Learning to be an ally to the Transgender community

Transgender – Why language matters?

Learning to be an ally to the transgender community is an on-going process and will not happen overnight. However, taking steps (be it big or small) to learn and support the trans community can make a difference.

One of the most important parts of being an ally to the transgender community is understanding and learning what it means to be transgender, identity, and the importance of language.


What does transgender mean?

Transgender is an adjective which, in its simplest terms, means a person whose gender expression/gender identity differs from that of the sex they were assigned at birth. Gender identity is a person’s internal sense of being a man or a woman, and for some people outside the gender binary. For transgender people, the sex they were assigned does not match their internal gender identity.

It’s also important to realise that identity and sexual orientation are not the same. While gender identity is about who you are, sexual orientation is who you are romantically or sexually attracted to. Just like a cisgender person, a transgender person can identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer.

Transgender people may use a number of terms to describe themselves such as transgender or non-binary (the latter is most commonly used to describe someone’s gender identity when they do not identify within traditional categories of male or female).

It is worth noting that some transgender people also identify as non-binary.

It is important you use the term used by the person themselves. If in doubt, politely asking what term they are happy for you to use is recommended.

The importance of language

The language used to identify people should be inclusive. This is why referring to anyone identifying as transgender, and using terms they feel most comfortable with, is imperative.

If someone expresses a wish to be referred to by a particular term, then their wishes should be respected.

To deliberately continue to use the wrong term or pronoun to address someone is not only disrespectful but ultimately offensive, ignorant, and extremely hurtful.

Pronouns –  A beginners lesson

One of the most significant changes when it comes to the language being used in this LGBTI+ community is that of pronouns.

Though many transgender and indeed non-binary people will still refer to themselves as he or she, more and more are preferring to use gender-neutral pronouns instead.

The best way to assure you address someone correctly is to ask them what their preference or preferred pronoun is. However, some of choices of pronouns you are likely to come across:


Gender pronouns and the importance of language

To further help us get things right, it’s good practice to understand the difference between common terms associated with sex, gender and sexuality.


Spectrums of gender and sexuality

Words that should not be used

As well as being aware of the language we should be using and understanding, there are number of terms previously used to describe transgender people that have become outdated, and in many cases offensive.

The below terms were once commonplace, but could now be seen as offensive to the transgender community.

  • Tranny – Some find this highly offensive and derogative
  • Shemale – An offensive term for a transgender woman
  • Transsexual – Some people find this offensive now, others not so much. Thus, it’s more of a personal choice
  • Sex Change Operation – Now, the terms of gender-affirming surgery or sex reassignment surgery are preferred instead
  • Hermaphrodite – The preferred term now is intersex
  • Gender Identity Disorder – Now, the term used is gender dysphoria

Becoming an ally

Becoming an ally of the transgender community means to support those identifying as transgender, through learning more about the community and the language.

There are many ways you can learn to support transgender people. They include, but are not limited to:

  1. Not assuming that transgender people look a certain way or come from specific backgrounds
  2. Not making any assumptions about their sexual orientation
  3. Asking what pronoun they prefer to use
  4. Not making a big deal if you use the wrong pronouns, but apologise, learn from it and move on
  5. Never ask them what their birth name was
  6. Refraining from asking personal questions of a sexual nature
  7. Not offering them tips or backhanded compliments based on stereotypes ie. “I would never have known that you’re trans.”
  8. Challenging any inconsiderate or offensive remarks or jokes at their expense
  9. Understanding that transitioning is unique to each individual and a personal choice
  10. Remaining patient with those who have yet to decide or explore their gender identity and aren’t sure of the term they wish to use currently

Tips to being an ally for transgender people


Further resources, information, and support

There are many supportive organisations for transgender people and their friends, which offer help, fantastic resources, and vital information for all transgender and non-binary people.

One of the best places for all ages is that of the All About Trans Group. Working to help as many members of the trans community as they possibly can, they offer an incredibly informative directory on their site. Here you can access a full list that covers the whole of the UK.

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