Happy LGBTQ Ally Visibility Week! How are you celebrating? I’m going to see my friend Sam Peterson’s on-campus performance, “F to M to Octopus.” Sam calls it “a one-person rumination on hilarity, despair, transitioning, God, and octopuses.”
I’m really looking forward to learning about Sam’s individual experiences not conforming to his assigned sex at birth. It always feels like a privilege when someone shares personal stories! Trans identities (like all gender identities!) are diverse and every story is influenced by ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, and spirituality, among other things.
In the spirit of Ally Visibility Week, I’m reflecting on how to be a better ally for the trans folks in my life and in the community. Have you completed the Safe Zone training through the LGBTQ Center? It’s a great way to examine your attitudes about sexuality/gender and learn about how policies/laws affect LGBTQ folks.
There are a lot of seemingly little ways to support your trans friends, crushes, partners, family members, classmates, coworkers, and even your acquaintances:
Respect privacy. Coming out is not a one-time event. Someone may come out to you but not be ready for everyone to know. It’s an honor to be trusted with something this important. Gossip can have serious negative consequences.
Pronouns are powerful. It can be really hard to hear other people refer to you with pronouns that conflict with your identity (to be “mispronouned”). Ask trans folks about which pronouns they prefer. Use those pronouns when you’re together and with other people that they’ve come out to. Be conscientious of location: let your trans friends tell you when it’s okay to use chosen pronouns (be careful not to accidentally out them). If you’re in a leadership role, like head of an organization or a TA, make a point to use the chosen pronouns if your trans group member has told you it’s okay. You’re setting a powerful example for the group!
“Both strangers and friends have been available and non-judgmental listeners – strangers like at Weaver St. where cashiers readily accepted my pronoun change without comment, or an occasional “right on!” Being mispronouned in early transition can be devastating; it sounds cliché but having people be supportive and open and willing to shift the way they were thinking has been transformative, not just for them but for ME!” – Sam Peterson
Be accepting of changing self-definition. Part of being accepting is giving people space to explore their gender identities. Be supportive of change and growth. For example, use your friend’s chosen name and don’t refer to the birth name as the “real name.” It’s hurtful to suggest the chosen name is less authentic.
“For me, I’ve experienced a great generosity from people – that generosity means an acceptance of who I said I was. It sounds so simple but it’s really powerful.”
— Sam Peterson
Be an advocate. Consider how institutional policies affect trans folks, and advocate for changes that build a more inclusive environment, like gender-neutral bathrooms. Increase visibility by bringing up trans issues when it’s relevant to class discussion, and support arts events on campus, like “F to M to Octopus”!
“F to M to Octopus” is included in UNC Communication’s “Solo Takes On Three: Story, Identity, and Desire” Festival. Performances are in Swain Hall. To purchase tickets, call 919-962-1449 or visit the Student Union Box Office. $5 for students/seniors and $10 for the general public. Performances are:
Saturday February 4, 9:00pm
Friday February 10, 8:00pm
Sunday February 12, 5:00pm