‘It can make a massive difference’: How to be a trans ally

Every student deserves to be treated with dignity, respect and fairness at University. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case for transgender students. So, how can you step up and be an authentic ally for the transgender student community? Medical student, Elliot, discusses all things allyship.

Treating people with respect and dignity is the utmost priority for many people at university, however meeting someone who is transgender can be confusing and new for a lot of people. With ever changing laws, media output and opinion, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and swept up when trying to care about those around you. I have compiled the some tips for supporting the trans (non-cispeople in your life, so that you know where to start. 

Respect preferred names and pronouns

Many people who fall under the trans umbrella may have changed their names, pronouns or both. Pronouns can range from words like he, she and they to xe and neopronouns. Some people’s pronouns and name may change day by day. However, how someone would like to be referred to is up to them and isn’t dependent on clothing, hobbies, body parts or anything else. 

Understandably, it can be easy to slip up, especially if you have known them for a very long time. When this happens just saying sorry and correcting yourself is sufficient and no one will blame you. Correcting yourself is key to making sure that it sticks in your head and that you can improve for next time. 

It can be helpful, as well as respectful, to refer to the person by their new identity when thinking about them to yourself. Correcting yourself when you go wrong in your head will decrease the chance of you slipping up publicly.  

For some people at university, their name on Teams or email may not be the name they would like to go by. As a trans person it can be really hard and intimidating to let a group know how they should refer to you. I recommend starting any group project, talk or social by having everyone introduce themselves with their preferred name and pronouns (you can include a fun fact but that’s on you.). By having everyone do this, you are not singling anyone out and are normalising having respect for everyone’s names and pronouns. 

They may not be ‘out’ to everyone 

Sadly, it is still not safe for every transgender person to be as open as they would like to be. Whether they don’t feel comfortable telling family members, lecturers or other people in their cohort, its up to them if and when they want to let others know. Respect other people’s choices and wishes. Don’t force anyone to ‘come out’ or share an aspect of their life they are not willing to. This includes hormones, surgeries and experiences. 

Challenge transphobia 

It can be devastating to hear hate about who you are, especially when you can’t change that aspect about yourself. By challenging engrained views, we can ensure this happens less. This may be something big like changing how a system works or smaller like questioning your friend when they say well my pronouns are attack/helicopter haha”. It can be scary, but it can make a massive difference. Never do something that makes you feel unsafe but if something can be done, then do it. A small joke, comment or option on a form may seem like a tiny thing to you but can really stick up for someone else.

Imperial is committed to creating a culture where LGBTQIA+ people feel welcome, included, and fully able to be themselves. Discover further resources and links about how you can be an ally to our students and colleagues who are trans or non-binary.