5 Things Cis People Can Actually Do For Trans People (Now That You Care About Us)

It’s been a weird year for trans people.

Allow me to be more specific: It’s been a heated, daring, tumultuous, graphic, specularizing, aggressive, pointed, contentious, highly fatal, and really, really complicated year for trans people.

Here are a few examples: Kristina Gomez Reinwald, Ty Underwood, Lamia Beard, and many other transwomen of color have been brutally murdered at the hands of lovers, family members, and strangers. Meanwhile, Laverne Cox and Janet Mock have come to fame and exhibited incredible feats of grace, articulation, and poignancy under the gaze of an eager media. Blake Brockington, Leelah Alcorn, Taylor Alesana, and many other transgender youth have committed suicide after enduring endless bullying and systematic brutality. Meanwhile, Jazz Jennings became the new face of Clean & Clear and published a children’s picture book about her life, and teen trans couple Arin Andrews and Katie Hill (best known for “Can You Even Believe They’re Trans?!” types of headlines) wrote and published individual books about their very public relationship and their mutual transitions. Transman Aydian Dowling took a dramatic lead in the Men’s Health cover contest, and newly out Caitlyn Jenner displayed her insta-transition on the cover of Vanity Fair. Meanwhile, trans people without the genetic predisposition/material wealth/desire to transition into cisnormatively beautiful bodies are disproportionately homeless, or sexually exploited, or incarcerated, or dead.

So, to recap: Transwomen are either models of cisnormative beauty, or they’re dead. Trans youth are either models of cisnormative beauty, or they’re dead. Transmen are either models of cisnormative beauty, or they simply don’t exist. This is the landscape for trans media representation in 2015.

I’m not saying 2015 has offered nothing in the way of pride and productivity for trans people. I’m not even saying the events being applauded as progress are totally useless. But interpretations of ‘pride’ and ‘productivity’ for transgender Americans, as exemplified by Media representation in 2015, have left most of us transfolks (particularly the ones desperate for space and resources) still silenced by louder, more privileged, more lucrative, and more entertaining trans narratives.

If nothing else can be said about this weird cultural climate, it has certainly established a whole gaggle of cisgender people claiming to want to be good advocates for transfolks. The problem, of course, is most new “allies” seem to think reposting Caitlyn Jenner’s reveal photo entitles them to a freshly baked ally cookie, and anyone (even transfolks) challenging the ways they think about transfolks sends them into an immediate cis-savior defensiveness downspiral. Thanks to the Media, even cis people calling themselves “allies” still think they know more about trans people than trans people do, and they are more than happy to tell transfolks to shut up when they don’t like what they’re hearing.

I am here to tell you that I have no cookies to offer. If you still want to be an advocate for transgender people, then you may actually care about transgender people. Neat. Read on.

Here is a short list of standards and principles you can integrate into your daily life to be an all around better person, and to do something with your cisgender privilege (beyond asking pronouns and not asking stupid questions, which are also important) in the era of armchair activism.

1. Shut up.

If one more cis person tells me they’re “entitled to their opinion” about this whole Caitlyn Jenner thing, I’m gonna go pre-maturely gray.  When trans people are talking about trans things, stop talking and listen. Turn down the volume on your cis privilege and take your sound-cancelling defensiveness headphones off. When a trans person says, “This media story makes me uncomfortable,” you can say, “Do you want to say more about that?” You cannot say, “You’re thinking about this all wrong!” When a trans person says, “I am really frustrated by the way I’m feeling/being treated,” you can say “Is there something I can do to support you?” You cannot say “But imagine how much worse it could be!” The number one best thing you can do as a cis person advocating for trans people is remember that trans people are experts on their own lives, and though we may or may not be open to hearing it, we don’t actually need your opinion.

2. Show up.

As a cisgender person, regardless of your other intersecting identities, you are privileged with spaces and resources that trans people are not afforded. You may or may not be aware of what these privileges are or how they affect your daily life, but I assure you they are there. Depending on where you find yourself in the matrix of oppression and privilege, there are a variety of ways you might use your position to support transgender people. Can you give $1000 to your friend’s surgery fund? Amazing, do that. Can you give $5? Fabulous, do that then. Do you parent or work with kids? Identify gender-positive youth work or parenting practices that allow your young people to make their own choices about gender expression. Do you work in management or administration? Help ensure your space is safer and more accessible for trans folks, like supporting trans-inclusive hiring practices. Going out to dinner with a friend who’s trans? Choose a place they’ll be able to pee. Micro or macro, just do what you can, and don’t be a dick about it.

3. Stop crying.

Despite the many severe trials and tribulations experienced by transgender communities, it ain’t all bad. While I certainly appreciate the support I have received from my family and peers, the “gosh, you’re just so brave” line is more than a little exhausting. We are people capable of all kinds of emotions: bravery and fear, celebration and crisis, love and pain, and plenty in between. Most of us have some people we call family or friends, most of us have some hobbies and interests we enjoy, most of us laugh as much if not more than we cry. Trans people, like disabled people or homeless people or otherwise seemingly “tragic” people, do not exist to be your inspiration porn. Show us your pride in us by letting both our pains and our successes be our own.

4. Remember we walk among you.

Turns out not all trans people are celebrities (even if we are in our own heads). In fact, despite our transitions, most of us have incredibly boring lives. I won’t say we’re no different from cisgender people, as that’s certainly not the case. But we do drive the same streets as you, and go to the same schools as you, and shop in the same stores as you.  If there are trans people in your life, remember we are more than our gender identities. If you are in public, remember there’s probably a trans person within earshot. Remember we are real people with real lives and real needs, working at jobs and living in homes if we’re so privileged, and we need real, honest, authentic advocates to support us in the parts of survival that feel hard. And we also probably don’t want to talk to you about Caitlyn Jenner anymore.

5. Get your information about trans people from trans people.

That doesn’t mean open season on questions about trans politics for any trans person you encounter. Being a trans person who studies and writes gender theory, I am usually somewhere on the happy-to-okay scale about having these conversations with people, but not all trans people live in that sort of headspace. There are an abundance of transfolk writers, scholars, and activists that continuously publish work on any and all aspects of transgender identity, and they are certainly less likely to include/reproduce icky rhetorical errors and factual inaccuracies than cis people writing on the same things. Plus, reading a narrative that a trans person has published with the intent of being read is a much less invasive way of absorbing information than prodding your token trans acquaintance for answers. Some texts are certainly more academic than others, and those can prove difficult to access intellectually if you are not familiar with gender/social theory fields. If you’re new to this whole thing, start with a few gentle reads: Transgender Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue by Leslie Feinberg, Whipping Girl by Julia Serano, and Redefining Realness by Janet Mock are all excellent places to start. Just read a book, goddammit.

That’s it. That’s all I got. You take it from here.



Add yours →

  1. Yes trans people are not inspiration porn! I’ve kept very silent while everyone around me is praising Caitlyn Jenner for her beauty or bravery because I have nothing to say. I’m disabled and have been called brave enough times to know that it’s not always what you want to hear. And calling her beautiful seems superficial and not helpful conversation. So I’ve stayed quiet and now I’m going to use your line that trans people are not inspiration porn to explain why I’m so quiet


  2. Consider me a listener


  3. So glad you shared this. 🙂


  4. Reblogged this on Diary of a Recluse and commented:
    I have no thoughts. Just need to pass this along to everyone I know.


  5. Reblogged this on Meliaschat's Blog.


  6. Reblogged this on cathartic ramblings of another person in this world and commented:
    An insightful blog entry by The (Trans)cendental Tourist. Thank you for posting some advice on what we can do for trans people. I must admit I know little about this issue and intend to read more about the issues facing trans people.


  7. To the point and also true, thanks.


  8. I understand the points made in this article but dislike the tone it is written in. Yes I am a straight, white, female but no I am NOT entitled. I had no decision over being a straight, white, female I was born like this just as trans people are born trans. In my eyes no one owe no one anything in this world so to tell cis people to ‘shut up’ doesn’t seem right. I am not privileged nor ‘above’ anyone in this world because of the way I was born. In my eyes everyone has their own struggles, trails and things in life we deal with than many people don’t know about. How about let’s all be respectful and nice to everyone. The ‘show up’ part confused me I mean picking a place they’ll be able to go pee? I think you contradicted yourself there as in point one we are suppose to ‘shut up’ and we are not allowed an opinion.
    Conclusion- respect everyone, be nice and don’t be a dick 😀 much love to everyone..

    Liked by 5 people

  9. Thank you.


  10. EnviroSolutions June 25, 2015 — 12:11 pm

    Gosh you are just so brave was my favourite line in this post and I never liked it in real life I personally find it sounds so false. I am so happy I read this piece it was refreshing and insightful. I always tell people to leave it alone and actually takes my own advice because I know nothing about how it feels to be Trans. I personally prefer to read about it or listen on.


  11. Gold xx


  12. Reblogged this on Genderweird and commented:
    A good, concise post that sums up my feelings on what the LGBTQIA+ community can start working on now that marriage equality has been legalized. Mind you, this of course isn’t everything, but checking our attitudes towards and assumptions about trans people would be a pretty good place to start.


  13. Love your tone and found this incredibly helpful. Getting advice on how to respond to trans people from a trans person is wonderful and something I don’t usually have access to. Thank goodness for the Internet. As a lesbian, I feel I should be more informed on trans issues because the T forms part of LGBT which is an acronym that pops up every single day of my life it’s a common part of my vocabulary. But, the fact is, your challenges, successes and opinions are something that have been alien to me. This post is great. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Reblogged this on Chucks And Ties and commented:
    “Transwomen are either models of cisnormative beauty, or they’re dead. Trans youth are either models of cisnormative beauty, or they’re dead. Transmen are either models of cisnormative beauty, or they simply don’t exist”


  15. Popular media – is not the real world. Only a select few ( celebrities) have the liberty to share their stories and feel safe. Happy to learn more about the transgender community, as I’m not knowledgable. Nobody truly knows your pain unless they’re you; we need to build more programs advocating transgender in school, restaurants -everywhere. Thank you once again, This was needed.


  16. Enjoyed the post. Going to have to look up “cis” as I am not familiar with the term.


  17. Name is unimportant July 4, 2015 — 12:26 am

    I stumbled across this entry because of the WordPress filter bubble. Such a confrontational tone! Remember, this is YOUR battle. I am not trying to win friend points from you.




  19. Reblogged this on Life and Other Musings and commented:
    Good stuff. We have a long ways to go for transgender equality- here are some ways we can help along the way.


  20. I don’t believe in transgender because I believe that gender is socially constructed. (Biological sex is not) Why would you want to have surgery to fulfill a social construction?


    • I can’t speak for all trans people, only myself. But it comes down to how you see gender. I agree gender has an element which is socially constructed, that there’s no reason blue is for boys or why men can’t wear dresses and women do any job they want. But what I see as socially constructed is gender expression that is allowed in society. As a man I will only talk about men. But I believe men have a core, an essence that IS gendered, it’s there from birth and it makes a man, a man (cis or trans). As a transman I feel my soul is gendered, that’s how I know I’m male.

      I agree it is socially contructed when people say “man brain”/”female brain” because to me all brains are human, not gendered. To me the human body isn’t gendered either, culture genders bodies and brains, but my gender comes from my soul. That’s just how I see gender. And when I transition I will change my body to match my soul.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I agree that there is a basic gender difference but it is biological. If I woke up tomorrow with a biological woman’s body but the same mind then I would be a woman. As long as I keep on waking up with the biological body of a male then I will be a man.

        I don’t believe in souls but I do believe in minds, brains and bodies.


      • Actually, gender isn’t biological, sex is. If you woke up tomorrow with a biological woman’s body but the same mind, then you would be a man in a woman’s body just like a trans man who hasn’t had a sex change operation is. I pity the fool…


      • Actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that. If I woke up in the body of a biological woman but had the same mind – not the same *brain* though – (I’m not talking about a brain transplant) then I would be a woman, but I would have the mind of someone who had been socialised as a male since birth and had only ever experienced life as a male. So I wouldn’t be the typical woman.


      • Honestly, it’s not as complicated as you’re making it out to be. If you woke up in the body of a biological woman, but had the same mind, then you would be a transgender man just like I said. It’s really not that hard.


      • Well it’s just pure assertion on either side. We simply have different definitions of what man and woman are and I don’t see any way of proving that one definition is the true definition at this point in time.

        I know that when people say that an animal thinks it’s human by bonding with humans if it has been brought up by humans from birth then we don’t think that it really is human.



      • Well, I know that gender isn’t formed by socialisation because trans people wouldn’t exist otherwise. Gender roles and expression are formed by socialisation, I’ll admit, but not gender itself.


      • I agree that gender isn’t formed by socialization. Whether trans people exist or not is the question. Their claims certainly exist. Whether those claims relate to an underlying reality is another question.



      • It is complicated. That part is correct. What you are missing is the way that biological sex and gender are different taxonomies. (Both are socially constructed.)

        There are a great many ways for women to be women; being “typical” in any given way is not a requirement for womanhood. “Typical” is a word that describes trends, never definitions or universals.

        Some women are trans. Some men are trans. We persist, whether we are believed in or not.


      • Horseshit. Trans people exist, your silly blog notwithstanding. In that post, you commit quite a few fallacies. I’m not going to give you a free Logic lesson, mainly because you won’t pay attention. But you’re not the point; you never were. For the sake of people reading this exchange who might be harmed by your words, I’m going to point out that you make it clear you have no qualifications to speak to the question of whether we exist. You do not employ the terminology of an academic, a medical professional, or a mental health professional. In fact, it is clear from your posts here and made even clearer in the screed to which you link that you don’t really understand the words you’re using. (Seriously, they’re not even difficult to find with very cursory research!) I don’t hve to make the claim to expertise in this case, because you do such a fine job of insisting on inconsistencies. A simple close reading of your posts does the job.

        In trolling here, you do offer a valuable service: it is very important that trans people and our allies learn to recognise the kinds of bigotries we face at the hands of those who would disenfranchise us. Your contribution is appreciated; I’m glad it came at a time of year that I have the leisure to respond to it.


    • “Why would you want to have surgery to fulfill a social construction?”
      For the same reason a person might work approximately a third of his or her life in order to earn tokens of value within a social construction known as an economy.

      Social constructions are real. They’re as real as money (a social construction), as language (a social construction), and the sciences (social constructions).


      • Yes but having money actually brings some sort of benefit as does language. The sciences aren’t social constructions but also are very beneficial. Having surgery to destroy your sexual organs does not bring any benefit. The person concerned may think that it does but just as I would be wrong about that if I cut off my hands the person who has gender reassignment surgery is also wrong about the benefit to them.


      • You are saying things that simply are not true. I suppose you find them comforting or something, but it is a false comfort and will let you down when reality sets in. Definitions of words are not matters of opinion. Other people may well experience what you do not. Nobody can force you to accept reality, but we will damned well speak up, lest you cause harm with your words.

        Liked by 1 person

  21. Check my blog for inspiration


  22. I find this really interesting. I am pretty new to this whole issue, grew up in a place and way that just never put me in contact with trans people (that I knew of). In fact, when I started reading this article, I wasn’t even sure what cis meant (figured it out). But, the gist of it seems to be “treat us like people”. Not “treat us the same”, necessarily. But somewhere between natural human dignity and genial consideration is the apparent goal, and it is something I can get behind.

    I am still not past the novelty phase in my own experience. I still want to ask every trans person I meet “which bathroom do you use?” (though I usually don’t actually ask). I am not mature in my education and understanding of the issue and the vocabulary surrounding it. But, respect is easy. Acceptance is easy. I can do that. And all the rest will come in time.


  23. Great advise thanks for writing I’ll share with my cis mates who always want to help



    I just want to state that I’ve cared about trans people since I first learned about them through watching Boys Don’t Cry. My uncontrollable empathy for Brandon Teena extended to all trans people as I gradually learned that he wasn’t the only one to have ever existed.

    Get your information about trans people from trans people.
    That doesn’t mean open season on questions about trans politics for any trans person you encounter.

    So much this. I’ll ask questions if the person is open to answering them only if necessary, getting most of my knowledge from what people have posted online.


  25. Reblogged this on Sophia Sojourn and commented:
    Here is another rare reblog. There are a few statements I would not totally agree with – for example I am no where near tired of people telling me I’m brave – but overall some good thoughts and ice for people who desire to be supportive!


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