I will admit that if you were to go through the viewing history on my Apple TV, you would see episodes of the series I am Cait. I am not now, nor do I foresee myself in the future as, an individual preparing to transition – however, I have watched this show as an opportunity to learn more about this subculture of our community, and learn how to be a better ally. As the show follows the journey that Caitlyn Jenner has undergone, I have relished watching Cait learn more about her own community. From the struggles that transitioning transgender people face to employers and the communities they are part of to Cait learning how privileged she is throughout this process, is all quite enlightening and the lessons extend beyond just that one community.
Being an ally ranges within various situations; however, the message is universal: Support. In my experience, being an ally spans outside of the LGBT community, and goes to anyone who stands in need of help. As we work to continually strengthen our ties not only among our own ranks but within our greater community, we become more compassionate and understanding.
But how does one go about expressing support as an ally?
In my experience, and after doing some online research with GLAAD, HRC and other LGBT resources, I feel the following three tips can help each of us to be an ally regardless of station or situation:
- Educate yourself: If you are reading the stories of the LGBT community and building relationships, you are already on your way. Make trusted friends who won’t mind answering your questions – even the crazy ones. But don’t make a single person or group do all the work in terms of your enlightenment. Show your love by doing your own too.
- Curiosity does not equate to open-mindedness: I know that certain situations bring on questions that Google cannot even fathom to answer, but be respectful and don’t ask probing questions unless you have a close relationship with someone or they’ve made it clear they are open to answering anything.
- Ask how you can help: All too often we like to use kind words and they tend to be a method we use to ease a situation but not take a call to action. Phrases such as, “I know how you feel,” “that must be difficult,” or “this too shall pass” do nothing to pacify the person struggling but rather justify the conscious of the person reciting them. The best thing you can do is to simply ask “how can I help?” or “what would make this easier for you?”
When asking “how you can help,” you may sometimes get a direct answer, while other times you may be told simply there is nothing you can do. In those moments, I am reminded of the moment from the movie Lars and the Real Girl, when the sewing circle ladies reply “We came over to sit. That’s what people do when tragedy strikes. They come over, and sit.” I admonish you to use this beyond just tragedy, but in those moments when someone is struggling, take the time to be with them and sit.
Going back to I am Cait, I enjoy the moments that reflect on her situation and how she got there. In one such moment she reminds us that “the most important thing in life is that you are true to yourself.” I echo that sentiment and urge you to take it one step further and to use who you are to inspire others. Take the time to reach out not only to the LGBT community, but also those around us who stand in need of an ally. Be it a coworker, a struggling friend, or family member – the change starts with us, and then from there, the possibilities are endless.