How to be a trans ally
We are all assigned a sex at birth based on attributes such as our chromosomes, hormones and external and internal anatomy, but not everyone's gender identity – their internal sense of their gender – aligns with the sex they were assigned.
Cisgender or cis people are those who identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. Transgender or trans people are those whose gender does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth.
Non-binary is an umbrella term covering gender identities that fall outside the gender binary, i.e. are not exclusively male or female. Some non-binary people identify as trans; some do not.
In the public domain, conversations about trans rights are increasingly polarised and often become heated and harmful. At Imperial, we support respectful dialogue; at the same time, we are committed to accepting and including trans people for who they are.
Trans people face transphobia from both outside the LGBTQ+ community and within it. Therefore we encourage everyone who is cis, whether you are straight or LGBQ+, to be a trans ally.
The suggestions below offer some practical examples of how you can be a trans ally and support our trans and non-binary students and colleagues.
See Stonewall's glossary of terms for more.
- Transitioning: The steps a trans person may take to live in the gender with which they identify. Each person’s transition will involve different things.
- Transphobia: The fear or dislike of someone based on the fact they are trans, including denying their gender identity or refusing to accept it.
- Misgendering: Referring to someone using a word, especially a pronoun or form of address, that does not correctly reflect the gender with which they identify.
- Deadnaming: Calling someone by their birth name (known as their deadname, i.e. a name that is "dead") after they have changed their name.
What you should do as an ally to trans people
Respect names and pronouns
Do not ask a trans or non-binary person what their "real" name (their deadname) is, and do not use their deadname if you know it. Respect the name and pronouns they have asked you to use.
If you know they are out to others, please do encourage others to use the correct pronouns as well. If you make a mistake, simply apologise, correct yourself and move on. If you're not sure what pronouns to use for someone, it's okay to ask — but share your own pronouns too.
Remember, pronouns are for everybody, not just trans and non-binary people. Help to create an environment where everyone can feel comfortable sharing their pronouns by introducing yourself with your pronouns and including your pronouns in your work email signature.
Check out our Pronouns page to find out more.
Trans and non-binary people do not all look a certain way, and you do not have to look a certain way to be a certain gender. A person's gender expression – i.e. their clothes, voice, mannerisms, or other aspects of their appearance – may not always reflect their gender identity in the way you might expect.
Avoid making any assumptions about someone's gender or whether they are trans based on their appearance, voice or characteristics. You cannot tell if a person is trans just by looking, so do not assume that there are no trans people present at a meeting or gathering.
Recognising that non-binary people exist means not assuming that everyone you meet identifies as male or female.
Listen and trust trans people on their identities and experience
A trans or non-binary person is the expert on their own experiences. Listen and trust them to know what they are talking about when it comes to their own gender.
There is no one "right" way to be trans; every trans person has a unique experience. Some trans people experience gender dysphoria; others do not. Some trans people want to medically transition; others do not.
If someone is questioning or exploring their gender identity, be patient with them, as this process can take time and they may wish to try out different names, pronouns, and gender expressions. Respect these choices and ask how you can best support them.
Instead of asking a trans or non-binary person questions that may be too personal or invasive, educate yourself. Do your research about the issues that trans people face, and the history of trans identities across the world. Trans people have always existed and are not a new "phenomenon", as some might think.
Most of us absorb certain ideas about gender roles while growing up and we are taught to think of gender as something binary. Being an ally to trans and non-binary people means questioning and unlearning these ideas, and being open to new ways of understanding gender. It means appreciating gender diversity.
As a start, we have provided some suggestions of articles, books, and videos further down this page.
Support trans people using the bathrooms they wish to use
Going to a gendered bathroom can be a difficult and sometimes unsafe experience for trans people. Offer to accompany a trans or non-binary person to the bathroom, so they do not have to face any potential transphobia alone.
Supporting and advocating for gender-neutral bathrooms is a great way to be an ally. Gender-neutral bathrooms can be a safer option for trans people who are afraid of experiencing transphobia in binary bathrooms; they are also inclusive of non-binary people.
Be careful about confidentiality and "outing"
Some trans people feel comfortable telling others about their gender history; some do not. If someone comes out to you as trans or non-binary, do not share this information with others without their consent. Let them choose if and how they want to tell other people.
"Outing" people can have devastating negative consequences in a society which is still highly intolerant of trans and non-binary identities.
Use gender-neutral, inclusive language
Many phrases and words we use every day are unnecessarily gendered and fail to include people who fall outside the gender binary. To build a culture which is inclusive of all genders, you should avoid wording that assumes there are only two genders, e.g.:
- Instead of "ladies and gentlemen", say "everybody", "colleagues", or "friends and guests".
- Instead of "he/she" (when referring to someone unknown or a universal person), use "they".
- Instead of "men and women", say "people".
In a group setting, for example when picking people to ask questions at an event, identify them by articles of clothing, and not by gender. Instead of "the man in the front", say "the person in the red shirt".
If you hear transphobic language or jokes, call them out. If you hear someone misgendering a trans or non-binary person, correct them and make sure they know what the right words to use are.
It is exhausting and distressing for trans and non-binary people to keep correcting those who misgender them repeatedly and to deal with transphobia in everyday life and in the media. Use your privilege to make others listen to you and educate them.
Realise that transphobic comments can come from people who are anti-LGBTQ+, but they can also come from people who are LGB. It's important to challenge anti-trans remarks or jokes no matter who says them.
Learn more from these videos
Trans 101 - The Basics
An introduction to the basic concepts of gender diversity
This is the first video in a crash course on gender diversity. In this video, a group of trans people dive into being trans, gender identity, and what it's all about!
Trans 101 - Being a Trans Ally
There are lots of ways to be a trans ally
There are heaps of ways to be an ally. No one has to do everything, but everyone can do something. Find out how.
How To Be A Better Trans Ally (ft. Janet Mock)
Janet Mock shares tips on how to be a better trans ally
Watch Janet Mock, writer, director, and trans activist, share some tips & tricks on how to be a better ally to the trans community
How YOU can be a better Black transgender ally
Five simple ways you can be a better ally to Black trans people
Black transgender man Cole Daniel explains five simple ways you can be a better ally to Black trans people now and forever – including uplifting Black trans voices, how to donate to Black trans causes and recognising your privilege.
How to talk (and listen) to transgender people
Jackson Bird shares a few ways to think about trans issues
To help those who are scared to ask questions or nervous about saying the wrong thing, Jackson Bird shares a few ways to think about trans issues, clearing up a few misconceptions about pronouns, transitioning, bathrooms and more.
Further resources and links for you to explore
They/Them/Their by Eris Young
Trans Like Me by CN Lester
Gender: A Graphic Guide by Meg John-Barker and Jules Scheele