“It will take a lot of collective work to improve life for trans people in the UK, but we can all lighten the load”


“I’ve been seeing it not over the last few weeks, but over the last 40 years. It has got worse,” says Christine Burns MBE, editor of Trans Britain and recipient of a 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award by Pride of Manchester. 

We’re talking about transphobia in the media, particularly regarding a BBC article published on 26 October. The piece, which was called “We’re being pressured into sex by some trans women”, relied heavily on a small, self-selecting survey of 80 people. It has received nearly 5,000 complaints, but the BBC has stood by the piece on the grounds of “impartiality”. One of the interviewees in the piece, porn star Lily Cade, later posted a violent rant on her blog calling for the execution of trans women. The BBC has now edited the piece to remove her contribution.

At DIVA, we believe in #LWithTheT, which means that cisgender queer women need to stand up for our trans siblings. It’s easy to see these stories, think that they’re terrible, and move on. But how can cis people be good allies, now and into the future?

Christine says that a good place to start is listening out for “gender critical dogwhistles, like ‘trans women are men’”, and responding to people who seem sympathetic to transphobic ideologies. “We can’t do anything about people who’ve already fallen down the rabbit-hole, but we can try and stop anybody else joining them”. 

Natalie Washington, campaign lead at Football v Transphobia, agrees. She says, “The biggest thing allies can do for trans people at the moment is to visibly stand against organised anti-trans activism.” For Natalie, this includes “challenging transphobic myths you hear”, as well as “boosting the voices of trans people and allies doing the hard work of debunking”.

Tackling transphobia among the people in your life is important, but it’s essential to consider how you engage with the media, too. Media literacy is crucial in a world where news is increasingly spread online and paid for by advertising. Christine says, “The only way that [news sites] can sell advertising online is by getting people to click on links, and to get people to click on links they need anger and emotion and disgust. [Trans people] are supplying the commodity”. As an act of resistance, as well as of self-care, be mindful of what you read and share.

You can also complain to editors about content that demonises the trans community, who, as Stonewall regularly reports, already face a disproportionate amount of violence and hatred in daily life. According to Natalie, “it’s important to be tenacious in holding these media organisations to account” by “using the full extent of [the] complaints process, the ombudsman, etc”.

Don’t forget about the people who you are fighting on behalf of, though. Christine says that “the social equivalent of a hug” is vital for trans people feeling the effects of transphobia. “Say, are you okay? Do you want to go out for a drink? Involve that person back in normal life,” Christine says, “just as you do after somebody has had a bereavement or split up with a partner”. 

It will take a lot of collective work to improve life for trans people in the UK, but we can all lighten the load. For allies, small changes to the ways that you interact with people and with the media you consume can begin to make a big difference.

Here are three things you can do today:

  1. Reach out to your trans friends. Ask them how they are, invite them out for a drink, take them shopping. 
  2. Make your feelings known. Sign petitions, send letters of complaint, stand up for your trans siblings.
  3. Have conversations with the people in your life to combat the seeds of transphobia. 

DIVA magazine celebrates 27 years in print in 2021. If you like what we do, then get behind LGBTQI media and keep us going for another generation. Your support is invaluable. 


One thought on “How can cisgender allies support trans women?”

  1. As a trans masculine person living in the UK (who used to live ‘as a lesbian/queer woman’ I want you to know how ENORMOUS the impact of your support for trans people has and to thank you personally in this comment. I feel safer in the world and feel so much more hope. Your magazine is really doing something wonderful and courageous and we (the trans community) are VERY VERY grateful.

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