As a queer student, I know from many, many personal experiences that being non-straight and not cisgender (cisgender means someone who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth) can feel like an island. With the recent push for campus inclusivity, it can leave one wondering “What does inclusivity mean about my experience here?” Since I’ve been a figure on campus willing to talk about and teach my knowledge of the LGBT community, people have posed some common questions to me about how to better ally oneself with queer students. Below I provide my perspective on these interesting questions and issues.
Are you LGBT?
I am not LGBT but, I am transgender and bisexual. LGBT is a better way to describe a group, not an individual. Don’t be afraid to use words like “trans” or “gay!”
Of course, you never want to out someone who may not be out of the closet if you’re unsure, but it is a mark of someone who’s comfortable and knowledgeable when someone can confidently say “trans student” or “gay classmate.” Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you know someone who is willing to answer them. Not everyone has been taught some LGBT 101 concepts, such as gender and sexuality being separate concepts.
How do I ask for someone’s pronouns?
This is the #1 question I always get asked. I’m sorry to say, I have no easy answer for this question. The best thing I can encourage people to do is to make it appropriate and comfortable to give pronouns when you’re introducing yourself. Usually, people will follow your lead if you take the first step. If I say to you “Hi, my name is Harris and I use he/him/his pronouns,” usually people will assume that is the culture they are in and give their own pronouns. When cisgender people are open about sharing their own pronouns, even when it feels like it would seem obvious, it makes trans people like me feel more comfortable asserting my own pronouns.
What is your gender?
Thinking about people without separating them into gender presentations (how someone dresses and acts based on perceptions of gender roles) takes a lot of unlearning. We need to make an effort to think gender-neutral! Many people take grammatical issue with singular “they” pronouns, but it is a good habit to get into “de-gendering” thoughts and speech. “That person” or using descriptors that don’t involve gendering someone you don’t know can make spaces more inclusive and sometimes safer.
What is heteronormativity?
Heteronormativity is the culture of assuming everyone is straight. This goes beyond seeing someone and assuming they have a different gendered partner. It goes into issues such as assuming someone is mono-sexual (attracted to one gender), and drawing the conclusion that people in same-gender relationships or alternative-gender relationships fall into straight gender roles within their relationship.
This is an easy fix, in my opinion: Pretend you know nothing about someone else’s experience! There is also an active unlearning here, as we are taught to put people into roles from an early age. Question yourself when you see a queer couple and think one of them must be “the man” and the other, “the woman.” What do you think these people do in their relationship? Why do you think this way?
FRCC has been one of the most comfortable college experiences I have had out of the schools I’ve attended over the years. Inclusivity is a learning process and takes work to achieve, but we are starting from an excellent place.
When trying to be a better ally, ask yourself: what difficulties have you encountered? What would you like to learn or unlearn?