Trans and gender non-conforming folks have not been at the forefront of rights and access discussions in the United States as much as they are today. Much of these discussions and this attention has been good, with more and more people coming out as trans or gender non-conforming and more and more people supporting them and pushing for laws to protect them. Unfortunately, many people are coming out against trans and gender non-conforming people by either attacking them directly or by trying to pass laws that either prohibit them from using the bathroom they are most comfortable using or inhibit any protections they have gained, no matter how limited those protections have really been.
Cis men have typically been at the forefront of any attempts to strip trans and gender non-conforming folks of any rights and safety they have. It is important that cis men understand that many of the perceptions they have about trans and gender non-conforming people are wrong, and that, for the reasons listed below and more, they should unashamedly and unabashedly support trans and gender non-conforming folks.
1. You claim to support equality
Many cis men, especially “millennial” cis men, have grown up being taught and claiming to support equality of rights, access, and safety across various socials groups. In school, cis men, along with other students, learn about civil rights pioneers and often come to idolize and follow these pioneers’ ideologies concerning equality and equity. Unfortunately what often happens is cis men put limits on who they will support and what “equality” means for different groups. These limits and associated prejudices will then shape the way others think about equality and what is acceptable due to the inherent power and influence cis men have in our society. If you are a cis man who claims to support the equality of all groups, yet you claim that trans and gender non-conforming people are not deserving of such equality, then you need to be reminded of what equality means: that everyone, across all groups, deserve to be treated with equal respect and have access to the same rights and safety.
2. You claim to want to end sexism.
Similar to the above point, many cis men will claim they want to help end sexism (what steps have you actually taken in fulfilling this claim?) You will see cis men, especially cis male celebrities, sport shirts that say things like “this is what a feminist looks like,” or they will claim to support campaigns such as “Take Back the Night,” “Yes Means Yes,” or—for whatever reasons they have in supporting it—“Free The Nipple.” What cis men fail to realize is that wanting to end sexism includes ending the mistreatment and violence against trans and gender non-conforming folks as well, not just cis women. This means acknowledging that gender is not a binary of men and women—that gender is actually, in the simplest of definitions, a spectrum, where people are free to identify how they please and are free to be as masculine or feminine or indefinable as they want.
3. You share their interests.
Though cis men may not realize it—of their own volition or otherwise—they often share the same interests and hobbies as trans and gender non-conforming folks. Cis men often have much more in common with trans and gender non-conforming folks than they probably realize, in fact. Whether it is sports, music, video games, cars, building things, and any other number of interests typically dominated by cis men or are culturally perceived to be strictly “masculine.” There are most definitely any number of trans and gender non-conforming folks who have those interests or are participating in those activities alongside you. Rather than shunning them or making them feel unsafe or unwelcome, it is important that cis men accept trans and gender-nonconforming people into the communities that are born of these interests.
More Radical Reads: Four Things Cis People Forget
4. Your idols are trans and gender non-conforming.
In the same vein of sharing interests and hobbies, many of the people Cis men idolize or look up to are trans or gender non-conforming. Many of these idols have been openly trans or gender non-conforming since they came into fame or notoriety, such as actress Laverne Cox, who many people, including Cis men, have come to praise and respect for her role as inmate Sophia Burset on the show Orange is the New Black. Others have come out as trans or gender non-conforming after years of being perceived or identifying as Cis–gender.
One example of this is Against Me!’s lead singer and guitarist Laura Jane Grace. For many years, Grace was an icon of punk rock with an anarchist and radical soul that was heavily represented in her music. Although fans, especially her Cis male fans, aligned with her political views as much as her music for much of the 2000’s, when Grace came out as trans, many of her Cis male fans immediately abandoned her and her music. A similar reaction has been happening to emo/post-rock band The World Is A Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid To Die’s lead guitarist Derrick Shanholtzer-Dvorak, who identifies as nonbinary and also goes by Danielle Nicole. With TWIABP’s rising popularity, Derrick/Danielle has faced a rise in hatred and disrespect from (mostly Cis male) fans of the band who continue to harass them despite the fact Derrick/Danielle is one of the reasons the band exists at all. What is it about identifying as trans or gender non-conforming that makes cis men immediately reject people they would otherwise idolize?
5. You have access that they don’t.
As cis men, you have access and various spaces, privileges, and levels of respect that trans and gender non-conforming people do not have—plain and simple. Insomuch as you have the ability to close off whichever spaces you choose from trans and gender non-conforming folks, you have the power to open up typically inaccessible spaces to them. This goes along the same idea of sharing interests and hobbies, but this also includes access to other social spaces where trans and gender non-conforming folks are often pushed out. This means fighting for equal access to stores, restaurants, churches, universities and colleges, clubs, bars, etc. This also means fighting to have trans and gender non-conforming folks’ voices heard when talking about laws and regulations that typically affect them with unfair severity. This does not mean, however, that you would gain access to all spaces that trans and gender non-conforming folks occupy for their own safety and comfort.
6. They are not the “monsters” you accuse them of being.
Just as it is unfair and violent to stereotype black men as aggressive and unintelligent, or to stereotype women as objects of sexual fulfillment or as inherently subordinate, it is unfair and outright violent to stereotype trans and gender non-conforming folks as monsters or sexual deviants who should be shamed out of existence.
While it is impossible to truly equivocate the meanings and severity of these stereotypes across identities, it is the theme of the violence and ignorance that these stereotypes hold that makes them relatable. Just because a trans or gender non-conforming person is different from you, it doesn’t mean they are inherently bad. This is a myth that has existed for centuries in order to vilify trans and gender non-conforming folks, no matter how they have identified in that time. It has come to great public attention with the recent “bathroom bills” that are meant to keep “perverts” out of the “normal” people’s bathrooms. What Cis men must realize, as they are often the most prominent figures who perpetuate this idea, is that being trans or gender non-conforming does not make a person a monster. In fact, while there have been no reported cases of someone identifying as trans or gender non-conforming attacking someone in a bathroom, there are plenty of cases of Cis men, often politically aligned as conservative, who have sexually assaulted women and men in bathrooms in the United States. Kind of makes you wonder who came up with the trans/gender non-conforming = monster myth in the first place, doesn’t it?
7. They are not trying to “trick” you.
Just like every other person who identifies differently that you, not everything a trans or gender non-conforming person does revolves around Cis men. This includes another popular myth that trans and gender non-conforming folks are out to trick Cis men, or anyone else for that matter, into having sex or whatever it is Cis men are afraid of being tricked into doing. This fear of being tricked goes along with the myth that trans and gender non-conforming folks are monsters (which is, again, inherently flawed). The fact that someone you are attracted to has or had different genitalia than you expected them to have does not mean they’re trying to trick you, at all. Trans and gender non-conforming people are simply trying to live their lives and be respected for their identities, they are not out to fool you.
More Radical Reads: Undoing the “Manly” Myth: My 5 Steps to Finding a Healthy Masculinity
8. They are not just part of a “trend.”
Despite much of what you hear on various news outlets, identifying as trans or gender non-conforming is not a trend, nor is it anything new in any way. Whether you look at recent or ancient history, there are people and communities that would be identified as or grouped into the labels of trans or gender non-conforming today.
Whether it is Native American two-spirit people, the cross-dressers of early 20th century America, or various figures in ancient Rome or ancient Egypt, there are people who have defied the standards of binary and set-in-stone gender in almost every major culture and civilization. Just because we have developed various identities for trans and gender non-conforming people in recent years, it doesn’t mean the people who created and use those identities did not exist before. Cis men must understand that just because someone wishes to identify as something they do not or can not directly understand, it doesn’t mean they should be cast off as just being trendy or, even worse, just “seeking attention.”
9. They can teach you a thing or two—if they choose to.
This is a point that applies really for anyone who identifies differently from anyone else: people from other walks of life, with different identities, have many life lessons and experiences that you can learn from. For trans and gender non-conforming people, these life lessons and experiences are often, unfortunately, encapsulated in violence, stress, mental illness, and other horrible aspects of life due to constantly being at risk of or being victims of hatred, prejudice, and dehumanization.
Despite the causes of these experiences, cis men can and should learn a lot about the struggles of being a trans or gender non-conforming person because those experiences are often brought on or created by cis men. For some cis men, it is simply a matter of humanizing trans and gender non-conforming folks in a way that they are conditioned to reject.
Along the same lines of having or not having access to spaces created and inhabited by trans and gender non-conforming folks, you do not have the right to demand to have anything explained to you by anyone. If someone is willing to put themselves in a typically vulnerable position, you should understand that it is their decision to do so, not yours.
10. They are human beings.
This really needs no explanation but is necessary to point out. This point more or less covers the previous nine in that it is important to realize that much of this comes down to respecting other people no matter their gender identities. Trans and gender non-conforming people are human beings and deserve the same respect and support and access as any cis man. And just as many cis men are willing to call out “not all men!” in a discussion such as this one, cis men must understand that being trans or gender non-conforming does not make someone a monster, all it means is that they represent themselves in a different way than you, that’s it.
Are you learning how to be a better ally? We believe that the more you learn to understand and love yourself, the more you’ll be able to do so for others as well. Join us for our next workshop 10 Tools to Radical Self Love.
Do you feel like you need support in practicing radical self love? Check out our webinar 10 Tools for Radical Self Love.
(Feature Image: A photograph of two people. The one to the left is smiling and wearing glasses. They have a bald head and a grey t-shirt. The one to the right is smiling, bald and wearing a green shirt. Source: See-ming Lee)