“Many of us spend years trying to find out who we are and, sadly, too many of us never do. If we fail to define ourselves, we risk letting others define us…We buy into labels that keep us in a box and, as a result of those limitations, never realize our full potential” (Graham, Identity: Passport to Freedom). Respect, regardless of who we are speaking of, is simply allowing someone to be who they are. Stedman Graham, Identity Development consultant, articulates just how hard it can be to be oneself – this is especially more difficult when we don’t feel respected.
What does it mean to be Transgender?
In general, most of us have grown up with a view of gender being a binary concept – one is either male or female. However, today the medical, psychological and sociological communities recognize that human development can follow many paths. In fact, there is a continuum of options, not just a binary choice along a number of different axes. Moreover, most people really never think about any difference between gender identity and sexual orientation.
In fact, even within some of these concepts, there are a variety of differences in how one may feel or identify themselves and how they will show or express oneself. At a high level, Transgender means there is an incongruence between one’s gender identity/expression and one’s biological/assigned sex at birth. For most transgender people, the gender transition journey is often filled with identifying and coming to terms with many fears. They must weigh and balance their potential gains and losses in their lives:How can I support and show respect to a transgender person?
How can I support and show respect to a transgender person?
- Gains include: living authentically to oneself; realness and community
- Losses include: job security/career, marriage/family, physical safety, legal rights
The ripple effect of positive support and respect will have provide positive, on-going dividends. Support is critical to both a successful gender transition and to engaging with the transgender population. Here are 5 simple ways you can show your respect and support a transgender person:
Declare your Support:
You can show respect by declaring your support and you can do this privately, but it has greater benefit if it is more public, as it can encourage others to demonstrate both respect and support. Provide assurance of your support to the individual. This act can enable trust and you will find that the individual will be open in answering any questions you might have.
Demonstrate Maturity and Confidentiality as Appropriate:
If you work with someone undergoing a transition, employers expect colleagues to always conduct themselves in a professional manner in line with business values and conduct guidelines. Take the step of clearly stating your conversations will be held strictly confidential.
Ask Questions and Listen:
Sometimes you may worry you are offending a Transgender person by asking questions, but it shows openness. Ask the individual for suggestions on how you can support him or her during their transition or anytime. Ask the individual if they plan to change their name. If they do or already have one, ask what name and pronoun they will use and when they wish you to begin referring to him or her with the new name and pronoun. If you’re not sure how to ask the question, follow this simple tip from GLAAD (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation): “If you’re unsure which pronoun a person uses, listen first to the pronoun other people use when referring to the person. Someone who knows the person well will probably use the correct pronoun.”
Don’t change how you interact with the individual:
If you were friends before the colleague transitioned or if you’re now just learning that he or she is Transgender – they are still the same person. You don’t need to change your relationship based on this new knowledge. If you have a history of having discussions about family life with your colleague, you may want to ask him or her how he or she now wishes to have their spouse or partner referred to during and after the transition.
Be Open to Feedback and Learn More:
Respecting others means you are open to receiving feedback if they feel they were disrespected. The National Center for Transgender Equality, “there is no one way to be a ‘perfect’ ally.” But you can always “take your education into your own hands. It’s important to have conversations with the trans people in your life, but it’s also important for you to seek out resources and information on your own.” They also recommend the following resources: Frequently Asked Questions about Transgender PeopleUnderstanding Non-Binary PeopleAbout Transgender People:
- Frequently Asked Questions about Transgender People
- Understanding Non-Binary People
- About Transgender People
To quote famous novelist George Elliot, who was really the pen name for Mary Ann Evans, “It’s never too late to be who you might have been.” Imagine you didn’t feel safe to be who you really wanted to be and use that to empathize with the transgender people in your life, or anyone for that matter and you will show them respect.