When someone discloses that they are part of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, do you know how to be a true ally? How you support them can make a big difference in their well-being. It will also let them know whether you are a safe person they can trust. Here are five ways that you can consider.
Respect a person’s choice to disclose their identities or not. It’s a privilege that they trust you and are comfortable letting you into their journey.
Ask whether they are ok with you sharing their identities with others. Some might not be comfortable with you sharing with strangers, families, or even some friends. Respect their requests. Don’t let this information slip out unintentionally when talking with others. Queer people don’t owe anyone their identities.
For queer folks, don’t feel obligated to disclose your identities to others. Only do it in situations when you feel comfortable and safe. You can still be your authentic self if you choose not to disclose your identities, whether it’s to family members, friends, instructors, colleagues, or strangers.
Never assume that you know what a queer person has experienced or is currently going through. Constantly ask yourself if you have any biases. There are many stereotypes and myths about queer people that you might or might not be aware of. Let go of those assumptions and get to know them for who they are.
I have heard many people say “It’s good to choose who you are.” Others share about choosing a certain career path when I come out to them. A person may mean well, but being a member of the queer community is not a life choice like choosing a career path.
You may be eager to show your support, but take the time to learn first. There are lots of books, videos, and documentaries that can teach you about 2SLGBTQIA+ identities, as well as queer history and queer culture. Being an ally doesn’t just mean you are not homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic etc., it also means actively learning about the oppressions that queer folks experience and showing your support in daily life.
Respect the way people describe themselves. Share your own pronouns and ask others for theirs. Sharing your pronouns can help queer folks—especially transgender, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming folks—feel safe to share their own pronouns.
Don’t make assumptions about other people’s pronouns—they might be misgendered and using the wrong pronoun might be a triggering experience for them. A person’s gender expressions may not align with their gender identities. If you misgendered them, please acknowledge it but don’t overreact. That might make the situation worse. Remember to use the same language the person uses to describe their experiences.
Again, every queer person has a unique experience, and some terms may not fit every queer person. For example, what it means to be non-binary is different for each non-binary person.
If a transgender, non-binary, or gender-nonconforming person has not found a label that they feel good with, respect that and give them time to explore. It’s okay to not use any labels. It’s also normal for their terms and words to change over time.
Learn to ask appropriate questions to folks who come out as members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. Don’t ask questions about how they have sex. Cis-gender straight people often ask me, “How do you have sex as a non-binary lesbian?” “Are you in a platonic relationship? Because I can’t imagine sex without using genitals.” I’m fine with these questions most of the time because I tend to regard the questions as opportunities to educate others. However, it’s not the responsibility for queer people to educate and these questions can be annoying and humiliating to people who identify as 2SLGBTQIA+.
It’s especially harmful when someone describes certain sex (i.e., lesbian sex) as a different or degrading experience compared to heterosexual penetrative sex. Do details on sex matter to your friendship? Do you ask heterosexual people how they have sex?
Being an ally for transgender people also means that you better not ask for their birth names unless they are willing to share. Don’t ask about their plans and details on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or gender-affirming surgery unless they are willing to share as well. Many transgender people have limited access to gender-affirming care, but this doesn’t mean they can’t identify as transgender. Their identities are still valid.
For many transgender folks, their birth names are dead names to them, and using them might be a triggering experience. Asking about their past might also retraumatize them.
If you have asked inappropriate questions, apologize genuinely and remember not to do so next time. But don’t overreact.
These are a few things you can do when someone discloses that they are a member of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. Many things haven’t been mentioned, so remember that being an ally is a learning process. Everyone plays a role in building a supportive environment for queer people.
This article was written by Joyce Deng during their time at Shift Collab.
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