Transgender Israeli activist Or Mizan from Yahud, writes about uncomfortable daily situations that people from the transgender community face, and how cisgender people can help make them less stressful.
I know that the outside world has yet to gather the perfect toolbox in order to know how to deal with a trans* person (I deliberately write trans with an asterisk to include all the men, the women and the other genders who see themselves as part of the trans community). To be honest, I’m not sure there is any “perfect” toolkit; I don’t think that if you have a trans* friend who’s in distress you’ll know exactly what to do every time.
All I can say is that you should have high abilities of acceptance and inclusion, sensitivity and compassion that you can express verbally in order to give the warmth needed to the distressed friend. Even a warm hug that is pleasant but also expresses safety and protection will make a great difference.
Being a trans* person takes a lot of energy from you, a lot of investment in your visibility, taking responsibility for your body, taking care of your soul, gathering yourself every day anew in order to fight for the “self” that is you. When you feel strong enough, you go out to the street, to your family, to friends, to work, to the doctor, and in each of these situations you are required to deal. Sometimes it’s funny, I take a day off and tell myself that the only thing I have to do is to go over to the post office, but who knows how I’ll get back from there, who will tell me something and what, who will ask something that they shouldn’t, it’s always unpredictable. The uncertainty itself also draws a lot of strength.
When your trans* friend tells you about her gender-related difficulties, don’t try to compare it to something within you. It’s better to ask questions, like why do you feel that way? how does it feel? Why do you think that?
When your trans* friend goes through an unpleasant experience and only wants to be alone at home, you can offer a visit for a few moments to bring something sweet or to give a hug. Trying to dismiss it by distracting them with, for instance, tagging them in funny animal videos on Facebook, is a little insensitive.
If your trans* friend decides to change their gender appearance, maybe into one that may be less familiar with the gender laws you know, don’t pass judgment or criticize, we know better what is good for us and what makes us feel more comfortable with ourselves.
If you run a page or write a post on social media and see gender violence against a trans* person — please express solidarity with that trans* person. Sometimes in situations like this, that’s all we need. Even if you say it in private, it feels good and it’s important.
If you employ a trans* person or are colleagues with one, you should assume that you don’t know them personally, so there’s no room for questions about their transition, or their visibility or even on their name. Every experience is different and each person is different, she or he or them will tell you what they feel comfortable telling.
What you can ask, is “what pronoun should I use?” And be consistent in it.
Public bathrooms are places that really intimidating for trans* people, because we know that our interactions there – or even our very existence there – can range from problems to physical violence. So, if you run into someone in the ladies’ room you’re not sure of their gender but you don’t experience them a threat-let them be. And even more so for men’s room. And as friends, to accompany us to the bathroom (if we go to the same bathroom) can be a small way to make this experience less stressful for us.
I really want to believe that anyone who reads this column from beginning to end will make a difference, bring change. I really believe in sharing our struggles, smashing the patriarchy. Our struggle as trans* people and the feminist struggle goes hand in hand.