The increased acceptance of the LGBT community around the world is the major civil rights movement of our time and although more and more countries are legalising same-sex marriage the battle is far from being won. Despite these gains the transgender community still suffers from discrimination as a result of ignorance, bigotry and deliberate misinformation from some right-wing groups. What I would like to discuss is the concept of a ‘transgender ally’ and how, in spite of my support for the growing acceptance of the transgender community, I am not a transgender ally, at least not yet.
I believe there is a difference between what I would define as an ‘ally’ and what I would say is a ‘supporter’; a supporter is passive and an ally is active. Being an ally or advocate of the transgender community is very much rooted in active and public participation in protests, writing, activism etc. Such a distinction exists in other ideological realms with the word ‘ally’ substituted with ‘activist’; for example if you a socialist supporter you ideologically agree with socialist principles, whereas a socialist activist would be someone working to actively achieve workplace democracy and the abolition of capitalism.
The brilliance of the word ‘ally’ is that it is perceived by society as less political and therefore appeals to more people who would otherwise be absent from the political process; the downside is that as a result of people not taking an interest in politics, the word ‘ally’ has almost become detached from the idea of active campaigning and has come to mean causal support. Don’t get me wrong, if you identify as a transgender ally feel free to reject all of my definitions, but I would argue that being an ally is slightly different to being a supporter (although supporters are incredibly important too).
There are many aspects of being a transgender ally that could apply to myself such as becoming familiar with terms commonly used in the transgender community and fighting social conditioning that has indoctrinated society into believing in strict ‘gender norms’, which is in itself an abhorrent phrase. Nevertheless, the reason I do not call myself a transgender ally is that I don’t yet believe I deserve that title. For example I am a white, cisgender man so I’ve had experience reflecting on my own societal privileges and how such a system instantiates systemic inequality for other groups such as the transgender community. However I would still say that being aware of such privileges doesn’t automatically qualify me as an ally.
In my view being a transgender ally is an active characteristic of a person so being passively supportive of the transgender community isn’t enough for me to qualify. I would argue that being an ally is a honour given to a person almost as recognition by the transgender community for standing in solidarity in the face of adversity; by this definition I would reject the idea of personally describing myself as an ally as I feel that I don’t have the right to do that and it’s not for me to say whether I am or not. If I write and campaign more about LGBT issues, particularly the struggles of the transgender community, people would take notice and I would be honoured to be called an ally. At the moment however I don’t think that I have done enough to destigmatize a community that faces prejudice and injustice around the world, nor have I the right to flippantly use the term; as a result I would say that I am not a transgender ally, yet.