The ‘Shit Cis People Say’ Alphabet: V is for “valuable ally”

Welcome to another episode of the Shit Cis People Say Alphabet! Today:

V is for “valuable ally”

Somehow it seems like the only time cis people really talk about how valuable they are as allies as when y’all are threatening to stop. As in, “Why are you trans people so rude? You’re going to lose valuable allies that way.”

The thing about this phrase is it seems to misunderstand what allyship is in the first place, and what makes an ally valuable.

So first things first: simply believing that trans people have the same right that cis people have to go through life as the gender they identify as does not an ally make. All that qualifies you as is “not a virulent transphobe”.

Allyship isn’t about your personal beliefs, it’s about actually fighting alongside us and taking actions to make trans people’s lives better now and in the future. This can be something as simple as calling out people who say transphobic things, or doing work to educate your fellow cis people on trans issues (thus taking the burden of education off our shoulders), but it has to be something you’re actually *doing*.

Second, if your allyship (or, as is often the case, your “allyship” in the form of believing that trans people are worthy of dignity and respect) can be lost because a trans person (or even more than one trans person!) was mean to you one time, let me tell you: your allyship ain’t worth shit.

All people are worthy of dignity and respect, regardless of how they treat you. If trans people’s basic human rights are being offered to us at the cost of us being nice to cis people all the time, then what you’re talking about isn’t even equal rights in the first place. What you’re talking about is extending trans people the privilege of being treated as well cis people, as long as we behave correctly.

Cis people don’t have to deal with any of that shit, and neither should trans people.

Real talk: if you were actually a valuable ally, you wouldn’t be wasting your time telling us how to act, or making sure we know how valuable you are. You’d be doing the work, and your actions would speak for you.

Check out the rest of the “Shit Cis People Say” alphabet!

Golden opportunity, missed

Last week at work, I found myself in an extended conversation with one of my colleagues about the work she’s been doing around the fact that her non-binary sibling-in-law will be coming to her family’s xmas stuff this year, and all of the various and sundry terrible responses she has had to push back against. It was the perfect moment for me to come out!

And I didn’t.

By the time I had even processed what was happening and that this was a great moment to come out, I felt like I’d already missed the moment? And I kept floundering around; I did a lot of comparing her family’s responses to mine, but without ever specifying who the non-binary person relevant to my family was.

I’m still torn around coming out at work at all? Like, I know that most people aren’t going to manage to stop misgendering me anyway, and I also know that it will be harder for me to handle it when I know they know better. There are plenty of people who would be great about it though. Heck, last month, when I asked a colleague at another branch about some inconsistencies in the spelling of this person’s name throughout the organization (specifically, in masculine and feminine versions), in addition clarifying the correct spelling, and mentioning that it will be become more consistent pending a legal name change*, my colleague asked me to use the name instead of pronouns where possible as well.

In retrospect, I am also thinking that the colleague with the non-binary sibling-in-law deliberately brought it up because she’s clocked me as enby (I am actually sort of passively out in minor ways at work – my public bio on the web site uses they pronouns, for instance). In any case, I do know I am not alone here, and I know I have allies.

But still, I’m scared, somehow? I think I just don’t know how I want to go about it. I could send out a big organization-wide email blast. I could start with the branch I work at (but how?), and sort of depend on word-of-mouth and/or come out to other people a bit at a time as necessary from there. I could talk to my managers about it first, though that doesn’t seem particularly necessary.

…I could also wait and see what this other colleague of mine does and then ride those coattails, but I suspect that would not be the best approach for a bunch of reasons. And to be honest, I’d probably rather not have to hear what everyone’s responses to that coming out will be, if they are still under the impression that I am cis when that happens. I don’t want them to think I’m a ‘safe’ person to hear whatever shit they need to say, and I just don’t need that in my life generally.

Maybe I’ll make it a new year/new leaf thing? I don’t know why I feel the need to be able to give a “but why are you doing this right now?” justification for it, but I feel less stressed about it when I have one.

Ugh, I dunno. Words of wisdom and/or support are welcome.


*I am quite sure this is not a question of organizational policy (as in, this is not a repeat of the fuckery I dealt with in another library system), but rather just that my colleague has decided to wait until the name change comes through before actively asking for the change – right now, the new name spelling only appears in my colleague’s email signature.

Questions from the search terms: “everyone has a marginalized identity”

This was an interesting search string that brought someone to my little corner of the internet: everyone has a marginalized identity

I don’t know if it was meant as a question or a statement, but it wormed its way into my brain nevertheless. Because the thing is, when you get right down to it, the *vast* majority of people do experience some sort of systemic marginalization in their lives (though I would argue that there are many cases in which the axes of marginalization in question are not particularly axes of the people’s active identities).

To look at it another way, let me ask: what people in this world have faced no forms of systemic marginalization? For simplicity’s sake, I’ll actually limit myself to people in the US and Canada.

That would be white, anglophone, cisgender, heterosexual, allosexual, monotheist (really, Christian specifically), thin, conventionally attractive, non-disabled, neurotypical men from at middle-class backgrounds or higher. I am sure I’m even forgetting some things here. But the point is, its far and away a small sliver of the population.

This is, of course, part of why intersectionality is an important aspect of social justice discourse. Because once you’ve missed one of the privilege boxes, every additional hit doesn’t just add on to that, it multiplies and interacts with it. So, for instance, if you’re a rich white straight dude, you can usually get away with being publicly atheist without facing too much scrutiny (depending of course on specifically where you are, but nevertheless), whereas if you’re a rich white gay dude, it’s probably safer to at least pretend to be into the kinder parts of the bible (y’know, one of the ‘good’ gays or whatever). You don’t want to question the hegemony too much, after all.

Not to mention that when you have intersecting marginalized identities, you’re more likely to find yourself not just excluded from mainstream stuff, but also from groups dedicated to individual aspects of your marginalization – LGBT people might not want atheists visible in their groups, and atheists sadly aren’t free from heterosexism).

And I actually think this is one of the places where relatively privileged people often get stuck in social justice discourse. Because most of us actually have experienced some sort of marginalization, but those who only experience this marginalization on one or two fronts, or on the ones that are less relevant to day-to-day living, often make the mistake of thinking they know what it’s like to be marginalized. Because they kind of do. And I think most of us (myself included) are sometimes guilty of forgetting that the impacts of different marginalized identities aren’t directly comparable, that the effects of marginal identities aren’t simply additive, and that the intersections between privileged and marginalized identities within any given individual have complex and hard-to-parse consequences.

None of us can seperate out the parts of our lives that result from our privilege and the parts that result from our marginalization, because everything flows out of all of these things.

I want to be able to say that remembering we have all suffered should help us all be a little more compassionate, but unfortunately in practice it is those who have suffered the most, or those who are currently trying to end their own most immediate suffering, who are put upon to be kind and quiet and gracious and compassionate toward those who are contributing to their suffering. We are always playing a game of “no, you be civil first!” and this is a game that the most marginalized people will always lose, because the most marginalized people will inevitably have fewer emotional resources available to do the work we are constantly demanding of them.

So yes, I guess almost everyone does have some sort of marginalized identity. But we all need to learn to see past our own marginalization and recognize the experiences of those different from us, their suffering, and the ways in which we may have been complicit in, or complacent about, their marginalization. And none of us is absolved of doing so.

Gender Perspectives vol. 12. Special Edition: Perspectives on trans allyship

download[In the Gender Perspectives series, I aim to highlight diverse kinds of personal narratives and reflections on gender, gender presentation, and identity, to broaden the gender conversation and boost a variety of voices. Check out the rest of the series.]

For this special edition of the Gender Perspectives series, I’ve pulled together a bunch of posts that highlight what it means to be an ally to trans folx, and especially how to be a good one. I’ve deliberately included both the voices and perspectives of trans folx, and some examples of good allyship from cisgender people.

I’ve written very basically about the first steps toward becoming an ally, including how allies can be important, because they can use their privilege to accomplish things that those facing oppression cannot:
What to do now that you’re aware of your privilege(s) | Valprehension

Commonly, the refrain from someone who has their privilege pointed out to them is “So, what, then? Should I feel guilty about being [white/thin/straight/etc.]?” The answer to this question is, of course, no. Feeling sorry for your advantages in life does no one any good. But being aware of your privilege is important for a whole host of reasons. And there are things you can do with your awareness of your privilege.


Raye takes a very personal approach to describing ally behaviours that have had a positive impact in their life:
Five Ways Cis People Have Supported Me As A Genderqueer Person | Gender: Awesome

Some of the most meaningful forms of support I’ve encountered are moments where a cis person takes it upon themselves to do the work of educating other cis folks. Again, it’s important to first ask, then act. In one case, I was experiencing repeated misgendering from someone in one of my communities. It was hard for me to correct this person because I knew they weren’t doing it on purpose and I didn’t want to make them feel bad. But it was frustrating! When I vented to a friend, he volunteered to talk to that person if I wanted him to. I said yes, so he did. It was a perfect example of allyship and a huge relief to me.


Vincent discusses the problem of false allyship, and the problem of people who claim to be allies but then offer no support to those with whom they claim to be allied:
Allies: How to Tell False From True | Becoming Vincent

This shit is literally a matter of life or death for a lot of trans people. We often face much harsher words and attitudes just while trying to go about our day-to-day lives. There are, it seems, a great many people who want to jump on board the ally bandwagon without being fully aware of exactly what that entails. And so, mostly for the benefit of my fellow trans people but also for any cis person who is interested, I present my personal ‘true ally vs fake ally’ lists.


The author of genderrolling examines her own cis female privilege in a way that exemplifies the kjind of awareness that is vital for good allyship:
Females, and cisness, and privilege- oh my! | genderrolling

Explaining trans identity to cis people as a cis person, rather than as a trans person is like the difference between a man explaining feminism to a man compared to a woman explaining it. The man automatically has more respect because of how we privilege a man’s experience and opinion in society. Likewise, my cisgenderness is a privilege that transwomen simply do not have.


Finally, the Cisgender Privilege Pledge is a good starting point for anyone who wants to start actively thinking about being a cis ally to trans people. Please consider doing your own, and let me know in the comments!
Example 1
Example 2