Between two names

Tl;dr Having two names is different from the mainstream trans narrative about names, but the most important thing it has shown me over and over again is that polite, considerate asking is always the best option when you’re confused about a name.


I have two names.


This is a bizarrely controversial statement for a trans person to make, which is why I want to say it before cis people get too married to the predominant narrative about trans names.


There are, of course, many trans people with one name. Trans people with dead names that need to be burnt and then buried underground. Trans people that wish to legally change their name, but don’t have the money yet, but we’re sure as heck never going to call them by that terrible, awful legal name (side note: if you want to help a trans person change their name, here’s a great New England-based project to donate to!)


I’m not one of those people.


I live between and with two names and I love both of my names. And, even though I technically have defined uses for each name, it’s always still ambiguous, it’s always fluid, and I’m not always sure which name belongs where.


Sometimes, it’s just my damn ornery nature that means I’ll demand someone use one name over another. I admit it quite willingly. I did that when someone decided to submit some of my written work without my consent and I wanted to make their life a little difficult because of that.


Sometimes, I choose to ask people to use a different name for me because I know it’s a learning experience for them – the name they’re using is fine, but I know they need to get better at respecting people and calling them the name they want to be called and I can give them some low-stakes practice. I have done that with many of my classmates and my teachers over the years, especially ones I wasn’t explicitly out to.


Sometimes, a name is a way to call someone out. If someone is being transphobic, asking them to call me a different name makes their stumbles more visible, to me, and to others, who may need more blatant proof that someone is transphobic. I had a teacher last year who was still calling me the name on the register halfway through the year. By clarifying that as transphobic behavior, there was a tangible, clear line drawn concerning her unacceptable actions, as opposed to my vague, unprovable awareness that she was transphobic.


Sometimes, a name is about my personal autonomy. My mother once asked my grandparents (and the rest of my family) to start calling me “Jo” without checking with me first. Asking my family to call me my legal name was as much about taking back the power of choice she had taken from me as it was about my name.


Sometimes, my name is about anonymity and personal protection. There’s something nice about not always going by my legal name. There’s something comforting about knowing that my legal documents (especially my passport) may not immediately lead to all of me. I know it’s not hard for anyone to make the connections, but the ability to have disconnections in my presentation of self (the person, the artist, the employee, the writer, the academic, the friend, the family member…) and delineate that with a name is both useful and reassuring. I can be both, or I can be one, and that flexibility makes me feel safe (it probably doesn’t make me actually safe, but feeling safe is important too).


I purposefully organize my presentation of self to make people ask what name to call me. I prefer to be able to make that choice than to allow someone else to make that choice for me.


This has led to moments of other trans people looking at me in confusion going “you know, we can just remove this name and call you what you want, if you like” and having to explain “no, I am both, I want you to ask”. And I have met so many well-meaning cis people fumbling and being too embarrassed to ask. And, of course, there are the ignorant cis people refusing to call me the name I’ve asked them to because it doesn’t fit their worldview and understanding of me.


Every trans person is different. We all have unique relationships with our names. But, if there’s one thing that I’d like someone to take away from this it’s that asking is good. If you are confused, ask. If you think you know what someone wants to be called, but are not completely sure, ask. Ask politely, without drawing public attention to the person, and then go with that answer. The biggest harm you can do is to act as if you know more about a trans person’s name than they do, either through ignorance, uncaringness, discomfort, or unwillingness to ask.


And, most importantly, no single narrative about a trans person will ever act as your blueprint for every other trans person you meet.



Women-only spaces welcoming nonbinary people, a personal dilemma

Tl;dr When women-only spaces open themselves up to nonbinary people, it puts a lot of responsibility onto women and forces nonbinary people to misgender themselves to access necessary resources offered by the space. While it can be helpful now, I would like to see us start to find a new system.


There’s this new trend I’ve been noticing in which spaces that are “women-only” have started specifying that to include nonbinary folks.


It makes me think of something that happened a long time ago at uni, when someone had a go at making the scope of the women’s forum more trans inclusive and made a huge mess of it. In their enthusiasm, they basically said that anyone that wasn’t a cis man (including trans men) belonged in a space that was specifically about supporting women. As you can imagine, that was super uncomfortable for everyone involved, people that didn’t identify as a woman who were suddenly thrown into the woman box and women that actually kind of needed their women-only space.


Here’s the thing: I have spent my life running away from the identity of “woman”. Every nonbinary person’s experience is different, but I have never been and never will be a woman. Except, I am perceived as one during the majority of my public life. The violence, discrimination, and insecurity I face in my day-to-day life is not because of my transness or because I’m nonbinary, it’s because others perceive me as a woman. That means that conversations about sexism and misogyny, things like the wage gap, rape culture, patriarchy…that affects me daily. And on a political level, we’re still working in a society and with a government that recognizes two genders. I can’t fight the fucking nonbinary wage gap because it doesn’t exist (trans unemployment and employment discrimination does, but that’s not what I face).


I need to be part of conversations about these things. I belong there.


So, it is important that women-only spaces are opening their doors up for people like me – people that aren’t women, but experience life as if they were one.


But, every time I walk into a women-only space, I feel sickened. I feel like I am misgendering myself. I have to adopt the one identity that I never ever want to touch. And I have to do that in order to enter dialogues about my life. It’s this vicious back and forth between honoring my gender and recognizing the practicalities of my life. And it becomes more upsetting when I consider how often trans women are unwelcome in women’s spaces. It’s sickening to consider that I would be more welcome in a women’s space than a trans woman (ok seriously, who belongs in a women’s space? The nonbinary person or the woman? Do we actually have to talk about this?).


For me, it is hugely important not to enter women-only spaces. I never went to the women’s forum at uni. I do not involve myself in events for women in the arts (although I will happily support such things), unless it explicitly includes nonbinary folks (and, even then, I might not, because I know most cis women there will welcome me as a woman, not a nonbinary person). I do not go to women’s discussion events or workshops. It’s as much about telling myself “yes, you’re not a woman” as it is about giving space to actual women.


Because, yes, women do need women-only spaces.


We talk a lot about privileged women, but the fact is that we live in a world where catcalling still hasn’t stopped. And yes, there are experiences I share with women because of how I am perceived, but I experience it differently because I am not a woman. How can I expect people dealing with this crap to take my crap into account, just because it’s similar? I worry that, in opening up women’s spaces for nonbinary people, it’s putting too much of a burden on women, people that are already struggling and fighting their own battles.


There’s a time and a place for us to share and find solidarity and a time and a place for us to separate and be with people like us.


But, at this moment in time, there’s not enough resources specifically for nonbinary people to make separation feasible. For loads of nonbinary folks, feminist and women’s spaces are how we get access to services, support systems, community, and respect. I know that I tend not to go towards a trans organization or support system when it comes to things that have to do with being perceived as a woman, it doesn’t even occur to me because these things are not caused by my transness. And, if it does occur to me, I choose the women’s space because I know a trans spaces’ resources are already stretched much thinner and are much more necessary for people who can’t enter women’s spaces.


It might not be possible now, but I would like to see more nonbinary-exclusive spaces. Instead of expecting women to carry our weight, I’d like to see new opportunities specifically aimed at nonbinary people. And I would like to see women-only spaces recognizing that people they may consider as women are not actually women and don’t belong in those spaces. And, most importantly, I would like to see the end of grouping nonbinary people into binary gendered categories because there’s no other option. I want there to be more options. Yes, maybe there’s not a lot of us. Yes, we still belong in women’s and feminist conversations. But it’s time to start really recognizing nonbinary genders and their accompanying specific needs as distinct from other genders.


This is something that takes time and is, happily, already in process. In the meantime, I am happy to know I have support from so many women’s organizations and spaces and am not without a safety net. But, the more we start recognizing these distinctions and trying to manage the nuance in how we create spaces and support systems, the better we can support nonbinary trans people to their (our) fullest.




Transition, trans becoming

tl;dr The process of transition is defined and controlled by cis people in a way that denies transness to many, many trans people. However, we are all still slowly becoming our genders and that, for us trans folks, is our transition, cis-sanctioned or not. 


I’ve been thinking a lot about transition recently. It started when, reading the brief for an application that recommended “gender transition” as one of the ways to explore the theme. My immediate reaction was to refuse. I am strongly opposed to the cis obsession with gender transition, as if that is the only thing worth noting about trans people.


But it also brought up another point: For me, one of the reasons why I am so violently opposed to talking about transition is because I did not have one.


Reword: I did not have a cis-sanctioned transition.


Transition is a funny one, because it is necessary for trans people. It is life-saving. To ignore it or downplay its importance ignores and downplays the very real harm that comes from denying transition. And transition describes a very particular, important experience for trans people.


And so, it is that much more important for cis people to control it, because then they continue to maintain the ultimate power over trans people. Only certain kinds of trans people are allowed to transition, only after jumping through frankly ridiculous hoops in order to “prove” that they are the gender they say they are, and transition is quite often used as a condition for then recognizing and respecting someone’s gender and transness.


And then cis people like to fetishize this dehumanizing process while making it all about them. Think of every sob-story documentary about a trans teenager transitioning and the kid says pat words about being “born in the wrong body” and then the parent has a nice long interview about how hard it is, but how they support they’re child no matter what. Think about the fact that a cis person felt completely comfortable telling trans artists that a great topic for their submission would be “gender transition” and not anything else related to trans identities. Think about the huge number of books written by cis people that focus on trans people getting access to medical transition or being bullied for social transition. Think about how a lot of nonbinary campaigns have had to center around documentation – being able to shift an honorific to “Mx.” or to have a third gender option on our paperwork – things that would out us, put us at more risk, but allow us to “transition” in a way that could safely identify us to cis people. Trans people are reduced to our transition and we’re reduced to only the transitions that cis people find titillating, dehumanizing, and unthreatening enough that they provide safe entertainment for the “normal”, cis person.


Some trans people need a cis-sanctioned transition. That’s important. And, to be honest, I’m glad that those transitions are getting more visibility and sympathy because it means that the people that need them have slightly better (slightly) access to them than before. Even the gross, cis-centric transition narratives are necessary in a way because it does put more pressure on society to create smoother transitions.


But, what about those of us who don’t fit the cis-sanctioned model?


Even something as simple as wanting SRS without HRT can be grounds for cis people taking away a trans person’s right to their transness. So, for someone like me, that isn’t looking at a medical transition at all and has no option of a meaningful social transition, I lost my cis-sanctioned right to be trans a long time ago. As far as most cis people are concerned, I’m not trans, I never transitioned, and I should shut up and let the “real” trans people talk.


Sometimes I believe them. Recently I was thinking about reaching out to a trans artist that I deeply admired because they would be near me and I would like to properly meet them, but I talked myself out of it because they were a “real” trans person and I was just “trans-lite”, the easy kind of trans person that doesn’t transition. I’d just be wasting their time asking them to meet with me on the capacity of two trans artists. (Bullshit, of course, but real enough logic in mind to keep me from sending the message).


And that’s a huge reason why I don’t talk about transition.


I thought it was because I was sick of trans people being turned into entertaining transitions for cis people, and that is true, I certainly am, but it’s more because every time I talk about cis-sanctioned transition, I feel like I am denying my own transness.


I don’t know if I really transitioned. I tried to, because I needed that legitimation. I had a clear “coming out” at school, I changed my name, I started wearing hats….and that’s about all. There’s no real road map for my kind of transition. Maybe I did. Maybe I didn’t. I’m learning to be comfortable with that.


What I did do was become. And I’m still doing it. I’m slowly becoming my gender, learning what that means for me, letting it grow as I grow and change. I think this is something everyone does, it’s just felt particularly strongly for trans people, because our process of becoming is about not following the most common process. And then cis people feel threatened and fascinated by something outside of their norm and then learn how to control it – sanction certain practices, make other ones invisible.


But that doesn’t mean one thing is transition and one thing isn’t. Transition, trans becoming, is something all trans people do. We slowly but surely become our gender(s), we slowly but surely become ourselves. Sometimes it goes faster or slower, sometimes it’s visible and sometimes it’s subtle. It is always deeply personal. Sometimes it’s something cis people like to gawk at to maintain hegemony, sometimes they prefer to look away, also to maintain hegemony. But all methods of transition are real and exist and necessary for the person following that trajectory.


Someday I may be my gender fully and completely. Someday I may be fully transitioned. But, for right now, I’m just slowly becoming more me. That’s enough of a transition.


On allyship and being enough

tl;dr For my cis allies – you’re doing enough. It might not feel like it, I definitely might not think it all the time, but you are. The only necessary thing is to care. Promise. 

One of the huge things I struggle with is the feeling that I am never doing enough. And this is something that particularly affects me in terms of allyship. As a white person, I am never a good enough ally to people of color. As a trans person that can slip through a lot of cracks by appearing cis, by not changing my legal name (and, in fact, going by said name at times), by being able to argue gender theory with flouncy, academic language, I am never a good enough ally for queer people who are more visible and, thus, more vulnerable. As an able-bodied person, I often overlook issues of accessibility and need constant reminders that what might work perfectly for me does not accommodate everyone and is, thus, imperfect.

We talk a lot about guilt and how, for allies, it’s not about us. Our guilt is simply a way to derail a conversation, it’s inefficient and unhelpful and best ignored. But at the same time, the guilt is still there and ignoring and suppressing it won’t make it go away.

I get so sick of cis guilt and cis pity and the way cis people performatively jumping on “save the trans!” bandwagons without actually having a fucking clue of what they’re doing. It’s tiring. It demands a lot out of me. I hate holding cis people’s hands and spoon feeding them successful allyship while they moan about how guilty they feel about transphobia.

But I’ve also been on the other side of the equation and I know the guilt and the cluelessness and the general feeling of never doing enough. Which, especially for someone with anxiety, can easily spiral into believing I’m a bad person. It’s my responsibility and I’m working on it. Someday, I might be the ally and the person I would like to be. But it’s slow going, and it’s hard and I need to be patient with myself.

I need to believe I am doing my best. And to do that, I need to believe others are doing the same.

So, I usually don’t do this, but this post is specifically for cis people. I’ve written a lot about how you can be a trans ally, I’ve given instructions and lists and ideas of what makes a good ally. But here’s the thing – I know you are doing your best.

Everyone’s best is different.

It’s hard. It’s especially hard for me if your best isn’t what I need to it be. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t doing it. And it doesn’t mean it’s not enough.

I, and other trans people, can’t stand here and hold your hand. It’s a lot of work and we have loads of other work to do, so I trust you’re doing your best, I trust you are learning, I trust you will get where I need you to be when you’re ready.

You’re a person too. So, take your time, take care of yourself, and cut yourself some slack.

Mistakes are forgivable. Distraction or focusing on something else for a while is completely understandable.

The only unforgivable thing is refusal to try and refusal to care. Maybe I’m an idealist, but I do believe anyone who’s read this far is not guilty of those two things.

Just because you can do more doesn’t mean you aren’t doing enough.

You can’t do everything. That’s fine. No one can. We’re all problematic messes of imperfection. It’s honestly kind of beautiful.

Just keep caring. That’s all I ask. That’s more than enough.

(And keep this on hand for whenever you need it, because I probably will never write something like this again).

Trump, military service, trans people…why this matters

tl;dr Due to the way military is linked to American society, a certain idiot’s twitter attempt to ban trans people from the military could have some pretty terrible effects, so we really need to think about how we support trans people.

[cw: Trump, transphobia, mentions of trans violence]

I’m opposed to trans people serving in the military.


I’m opposed to anyone serving in the military.


I am completely and utterly opposed to the military-industrial complex and the way military has embedded itself in our culture. Military service comes as much from coercion and oppression as it does from choice. Probably more so. Military service promotes US imperialism through violent tactics.


There was a lot of talk about this with DADT. Some queer people opposed anything that opened doors for more people to serve in the military because of this.


But we have to realize that, no matter our feelings on the military, it is deeply, deeply rooted in our society and any move to explicitly keep a group of people from serving both reflects current society and will be reflected back in society.


I mean, there’s a reason DADT was repealed first, before DOMA.


Trump and his republicans have done so many unspeakable things. The possibility of an Obamacare repeal is very real and will cost so many lives (though hurrah for our current healthcare victory, let’s hope it lasts). The travel ban has denied entry to people from muslim predominant countries and, as it continues to have life and presence in our media, it propagates racist, islamophobic nonsense that is being used to justify terrible discrimination well inside our borders. This is overwhelmingly terrifying, and it’s only two of the many things happening…


And yet, there’s still something particularly chilling about banning military service. People have already commented to point out the huge number of trans people that serve in the military who have effectively now lost their job. That alone should be a huge warning sign.


But why trans people? These assholes hate everyone. Why did a certain idiot target trans people this time?


Because we’re the weakest, the most vulnerable, and easiest to destroy in society. The choice reflects us, our society that we have made. If someone was on a mission to remove all marginalized groups from society (not naming any names here, but…), they’d start with the weakest, get an easy win, and then move on.


The position of trans people in the military is already pretty fraught. It really was only just a year ago that it became explicitly clear that trans folks could serve. And before then, there were trans versions of don’t ask, don’t tell, requirements of passing (which is so gross, I can’t even comment), trans people being barred from service because gender identity disorder was in the DSM-IV as a mental illness (and gender dysphoria still is in the DSM-V). And there’s still this underlying believe that most cis people hold that trans-related health care “frivolous” and a “commodity” as opposed to an absolute necessity, so it’s easy to go “meh, don’t really want to pay for this if I don’t have to”, which is really not a way any employer should consider their potential employees, let alone the fucking military.


Add that to the high rates of violence against trans people. Employment discrimination. Housing discrimination. Stupid, gross bathroom bills designed to keep us out of public spaces. Inaccessible medical costs. Sexual violence. Even the fact that many shelters turn away trans women.


We’re talking a highly, highly vulnerable population that is already easy to “pick off”, for lack of a more polite word for what’s happening here.


And this new thing – banning trans people from the military is the highest form of legitimization these assholes can give to the people killing and harming my trans siblings. Whether we like it or not, it’s the highest authority and model of behavior we have in the United States. Society will follow. The idiot tweets that medical costs for trans people are a burden. That’s the beginning of a trend of all medical insurance companies to drop their funding for trans-related medical costs. That’s the beginning of employers getting away with refusing to take on trans employees because of the burdens. That’s the beginning of more murderers being able to make use of the fucking trans “panic” defense to get off after murdering another trans person.


It’s already happening, and now it’s going to get worse, because the military is being told to point its finger and we are Americans.


This should be a wake-up call for everyone. Not like we shouldn’t already be wide awake considering the context this is happening in. We need each other and we need our allies more than ever. We need to fight this. We need to put more money into protecting trans people, on both local and national levels. We need to fund the services that provide all trans-related healthcare and ensure that health insurance will cover it. We need to create job opportunities for trans people and support trans creators. We need to establish safe and affordable housing for trans people. And we need to make sure every trans person knows they aren’t alone.


Because we aren’t.


So let’s stand together and show Trump and every other fucking asshole that wants us gone that we aren’t as vulnerable as they thought. We’re not their easy win.


No, letting me choose isn’t a solution

Tl;dr Asking nonbinary people to choose between two binary options instead of accommodating us, while better than nothing, is actually a way to continue to not actually support nonbinary people.


In a binary universe, nonbinary people are usually seen as “in between” or a “mix” of the two binary genders. This makes sense – when we’ve been conditioned to believe only two options exist, it’s really hard to not use those options as a reference when trying to understand a third (or fourth, or fifth) option.


And while I really hate referring to myself in terms of binary genders, there are circumstances when I will, because the person I’m talking to isn’t quite ready leave behind the references. It’s like training wheels. With some people, I can happily rip them off and they’ll happily go careening into the gender unknown, but some people really need some time to get rid of their training wheels. I mean, when I learned to ride a bike, my grandfather had to trick me into thinking he was holding me up. Brains are weird.


There is one trend, though, that I would really like to see squashed into the dirt, and it’s this idea that nonbinary people can choose between the two genders at whim. This can happen in a number of circumstances. Sometimes in a dance class, men and women are offered different movement options, and if I flag that with a teacher as a problem, they tell me I get to choose. Sometimes it’s when there are two unmoveable categories, I’m thinking of Asia Kate Dillon being asked to choose between “actor” and “actress” for the Emmys. That particular example is actually pretty cool, because it turned out that neither category has a gender requirement, but, at the end of the day, they were still forced to choose between two gendered options. There’s also the time I was working at a camp and, the last night, staff got two cabins – a women’s and a men’s. When I asked where I should go, the director just shook her head and told me to choose.


These are just examples, but really, it’s any situation in which the categorization of male/female seems absolutely and utterly necessary, to the point that no one knows what to do with someone who falls outside of that category. Instead of accommodating us, they tell us to make the decision, putting the responsibility on us.


Sometimes it’s necessary to choose, leave the training wheels on for another day. Choosing is better than nothing, it gives a level of freedom and power over our identity that we wouldn’t otherwise have.


But asking us to choose, not only puts the responsibility on us (which is really, a very twisty way to not actually accommodate nonbinary folks), it is literally forcing us to misgender ourselves. When I’m given two options and told to choose, even if it is intended in the most well-meaning way possible, what is really being asked is still “so which binary option are you really?”


Not only would making any choice be a form of misgendering, I feel like I’m being tricked to tell the asker things I don’t want to tell them. If I choose the male option, I fit into a pattern of trans masculinity and fulfil the cis person’s tricycle narrative of “man born in a woman’s body” (because society has decided I have a woman’s body, even though it really is just my body, and, thus, nonbinary). If I choose the female option, it’s proof that I’m not really that trans because I choose something that correlates to my assigned gender.


And, at the end of the day, I’m being forced into a box that isn’t mine, except with the appearance that I’ve chosen that box. And I’m all for boxes, but I like being able to choose mine, not forced to choose between two that definitely aren’t mine.


This needs to stop. Nonbinary people aren’t Schrodingers gender – nothing until asked to choose. We’re not secretly binary. We’re nonbinary. Whether or not we’re comfortable choosing between two binary options (and some of us are more than others), we shouldn’t have to choose unless we want to.


Asking me to choose is a very good way to get me to rip the training wheels off immediately. Because seriously? I’m really sick of people assuming that, deep down, I am one binary gender or the other.

Cookies and allyship

Tl;dr Even while loads of self-proclaimed allies do not deserve cookies, there is quite possibly a use for ally cookies in the form of positive feedback and reinforcement to encourage those allies that are already putting in the energy.

November 2016

I’ve always supported the idea of not giving allies cookies. Like yes, you are a decent human being, congratulations, now shut up./end sarcasm

But, at the same time, I’ve found myself willingly giving out “cookies” quite a lot and, the more I think about it, the more I think it’s not necessarily bad to give an ally a cookie when they do a Good Thing, no matter how small it is.

Let’s take pronouns for a second:

Scenario 1: I have the super well-meaning cis ally who wants to use ne/nir/nim, which I tend to mention as my preferred pronouns alongside “they”, but this person keep stumbling. I tell them to just use ne/nir/nim in writing for practice and use “they” when they’re speaking, because it will be easier. They refuse. I tell them to just use “they”, they refuse because they know using someone’s correct pronoun is a bare minimum and feel like using “they” is like a kind of concession and they really really want to do the Right Thing and call me by the Right Pronoun, even though it’s something that’s causing struggle and I’ve asked them not to do so. Conversations with them suddenly become very difficult.

Scenario 2: A slightly less well-meaning cis person wants to prove to others that they’re a really good ally without doing much work. They start using my pronouns in front of everyone without checking if it’s someone I want to be out to and policing people I barely know. Suddenly, I’m inundated with people who barely know me demanding an explanation for my weird pronouns (and claiming they’re grammatically incorrect) and assuming a Gender 101 comes with the explanation.

Scenario 3: I ask a clueless, but well-meaning cis person to refer to me as “they”. They struggle with it. A lot. It’s frustrating. I ask them again. And again. And again. Every time, they apologise, say they try to do better, and then continue to refer to me incorrectly. I eventually give up. A year later, they use the right pronoun.

So, who gets the cookie?

Ally 1 definitely knows their stuff. They’ve done reading outside of what I’ve told them to understand that pronouns are important, they are aware of how much of a difference a pronoun can make, and they are even aware that “preferred pronouns” are most often secretly “correct pronouns” and that trans people may not always express what they want/need immediately due to prior experience with difficult people. Except they don’t listen, even after I ask them twice. Now they’re just draining my energy. I feel embarrassed and exposed by this constant focus on their obsession with treating me Right. This “ally” has decided what’s best for me while ignoring my requests. No cookie.

Ally 2 makes the pretty common mistake of a “one size fits all” fallacy. In some ways, they’re the other side of Ally 1, though I’d argue they’re lacking in some knowledge, because they seem to have no understanding of the dangers of outing someone. They are similarly exposing me, draining my energy, and putting me in  a position where I am constantly on the defensive and have to educate others. They are also guilty of not listening. While Ally 1 doesn’t listen to what I say, Ally 2 doesn’t listen to what I don’t say. Because I don’t tell them when to use my pronouns, they assume my pronouns should be used the same way in all scenarios. Without background knowledge, it’s an understandable mistake, but it’s still harmful.

More importantly, this is a self-proclaimed ally. They are using my pronouns not so much to respect me, but to show others that they are a Good Ally (ie. One that deserves a cookie…) Of course it is hard to judge the intent of someone else, but here, it is very clear in the fact that the job of the explanation falls back to me. Ally 2 makes no attempt to explain why they are using these pronouns or to protect me from the people who are all suddenly very curious about my gender, which they could easily take the time to do. All they’re doing is the surface, showy form of allyship without taking the time to really figure out what that means for the people they claim they are allied to. No cookie. (Especially not if they ask for one).

Ally 3 is a person. Admittedly, a frustrating person. However, even in the throes of my frustration, they apologize. They try to do better. They fail. They try to do better. When I’ve given up on them, they haven’t given up on treating me correctly, even if I don’t see the results of their work until much further down the line. And it was hard for them. By using the right pronoun, they’ve accomplished something that didn’t look possible. So…would I give them a cookie? Hell yeah. They deserve to have their work and commitment recognized.

I think something that’s absolutely necessary to remember is that everyone comes from different places. Something that might look like “basic decency” to one person may be a giant mountain to another. What I need out of allies isn’t a set of rules to follow – I really don’t care if someone always gets my name right if they then use that as a bragging point with their friends (actually, I’d prefer they’d get my name wrong, because that’s a much easier issue to tackle). What I need is the recognition of my humanity and the willingness to try something hard in order to best recognize my identity respectfully.

Allyship is about engaging with something out of your comfort zone, it’s not about 5 Ways to Check Your Privilege or 10 Things Cis People Can Do for Trans People, it’s about approaching a problem to the best of your ability, being willing to fuck up and doing better. And if someone is really doing that, they need cookies, because they’re in a place that they don’t understand. There are no boxes to tick off, there is no “I did this, so I’m obviously learning”, no measurable sign that their allyship is effective. The only way they can know they are on the right path and should continue is if I say “hey, thanks for asking” or “I really appreciate how you did that”. It’s positive feedback, it’s how we learn.

And, above all else, it is a way of prioritising trans voices. Ally 1 and 2 both follow lists and checkboxes of how to ally with trans people, but their hugest mistake is listening to set criteria more than they listen to me. They’ve decided that all trans people need the same thing. Except we’re much more diverse than any random article on the internet will make you believe. The only way anyone is going to get allyship right is by listening as hard as possible to as many trans people as possible.

If an ally shows they are listening and trying and changing to the best of their ability and recognizing, above all else, that every trans person is different, of course I’m going to give them a cookie or say thank you or let them know I see what they’re doing and appreciate it. Because these are the people that are going to become my best allies and I’d be a fool to not encourage that.

(That said! Checkbox lists are great places to start taking on allyship because it’s a great way to get first steps without having to drain a trans person’s energy and then, with that new knowledge, it is much easier for me or another trans person to have the space we need to give allies things to listen to).