There are many things about the trans experience that most cisgender people don’t understand. This means they often they accidentally or indirectly hurt trans people, even when they mean well.
I don’t take this personally. This is just where we’re at as a society. That’s OK—you know, as long as people get that it’s not OK for things to stay this way. 😉
On that note, yesterday some trans news made mainstream. Singer Sam Smith publicly announced their pronouns: they and them. Really cool.
This news hitting mainstream meant that a lot of the cis folks in my life saw it, and connected with me about it. Also fantastic.
And here’s where we get to the tricky part. There’s a lot of transphobic booby traps hiding in places my cis friends don’t know to look out for. And in their supportive desire to share solidarity with me, they accidentally led me right into them.
I’m not writing this article to call anyone out or to complain. I’m writing it because this situation turned out to be a good opportunity to give some pointers on how to avoid leading a trans person into a dark and dangerous place for them on the internet.
Here are two of those places I wish my cis friends had known to keep an eye out for.
I cannot describe the horror induced by stumbling into a pit of thoughts from hundreds of people who want you dead, and who are openly talking about it in plain view, with no repercussions. I stumbled into many of these pits yesterday via links from my cisgender friends.
Sadly, these are all over the place. One of their most common hiding places is the comments on every mainstream news piece about trans people. I’m serious: it’s just about every single one.
I was tagged in the comments of several public Facebook posts featuring links to news articles on Sam’s coming out, and suddenly ended up in very scary places with no warning.
How to help trans friends avoid this:
Do a little scouting. Look at what sort of dialogue is going on if you’re sharing anything that allows public comments. Don’t just look for threats of violence, look out for scorn, cruel laughter, and mockery.
For example, take Facebook. if you tag a trans friend in the comments on a public Facebook post, first look at the other comments that will load when they go to see what you tagged them in. If you see any transphobia, either don’t tag them, or at least give them a great big warning.
Bonus: take a look at the reaction emojis. If it’s a serious article about a trans person and the primary emoji response is a “laugh” react, that’s probably a tough thing to draw your trans friend’s attention to. I personally don’t need any more reminders that the world thinks I’m a joke.
It’s mind-blowing how many articles about Sam Smith’s gender ended up misgendering Sam Smith (though some have been since corrected, which is encouraging). There were self-defeating headlines like “Sam Smith says his pronouns are they/them” on news sites as legitimate as the New York Times.
It’s painful and depressing to see trans people being misgendered in the news, especially by reputable sources. And since many articles on trans people turn out to be about their gender—like these about Sam Smith—that makes the misgendering double depressing. Misgendering in media is a public demonstration of not seeing someone’s identity as real.
If you find anything that resembles misgendering, warn your friend about it before they open it up. In that case, they at least know you don’t think misgendering is OK, even if the entire media channel’s staff didn’t seem to have a single person among them who cared.
Keep an eye out for transphobia
The bottom line is that you can really help the trans folks in your life by looking out for transphobia, and doing what you can to protect them from it.
A lot of us are hit with transphobia on a daily basis, so we’re pretty tough. We have to be. But having to see how hated and disdained you are all the time can get intense, and it really helps to know we’re not just dealing with it unnoticed and alone.
Stay alert for transphobia, and be careful not to just pass it on. And when you do see it, let your trans friend know that you don’t think it’s OK.
To do this, you have to notice it. And that’s what I wrote this article to help you do.
One of the greatest gifts you can give a trans person is simply paying closer attention.