the conversation and if you mess up a little, you fix it and move on. Obviously, trans people are not a monolith and no one trans person speaks for everyone, so it’s best for a cis person to tread sensitively here. A few suggestions from what I’ve observed: keep threads you’re commenting on firmly trans-centered, do some independent research, don’t expect anyone to teach you, use threads and resources that are directed at educating you. I find as a blogger that referring to people’s ideas and words in my posts is a good idea: direct reference not only brings ideas forward but ensures I’m not co-opting and misrepresenting ideas. Posting my thoughts in response also gives a starting point if I want to contribute something but am not sure what I can contribute. Those points have been a good bit of my approach in what has been a limited lot of trans-related posts.
And from that approach, it’s evident that most of my trans ally work takes place on the Internet. It’s as good a place to start as any, but it’s best to be an ally any which way you can. So I’m trying to increase my offline activism, which for the most part consists of calling people out on using the “t” word, busting myths and encouraging positive conversation among cis people. You yourself can have a go at being an ally everywhere.
At the end of the day, if something is out of your lived experience, you can never advocate perfectly. There will always be things you miss. Like the men who think they’re good feminists but don’t understand your reluctance to walk home at night and/or the white people with culturally significant statues/ornaments/etc in their living rooms in “appreciation” of your culture. They have work to do. We all have work to do. Keep at it.
But the best thing you can do, cis people, honestly? Get out of that indeterminate place. Go do some work. Right now. If you’ve got time, energy and resources to be learning about all manner of issues** and this is something you want to do, go and do your research. Heighten the number of informed cis people, eh?
*The shortened acronym because the B, T and I are largely invisibilised. Not to mention all the groups LGBTQI doesn’t cover but ought, such as genderqueer or two-spirit people. That link’s also a good post to read for some of my attitudes on ally work.
**And there are a lot of people who don’t as much due to being ill or not having the access to resources. Everyone can only do the most they can.