Allyship Encouraged between Transgender and Cisgender Peers

Photo by Laura French

In light of Queer History Month, the Women’s Center held a workshop for trans* allies who have a grasp on terms like transgender and cisgender. The program was meant for students to develop a greater understanding of cisgender privilege, trans* oppression and common challenges for allies.

This session was facilitated by Queer Peer Services Coordinator Yovanna Garcia and Professor of Law and Society Jill Weiss. Weiss, who personally identifies as transgender, has been a professor for 10 years, in addition to being a lawyer who specializes in trans workplace issues. Weiss was also the keynote speaker for last year's Trans* Day of Visibility program.

"It’s important to begin to understand that it’s a big wide world out there and that there’s a lot of diversity, and there are people of different gender identities and expressions, and that we want to interact with people like that and everybody in a way that is good for society," said Weiss of the session. 

The workshop posed questions such as, “When did you first become aware of gender?” and “When are you aware of gender now?” The discussion then became more detailed, and identified the differences between gender, sex, gender expression, gender identity and orientation. In order to better break down the differences, the Genderbread Person was introduced.

According to, “The Genderbread Person is an infographic that breaks down gender identity, gender expression, biological sex and sexual orientation into an easy to understand visual.”

The Genderbread Person is continuously updated. The most recent version of this model is the Genderbread Person v3.3. On the site, the Genderbread Person blurb explains, “Gender is one of those things everyone thinks they understand, but most people don’t. Like ‘Inception.’ Gender isn’t binary. It’s not either/or. In many cases it’s both/and. A bit of this, a dash of that.”

The panel continued to break down the definition of transgender and transsexual, highlighting that they are not the same thing. The GLAAD Media Reference Guide identifies transgender “as an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth" and transsexual as "an older term that originated in the medical and psychological communities" which is "still preferred by some people who have permanently changed – or seek to change – their bodies through medical interventions (including but not limited to hormones and/or surgeries)." The Web page goes on to say, "Unlike transgender, transsexual is not an umbrella term. Many transgender people do not identify as transsexual and prefer the word transgender.”

While covering all of these facts about the trans community, the workshop took a look at the queer umbrella, under which the LGBTQ community may identify. This encompasses any individual who crosses over or challenges society’s traditional gender roles and/or expressions, including, but not limited to, intersex persons, bigender, intergender, agender, and androgynous persons, drag queens and kings and more. Participants were able to build their vocabulary on inclusive terms like these – one of the many things students could learn from this workshop.

“I’ve learned how to be an ally, mostly. I’ve never been around so many people who identified differently, so it was pretty amazing coming to an event and seeing like, ‘oh this is how I should act, and this is how I should be and this is how they feel, this is how I should feel,‘” said freshman Michelle Shneyder.

The overall message of the discussion is that it is very important to respect people's desired self-identifications. One should never assume another person’s identity based on that person’s appearance. It is always best to ask people how they identify, including what pronouns they prefer, and to respect their wishes. In doing so, we are taking one step toward being better allies for the trans* community.