Social Justice Advocates Handbook: A Guide to Gender Understanding

5+ Ways to Make Our World More Trans*-Friendly

by Sam Killermann · 29 comments

in Social Justice

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We live in a world that recognizes two options for gender.  If you’re not exactly “man” or “woman” you’re going to have a hard time finding your place, because right now there isn’t a place for you.  Let’s change that.  Following is a list of suggestions to make the world a bit less binary and a lot more transgender inclusive.  Read ‘em, live ‘em, and add to ‘em in the comments below.

1. Read our list of cisgender privileges (link) and share it with your friends.

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Awareness is the first step in confronting a problem.  If people don’t know it exists (as most don’t know about the issues pertaining to transgender folks), there won’t be any movement to make a solution.  Read through the list of 30+ (and counting!) cisgender privileges we’ve compiled, comment with any additions, and, most importantly, share it.  Send it to your friends, parents, children, congressmen, anybody and everybody.  Seriously.  Especially the congressmen part (note the gendered term).

2. Wrap your head around the idea that gender is is not tied to genitals.

Following up on the last point, it’d be helpful if you understood what, exactly, transgender is.  Well, lucky for you, I wrote an article that’s a solid intro to gender identity.  Read it and you’ll have a better idea of what it means to be transgender or genderqueer.  Share it with a friend and they will, too.  Then you’ll both understand what Steven Taylor means (in the comments below) by “outer dress has no moral obligation to match inner anatomy.”  After you’ve read that, if you find yourself wondering how sexual orientation works for genderqueer people, we’ve got you covered there, too.

3. Thank businesses that are trans*-friendly with your cash dollars.

Shop at stores that have gender neutral bathrooms.  Buy products from companies that have protections for transgender employees.  If you’re unsure of who is and isn’t trans*-friendly, check out the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index.  They profile corporations and rate them on their equity for LGB and T employees.  In the newest edition, you can even see a list that shows businesses that have at least one transgender-inclusive health care coverage plan (page 29).  Policy changes with public opinion; if we make it clear we prefer businesses that are trans*-friendly, more businesses will make an effort to be trans*-friendly.

4. Bring trans*-inclusivity to your workplace or organization.

Following up on the last point, does your employer offer transgender-inclusive health insurance?  Would a trans* person feel comfortable working there?  Bringing their partner to work?  Are there protections in employee contracts to prevent against wrongful termination based on gender identity?  If not, why not?  Talk to your boss.  Talk to the owner.  Having a trans*-friendly workplace is just as beneficial to employers as employees, as they will be able to attract and retain top talent, regardless of how someone identifies.

Also, whether you’re at a job or still in school, you’ve likely completed an application form that asked for gender (and odds are it wasn’t very transgender inclusive).  Check out this article on how to be inclusive in asking for gender on a form and implement the idea wherever you can.

5. Interact with individuals on an individual basis.

Odds are you know someone who identifies as transgender.  In fact, odds are you know several people who are.  Did you know that?  Odds are, you didn’t.  Here’s a simple fact for you: it’s our tendency to interact with individuals based on our perception of the group(s) they belong to.  For example, if you perceive someone to be a guy, you’ll act differently around him than you would around someone you perceive to be a gal.  Stop that.  Or at least try.  If you’re unsure how, start with the Platinum Rule.  If you need help after that, ask.  And, for the love of Pete (Pete’s a great person), if you’re going to use gendered pronouns (he/she) be sure you’re using the right ones.  A general rule: use the pronoun that aligns with the gender the person identifies with.

6. Ask questions, both of yourself and others.

Transphobia is standing smack-dab in the way of us creating a trans*-friendly world.  As much as the idea that someone isn’t exactly (or wasn’t exactly) “man” or “woman” is scary, I’ve never encountered a person who didn’t come around after a few minutes of conversation.  Once people realize being a transgender person isn’t that different from being a “normal” person (in fact, it’s not different at all), you can see the transphobia start to recede.  Investigate your own gender.  Use the Genderbread Person to help.  I’d bet my lucky tooth (the good one) that you aren’t 100% Man, even if your t-shirt says so.

7. Share more ideas in the comments below.

I’d love to have a list of 30+ concrete ways we can make our world trans*-friendly to balance out the list of cisgender privileges, but I want to hear from you.  I call this “crowd-sourcing social justice.”  Consider the five above just the beginning.  Share some ideas in the comments, and we can work through potential problems and create a fantastic list.

Written by Sam Killermann

Sam is a writer and performer who uses those skills as an ally to advance progress in the realms of LGBT equality and social justice. He tours the country speaking to college students about stereotypes, prejudice, and oppression, and writes for this site when he's at home in Austin, TX.

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  • Steven Taylor

    Wrap your head around the idea that gender is not tied to genitals.  Outer dress has no moral obligation to match inner anatomy.  And that there are far more than two genders!

    • http://samuelkillermann.com/ Samuel Killermann

      Steven, thanks for always being here with great input.  I’m going to think about how to get this sentiment into the list.  Another suggestion is welcome :)

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/6TUKSDPPESSW7N4N4F7CYVJQOI devin

    Please watch out trailer and share. We are working to make Alabama more trans friendly!http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/devinford/i-need-a-hero

  • Caio Opinion Mail

    To below comment, gender is associated genitals. Sexual orientation is NOT based on gender/genitals, and yes there are many, many sexual orientations.

    People may be born with the wrong gender, but have the clear understanding or their sexual orientation.

    With gender, there are instances where there should be three. male, female and intersex. I hope I kind of clarified what I am getting to. Gender with the social norm is very much tied into genitals, but genitals are have only the attraction in sexual orientation. So, I believe what Steven Taylor was saying is people need to accept all sexual orientations and not think about gender, because there are so many.

    I personally don’t see trans’gender’ a gender, I see it as sexual orientation because the fact they know who they are, but they need the gender to fit it. They may have been born with the wrong gender, but they always have been a male/female in their mind. So they have always had the identity just not the physical gender.

    Then you might ask, well what about gender identity? Well, gender identity is something I believe everyone goes through in their life. This help to identify yourself, I personally being a gay man had to identify at one point that, “No, I do not want the gender of a women, because I identify myself as a man.” This make my gender and gender identity alined and along with my sexual orientation of being a gay man.

    • riansmom

      You are possibly combining and/or confusing gender identity and sexual identity. The ARE two very separate and different things. If you have someone who is a biologically born and declared female based on the genitalia at birth, who grows up attracted to women AND feels that she IS a woman then that person is homosexual or lesbian. Same for biological born males attracted to males. BUT, if you have a biologically born female attracted to females, who’s GENDER IDENTITY is MALE-then that person is NOT homosexual or lesbian. That person, identifying as male, living as male and attracted to females is a transgender person who’s sexual identity is HETEROSEXUAL or straight.  The same for biological males who identify as female, attracted to males..STRAIGHT. None of this has anything to do with genitalia. Gender is who you ARE, sexuality is who you are attracted TO. They are distinct and different. I am the mom of a wonderful, intelligent, amazing transman who happens to be straight <3 Love and peace!

      • http://samuelkillermann.com/ Samuel Killermann

        Thanks for responding to that comment.  I was thinking along the same lines.

      • ravengirl

        Well said, and very clear/clarifying.  May I use it as a model for explaining gender vs. sexuality if/when I need to?

    • http://samuelkillermann.com/ Samuel Killermann

      Hi Caio, 

      Thanks for the comment!  I agree with Riansmom – I think you may be mixing up some terms.  At least, mixing them up from the way they are conventionally used surrounding the issues of sexuality and gender.  I wrote a couple of articles I think will help you clear it up.

      Here is a comprehensive article about the relationship between gender identity, expression, biological sex, and attraction (sexual orientation): http://itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2011/11/breaking-through-the-binary-gender-explained-using-continuums/ 

      And here is an article about attraction (sexual orientation) for genderqueer folks: http://itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2012/02/sexual-orientation-for-the-genderqueer/

      Read those and get back to us.  If you still have some issues, I’d love to help!
      Thanks for reading, and for commenting!

      sK

    • Caio Opinion Mail

      I do understand the strong difference between the two. It was a short sum up (which I should not been typing in class) and there are different point it. Each paragraph is talking about something different which is why there are not put together. I was more replying to ‘gender is not tied to genitals’ and ‘there are far more than two genders’.
      When I was talking about transgrender not being a gender, i was not trying to talk about the attraction, but I did reread my post and I should have placed something along the line as gender identity when I stated, “I see it as sexual orientation because the fact they know who they are…” Because from what I learned from my transsexual friends is that they know it all along that their physical body was not for them and yes your right riansmom about the sexual orientation. But, gender does not always have a roll in sexual orientation as if someone says that they are sapiosexual (tangent I know).So, what I am just trying to say (not trying to sound mean if it does come across as it) that transgender is not a gender and people should not see it as a gender because ‘nature messed up’ with giving the wrong gender to the person.I give major props to every single person who has to deal with having to getting a sex change! Not only do they have to deal with that, but they have to deal with sexual attraction. Which, I seem to feel what most of my friends have the issues with is that, after getting the sex change where does that leave ‘labeling’ their orientation and the acceptance from the partner (future or current).
      Any how, like I said… I give mad props to transexuals, because with me dealing with my sexual orientation, that was a major battle on it’s own. I see them as the sex they are in their heart and mind, which is why I say it should only be sexual orientation and not another gender. They are ether man or woman nothing more nothing less.
      (again i do not look to offend anyone, it is just my opinion)

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/AYH5RTEDQ5NT4IAS542NL7O5QY Devian Michaels

    Oh god, my poor family!  For their entire lives, who a person is was determined by what was up their skirt or down their pants!

    • http://twitter.com/tamikenn57 Tami Kennedy

      Such a powerful 5 words. Most of those entire lives existed comfortably within the gender identity / matching sex model. Breaking the model and reconstructing a family takes work and will not always succeed. The longer the model exists typically increases the number and types of relations affected. Fortunately education is breaking down the walls that only permitted a traditional family with associated stereotypes. I’ve been happy to see more videos and shows of families not trying to ‘form’ their child in the traditional mold and being open to possibilities the mold won’t apply.

      I broke the model at age 45. Would that my questions at 6 have been allowed answers. I don’t have a large family but do have a ‘full’ (parents, children and siblings with families) family. I was working at a company rated 100 on the HRC scale. That was 100 on company policy paperwork. I was the first transsexual to test those policies that resulting in a real-life grade of about 85.

      ‘God’ doesn’t have faultless guidance for his minions and they choose their own interpretations. Faith and stereotypes need to accept change. The ‘genderbread’ person is one of the best tools I’ve seen for discussion and education.

  • Catherine

    When you meet anyone, just look into their eyes first. Then say hello and smile. 

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  • Emtowsley

    if you’ve “never encountered a person who didn’t come around after a few minutes of conversation” I want you to talk to my family. You must be saying something better than I am, I will gladly enlist your help. 

  • Trent

    - Ask someone what pronouns they prefer. If it is non-binary ones don’t make a big stink about grammar, pronouciation or making up words. That argument regarding they is not valid.
    - People’s gender identities may change over time. Or even vary at random intervals. It does not make any past gender identification any less valid.
    - Don’t misgender someone on purpose. No matter what variety of jerk they may be they don’t deserve to be treated like that.
    - Don’t out someone as trans*, this can actually put someone in danger or create uncomfortable social environments. I grew up in place where being out as trans* would have put me at risk for violence.
    - Call someone by the name they prefer. Don’t ask someones birth name. It’s invasive.
    - Don’t ask about surgical status.
    - Check whether your local institutions have trans* friendly bathrooms. Don’t relegate trans people to the unisex/family bathroom only. That’s really not practical and limits someone’s bathroom access.
    - If you react visibly with thinly hidden disgust, we can tell. Don’t act affronted if we call you out in this.
    - Don’t lump trans* people with drag queens or kings. It’s really not appreciated.
    - Dysphoria may limit someone’s activities or social life. Don’t be cruel to someone because of that.
    - Our healthcare matters. Write your congress people about that. Write your state legislatures. Write your insurance company. I read my insurance company’s policy about health care for trans* related people, it was ridiculously bigoted and dated.
    - Most states have no anti-discrimination policy regarding gender identity and expression.
    - Intersectionality. It’s a thing, be aware of it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1324309601 Brittany Glidden

      So, you want gender equality but drag queens don’t deserve it, your hypocrisy is disgusting.

      • Name

        Drag Queens/Kings and Transgender are not the same thing, and /neither/ side appreciates being confused with the other. It’s like how bisexuals dont like being told that they’re “really just gay”… Both are desperately fighting for recognition & acceptance as /who they are/… Lumping them in with a separate group removes the validity of both their identity & that of those they’re being grouped with.
        Drag Queens & Kings are usually cisgender (gay, straight, bi/omnisexual, & asexual – there is no binary) people who take on a role or a persona (for a variety of reasons, varying from person to person) but do not usually identify with the gender they portrait while in drag in their regular day-to-day life outside of that.
        Transgender IS your gender identity… You feel you were assigned the wrong gender at birth, or that your gender does not match your genitalia. It’s not a role or a persona. It’s who you are. You don’t put it on or take it off.
        Both are perfectly valid & acceptable states of being.
        But mixing them up, treating them as the same thing, or not understanding the difference badly hurts the struggle both are going through to become accepted & valid ways of life in our society.

  • BarbP

    Please consider putting this graphic (“Sorry, Teacher….”) on a t-shirt at some point!!!

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  • Jesse

    I’m a student studying teaching. I did a placement at a primary school recently, and I was in a grade 1 class. The teacher was reading a book, and the word “male” or the word “female” came up (can’t remember which one, but it doesn’t matter for the purposes of the story), and the teacher thought that it was a word that she might need to explain the meaning of. Her method of doing so was to point to some of the students and say “you’re a male” and “you’re a female”. I remember feeling pretty uncomfortable in that classroom. I’m planning on becoming a secondary teacher, but we really need to try and make classrooms pan-gender friendly, and make sure teachers both a) understand the differences between sex, gender and sexual orientation and b) understand what bullshit the binary view of any of those three things is (or as the genderbread man graphic probably better puts it, four things, sorry for oversimplifying it).

    To use mathematical (or more accurately logical) terminology, for anyone as nerdy as me, the logic of truth and falsity is usually a binary logic (don’t get philosophical with me) but the logic of gender, sexuality and sexual identity is an infinitary logic (or maybe an n-valued logic, where n is the number of people in the world).

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  • http://www.facebook.com/tsongvilay1 Tiffany Songvilay

    Oh the irony! There is a gender question when registering on Issuu to print out the Corporate Equality Index Report. The only choices are Male and Female. Why is gender relevant when printing a document?!

  • I’ve got a cousin…

    Hello Sam, I was wondering if you’d consider doing an article on how to be supportive to a family member who is just coming out as trans. My cousin (who I am not super close with, but I see him once a year and, well, he’s family!) grew up as a girl. Last summer was our family reunion and there was a lot of…awkwardness. Most of us knew that he no longer identified as a woman and would prefer to be addressed as a “he” and using the male version of his name (luckily it is easily switch-able) but some of the older members of the family (grandparents, great aunt, etc.) weren’t informed at the time and still used “she” and “her”. It was a very confusing time, and it was difficult to remember which pronoun to use around whom! Now, he has come out to the WHOLE family and I have been trying to get in the habit of using the correct pronoun (he) when speaking to or about him, but it is difficult to just change that in your mind after growing up with someone and calling them “she” for so many years! I’m certainly getting the hang of it and all of the family members seem to be very supportive, but I am sure everyone is struggling with the idea of this new name, new pronoun person. I mean, obviously he is the same person we have grown up with and loved our whole life, but it would be difficult if my sister decided to change her name from “Tanya” to “Julie”-it’s just such a force of habit, you know? I am also trying to learn how to act around my cousin…like I said, I see him maybe once a year, and I want to ask him about his life and how he is doing without seeming too…intrusive. After the awkward reunion last summer I sent him a message just telling him that I supported him and he should feel free to talk to me if ever he wanted to, but things are still a bit strange. My biggest confusion comes from talking about him in the past tense…He identifies as a “he” now but he was always “she” growing up, and went by another name. When we are reminiscing about the past with family, which pronoun do I use? Which name? Thanks for your help and input, I’m just trying to be as supportive and careful as I can be! (Also I chose to remain anonymous for my cousin’s discretion, he probably wouldn’t appreciate me throwing his name/our shared last name all over the internets :P )

    • Cathy the Spherical

      Based on my daughter’s attitude, I would imagine your cousin would like you to treat him the same as always. Try to use his new name, he’ll understand slips as long as you try. Ask how he is, how work, school or whatever is ~ just like you did two years ago. When you start to reminisce, ask him if he has a preference (probably male, but not necessarily) and try to use that. You can even ask about transition, how it’s going, what’s easier than he expected, what’s harder. . . but don’t ask about things like genitalia unless that was a perfectly normal conversational topic back when you thought he was a girl.