Blouch: We need to be better allies to the transgender community

Cat Blouch

Protesters wearing Pride and transgender pride flags stand on a bike rack outside of the Cristol Chemistry and Biochemistry building on the University of Colorado Boulder’s campus to speak out against guest speaker Ann Coulter March 21, 2018. (Davis Bonner | The Collegian)

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

This week is Transgender Awareness Week. Given that the transgender community has suffered in silence for far too long, living with an increased risk of mental health issues and sexual violence, it is crucial that we question what it means to be a proper ally. 

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Sitting down with members of the transgender community highlighted that part of being an ally is not just about not being transphobic. An ally is anti-transphobic.

Former Colorado State University student and social media influencer Alex Boyum mentioned that while he feels better after coming out as transgender, it has not been an all positive experience. He said, “I am also now putting myself in danger just by existing because of how I identify.” 

Transgender people often live with the daily fear of not only simple microaggressions but the fear that bigotry could escalate into physical violence, as is an unfortunate experience for many within the community.

That is why taking this week to educate ourselves and move forward with the proper tools to be an ally is so important — if hate toward the community shows itself in such a violent way, then it is our due diligence to be sure that we are not unknowingly adding to this fear simply due to ignorance. 

“There’s this phrase that bothers me so much: ‘preferred pronouns,’ because it’s implying that — if I want to use they/them pronouns — they’re not my real pronouns; it’s just what I want to be called,” said Lab Ducote, a third-year geology student at Colorado State University.

Language that may seem benign to those outside of the community can have adverse effects on people who are transgender. As aforementioned, a big part of being an ally is being proactive — that means listening to the experiences of our friends within the community to better understand how we may avoid these microaggressions. 

A proactive response means helping create a culture of acceptance and being willing to restructure old habits and norms. While you may be used to assuming someone’s gender, using gendered language and thinking within the gender binary, these behaviors may be the reason a transgender individual feels that their identity is being invalidated. 

You can Google search any term at any time, but it requires the patience and willingness to listen to others’ experiences to begin to understand any community to which you are on the outside.”

Allyship is more important than ever when the culture within the transgender community itself is taken into consideration.

“Some of the big issues in the LGBTQ+ community, and specifically the trans community, are gatekeeping,” Ducote said. “You have people who think they get to dictate what being trans means for other people. … There’s a set of guidelines and boxes you have to tick off, and that causes a lot of us to feel like, ‘Oh, well, I’m not really trans, I’m just pretending.'”

As visibility for those who fall out of the gender binary grows, identities that have not been in the public eye come to light. One may think that a transgender person may find an all-inclusive culture within their own community, but this is unfortunately not always the case. 

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This is why taking the time to recognize the plights that the transgender community faces are so important. Beyond the general fear of violence and microaggressions, many transgender folks experience invalidation from the very community that is supposed to embrace them. 

A Joe Biden supporter waves a Pride flag outside the Colorado State Capitol in Denver Nov. 7. (Lucy Morantz | The Collegian)

Take the time to educate yourself. Begin by asking people their pronouns, and go beyond assuming. You don’t have to understand someone’s identity, but it is your responsibility to respect it. 

Take this information to create a toolbox for yourself so this education outlives the span of Transgender Awareness Week and transforms into a culture that better accepts this at-risk community. The culture of acceptance is crucial in the present but especially for generations of transgender children to come. 

It’s possible to create a culture where future generations of transgender people are equipped with the language of the trans community, and the LGBTQ+ community as a whole, so that they may understand themselves on a better level and hopefully collectively reduce the mental health issues that so many within the community experience. 

Remember that the best form of education comes from listening. You can Google search any term at any time, but it requires the patience and willingness to listen to others’ experiences to understand any community you belong to on the outside. 

Cat Blouch can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @BlouchCat.