5 ways to help transgender and gender diverse people feel more comfortable

1) J likes that being non-binary allows them to belong to something that they previously didn’t feel they fit into, gender. Picture: Natarsha Stojanovski
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The lives of the transgender and gender diverse community are at risk both socially and systemically, but subtle changes could be a step towards improving their experience. Natarsha Stojanovksi reports.

J, a non-binary person, vividly remembers the day their Lit teacher said transgender people “are mentally ill”.

“And if they identified as a cow, he wouldn’t moo, so why would he use their preferred pronouns?” they said.

While this happened three years ago, J still feels as though they don’t fit in or belong to society.

According to the national LGBTI Health alliance, 48.1 per cent of transgender and gender diverse people aged 14 to 25 have attempted suicide.

“It makes me very fearful, I guess,” J says.

“That’s such a high potential of people could die, just because they don’t feel accepted or like they belong.”

J and other members of the community say one of the best ways to bring that number down is to combat the binary way people view and regard gender through subtle differences in our social interactions. They offer these five suggestions on ways to improve relations.

1. Have an understanding/educate yourself

“Educating yourself is so important,” J says. 

Start with understanding the difference between sex and gender, different genders, different pronouns, and what’s happening in the world to the transgender community and the statistics, they say. 

“It’s not my responsibility to explain every in and out detail of what it is to be trans/non-binary but also, I don’t speak for an entire community.”

“What being non-binary to me means something very different to someone else,” they say.

2. Avoid stereotypes of gender 

“It’s a weird thing, like I wouldn’t say I’m traditionally very masculine, but my physical appearance portrays me as masculine,” J says.

My manager will say things like ‘are you a man or a woman?’

“It sounds really dumb but, I’m expected to perform a masculine role, even in little ways like that,” they say.

J believes it would make things a whole lot less complicated and awkward if that didn’t happen

3. Avoid definitive pronouns

“Don’t use definitive pronouns, unless you know them for that specific person,” J says.. 

“If you don’t know them, obviously just ask.”

  4. If you mess up pronouns, don’t dwell on it

Because society functions largely within binaries, having to unlearn pronouns can be difficult and requires patience. “Not everyone has been equipped with the same information and experiences”, J says. 

It’s about learning to adapt and not getting caught up in how you’ve done something wrong. “If you mess up, apologise, move on and be more conscious next time,” they say.

 Dwelling on it “just makes it uncomfortable”.

5. Don’t stare at or avoid people

J likes to wear dresses, but sometimes this attracts uncomfortable, unwanted attention. 

“I’ll see people’s eyes immediately go down to my legs and immediately up to my eyes, either confused or disapproving,” J says.

“Some people will try to understand what’s going on, and some people do understand, but don’t like what they see.” 

“It’s not like you need to avoid eye contact or act as if I’m not there to try and make me comfortable,” they say.

“I like being non-binary. Although I often feel like I’m born before a time where I can fully flourish and be comfortable with myself,” J says.