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Nočnica Mellifera
Nočnica Mellifera

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9 ways to be kinder to trans people

Cover image of the Trans-Australia railway by Pavel Špindler

This article is for everyone who loves trans people and wants some guidance in treating trans friends and co-workers with kindness and respect.

Of course, trans people aren't all of one mind, this is just one trans woman's list of the things I wish every cis person knew.

1. Don't forward my hate mail

I work on camera. And in my voice and face are both immediately identifiable as gender-non-conforming. That means I get hateful messages in my stream chat. I get them during conferences and as comments on my video. Sometimes it's extremely rough to deal with.

What definitely doesn't help is sending me a screenshot and asking if I saw it. If I have or I haven't seen it, it's not going to cheer me up to see it. This is doubly true if the commenter is anonymous or works at another company. In those cases there's generally nothing to be done, so all that forwarding can do is ruin my day.

2. Do learn the word 'cis'

Did the word 'cis' in the intro trip you up? Learn it and use it! Based on the latin root that's the opposite of 'trans,' 'cis' is used to refer to anyone who isn't trans. It's not an insult or a derogatory term, no more than being called trans is an insult.

I use the term 'cis' it because, absent a term to describe a way of being, it defaults to just 'normal.' There's nothing more normal about cis people!

One side note: if someone is telling you that being called 'cis' is offensive, or some variation of the statement that "'cis' is a slur," be aware that you are probably talking to someone who's getting their talking points straight from websites and communities dedicated to excluding trans people from society.

3. Don't assume transphobia is isolated or rare

When a trans person talks to you about being excluded, discriminated against, or otherwise being the victim of transphobia; often it can feel natural to respond with something like:

"oh gosh that's awful! I never heard of anything like that! I'm shocked!!!"

And while it's clear that the intent is to be sympathetic, there's an underlying assumption to these comments that transphobia, while awful, is unusual and unexpected.

I'm not asking you to read every report by the Southern Poverty Law Center or read every transphobic article in The Guardian. I don't do that and neither should you! But realize that discrimination and hate for trans people is becoming the norm in our society.

4. Do talk behind my back

I don't want to have to tell people my pronouns. I don't want to explain that I have a deep voice but, yes, I am a woman. I want you to tell people that.

If you want to become my star ally of the year, send at least two people the following message on Slack

Hey! Our next meeting is with Nočnica (Nica to her friends), one of our best Dev Advocates. She had the number one partner talk at Re:Invent last year! Reminder that her pronouns are she/her. Hit me up if you want any background!

This little check in with people keeps me from having to have the same conversation. I appreciate it to no end! Some things about this script:

  • I'd rather be introduced as 'a woman' than 'a trans woman'
  • What I do and how good I am at it are more important than my gender

5. Don't talk to me about Drag Race

As popular culture has commodified queerness into something anyone can consume from their living room, awareness of drag has spread beyond the queer community. That might be a good thing, but it's led to some confusion.

Some drag performers may be trans, and many trans people do drag, but the two terms aren't synonymous. Add to that the fact that many of the catchphrases and terms used in shows like Queer Eye and Drag Race are AAVE that sound deeply odd when said by a white person (looking at you Jonathan Van Ness), and it's just, a mess tbh.

I really can't simplify the issue beyond this analogy:

  • Your jewish friend doesn't want to hear your rendition of tunes from 'Fiddler on the Roof'
  • your friend who grew up in the foster care system doesn't want to read 'Oliver Twist' with you

6. Do put your pronouns in your bio

This is just a courtesy thing that I appreciate from cis people. it means that it's not just trans people who are doing the work of communicating about gender.

7. Don't ask me to put my pronouns in my bio

Whose job is it to end transphobia? Is it trans peoples' job? I would suggest no. I try to put my pronouns out there, but doing so, especially when almost no cis people have, outs me as trans to strangers in a way that isn't always comfortable.

8. If you make a mistake: apologize and move on

Are you worried that you've insulted someone trans? In these situations it's common to feel some embarrassment. If you want to get in touch with me to apologize, that's fine and I might even appreciate that you noticed.

But if we do have a conversation and you want to apologize, I cannot emphasize this enough: keep it short.

I get misgendered almost every day. If I had to have a whole conversation every time, it would bum me out! I don't want to spend all day talking about being trans.

9. Do talk to me about your feelings about your gender

In point 4 above I said I didn't want to be the one who had to explain my gender to everybody. It's a drain on my time and energy and I'd rather not talk about gender all day.

But there is a big exception to that rule: If you have questions about your gender, of course I want to talk about it.

Feeling like your gender doesn't "fit" can be such a lonely experience. And I feel a responsibility to make sure that others don't go through it alone. So if you have questions, of course reach out.

Thank you for taking the time to read this list. If you have questions, or if you're trans and want to add to this list, add a comment below!

Top comments (48)

michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington

This article is for everyone who loves trans people and wants some guidance in treating trans friends and co-workers with kindness and respect.

What an awesome beginning to a seriously great post. Really appreciate you sharing this advice, Nica!

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Thank you for this Nočnica. Bookmarking as material I can offer to others as needed.

ellativity profile image
Ella (she/her/elle)

This is such a helpful list for everyone! I love how you have found 9 of the easiest things that we can all do, even if we're already feeling stressed, busy, or otherwise put-upon.

It's especially relevant to our community of devs, who are increasingly working with diverse, international colleagues. Some of us don't come from cultures where these conversations take place openly, so it's posts like these in spaces like DEV that allow us to engage and learn - and grow professionally as well as personally.

Thanks, Nica, for taking the time to share your experiences so we can all benefit and be better coworkers, collaborators, and friends.

xomiamoore profile image
Mia Moore

Thanks for writing this, friend. I especially love your intro you wrote, totally stealing that and writing one for myself. :)

jess profile image
Jess Lee

Thank you for this 💜

andy profile image
Andy Zhao (he/him)

Thank you for sharing this :)

joransen profile image

I’ve become a fan of your direct, open, and comprehensive views on tech and now life. After reading this, I changed my Twitter profile for the first time in over a decade. Thanks for sharing.

endorama profile image
Edoardo Tenani

Thank you for writing this, is just so spot on and appreciated. Just added to my "go to" article list on the subject.

senesk profile image
Sen Toren

Super appreciate this! I was talking a cis friend through ways to be more inclusive towards trans people and I've shared this article with them.

jcolag profile image
John Colagioia (he/him)

I want to thank you specifically for:

it means that it's not just trans people who are doing the work of communicating about gender.

When people have been receptive to advising, I've occasionally attempted to get clarity of the utility, multiple times, because this feels to me like a combination of trying to center myself in the conversation and "misappropriating" a tool that other people need for important reasons. Unfortunately, the existing advice is just passive-aggressive "do it, unless you don't want to."

So, thanks very much for being open about the actual use of my involvement to the people who are actually affected.

robencom profile image

Thanks for this article. It surely is the healthy way of sharing knowledge.

While we do know our own suffering and all that offends us, others have their own issues and they do not know about ours...So, it is always beneficial for all to listen to each other and understand each other.

Understanding demands calmness and dialogue. Sadly, some people like to force their perspective on others, which is why we have so much trouble in the world today.

We need less emotion/principles and more reason/logic.

nocnica profile image
Nočnica Mellifera • Edited

And in that you'd be wrong! This post was in the top 7 posts this week and was featured in the newsletter. Remember that your guess or 'bet' isn't a substitute for data :)

nocnica profile image
Nočnica Mellifera

I think that, being new, you don't really know the goals of the site :) See if there are some context clues about why this content is part of's mission.

auraswap profile image
Liz Wait

This is wonderful Nočnica! Definitely bookmarking this.

felipperegazio profile image
Felippe Regazio

awesome, thank you. it helped a lot!

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