by Susie O’Connor
It’s a difficult time to be a trans person in the UK. Over the last couple of years we’ve faced a relentless torrent of negativity in traditional media, social media and in the political arena ranging from misinformation to downright hostility. It is wearing to have one’s identity constantly denied, to be ‘othered’, mocked and portrayed as a threat to others.
That’s why having allies is so important. I came out to the world as a trans woman two and a half years ago and I was helped along my journey by many wonderful allies. Coming out as transgender in the workplace was very, very scary for me. I’d worked for my employer for a long time and hundreds of people knew me in my male presentation. Only a couple of trans people had previously been out in the workplace, so I was going to be highly visible. A talking point. How would I be received as a trans woman?
A gay, female colleague befriended me and supported me through my coming out process. We met regularly for coffee or after-work drinks. She didn’t advise or counsel me, she was just there for me, providing a sympathetic ear and helping me feel I wasn’t alone. I knew she understood, having come out later in life herself.
I was also helped through my workplace transition by a wonderful colleague from the HR team. Yes, it was in her job description, but she showed enormous empathy and went the extra mile for me. HR had little experience of supporting colleagues transitioning in the workplace, and she was totally open to learning and being led by me. I also received fantastic support from my manager. I had been interviewed for a new role in my old male presentation and now I needed to have an awkward conversation to tell him of my plan to transition. He didn’t bat an eyelid. “How could he support me?” he wanted to know. My new colleagues were also completely supportive. I received a number of lovely emails welcoming me in advance, and regular invitations to coffee and lunch after I started.
Another big challenge was to come out to my local running club, a community of over 500 people. I had become a running addict a few years earlier, running four or five times a week. It was a massive part of my life. Initially I took evasive action. I joined an LGBT running club, the wonderful London Frontrunners, who embraced me, included me and made we feel so welcome. All the same, I missed my local club and my old running friends. Then one day I bumped into a couple of my old running buddies who I hadn’t seen since transitioning. They told me how great I looked, how much they had missed me and they pressed me to come back to running with them. They made a point of coming to my first few training sessions to provide moral support. My reintroduction to the club went so well; everyone has been so welcoming and supportive. And being able to run for the ladies’ cross country team has made me so happy. I’ve been able to give something back by helping to introduce a Run and Talk programme to promote good mental health through running.
I should also mention my local branch of the Green Party which I joined at about the time I came out. All my fellow party members have welcomed and included me and allowed me to educate them about gender diversity. And I really felt accepted when they asked me to stand as the Green candidate for a seat on my local council a few months after joining.
So, I guess what I am saying is that there are so many ways you can be an ally to trans people. The essential things you can do are:
Be kind: I’m sure you are anyway, but make a point of showing it to trans people you encounter – it will mean so much
Be inclusive: trans people may be lacking in confidence especially when they have recently come out so don’t be afraid to make the first move to include them
Be informed: find out how a trans person wants to be called, which pronouns they use. Remember to be respectful and don’t ask trans people questions which you wouldn’t dream of asking a cis person. If you want to educate yourself, remember Google’s your friend. There’s loads of helpful information about gender diversity – e.g. the excellent TransActual website. Just beware of the transphobic misinformation which circulates on social media.
Be someone who speaks up: If you hear someone saying something negative or misleading about trans people, politely correct them. Don’t be a bystander.