Co-authored by Llewellyn Boggs and Robert T. Muller, Ph.D.
Although acceptance is growing, people in the transgender community are still heavily discriminated against. Riley De Aquino (he/him), 23, first came out in September 2015 as bisexual and later as transgender in February 2019. Riley grew up in a Catholic community and wasn’t exposed to any information about being bisexual, let alone being transgender, “I didn’t have the words to describe how I felt. I was able to come to terms with it because of social media and seeing people who felt the same as I did and finally realized my feelings are valid. Therapy led me to realize that I needed to start pursuing this, so I started telling my closest friends.”
After about a month and a half, he told his parents and slowly started physically transitioning. Riley explains how the challenges that came with his physical transition from female to male such as changing his name, finding the right information, getting on hormones, and dealing with doctors were relatively easy compared to socially transitioning. Social transitioning is difficult, particularly with family. With Riley, it has been two years since coming out, and to this day, his family still misgenders him and deadnames him, which leads to a tenuous relationship between himself and his family.
“Deadnaming” happens when people refer to a trans person by their previous and no longer used legal given name. Transitioning socially became “very draining” on Riley’s mental health and he ended up moving out of his family’s home shortly after coming out to them. He notes, “I was constantly having to either let people misgender and deadname me, or come out to them and wonder if they would accept me.”
Jennifer Thomson, a psychotherapist based out of Hamilton, Ontario, outlined five pillars of how to be an ally for the transgender community:
- Advocacy – Speaking up when you hear injustice or hate, integrate them into spaces that you do have control over.
- Education – Understanding the LGBTQ+ community as a whole and looking at the struggles they go through.
- Acceptance – Accepting people for who they are without questioning their motives.
- Asking Questions When Appropriate – Asking about pronouns is helpful and normalizing; asking if someone has had surgery is not.
- Integration, Bias Checking – We all have biases but making sure we’re aware of them, so we can keep them in check is important.
With more and more allies emerging to support the LGBTQ+ community, individuals facing these challenges are hopeful that people will become more accepting. Today Riley has physically and socially transitioned and says that each day has become easier since then.
Thomson adds that there is a lot more to being an ally than just saying you’re accepting of the trans community. “We have to take a look at our privilege as cisgender people and the power we have in our own circles.”
Copyright Robert T. Muller, Ph.D.