If you are in distress, you can call or text 988 at any time. If it is an emergency, call 9-1-1 or go to your local emergency department.

The CatalystConversations on Mental Health

Ahead of the International Trans Day of Visibility – an annual event dedicated to supporting trans people and raising awareness of discrimination — the Stigma Crusher reflects on ways of showing up and showing support.

It’s easy to be a friend, a comforter, a confidant, a ramen pal, or a late-night horror flick ride-or-die – but that is not what it means to be an ally. So, how does one be an ally? And more to the point, how does one be a good ally to transgender and nonbinary communities in a political and social climate that can be downright hostile and dangerous?

An ally is a person, often cisgender (a person whose gender corresponds to the sex assigned at birth), who supports and/or advocates for transgender and non-binary people. It can seem daunting to be an ally with all the hate in the world – sometimes, I think I would rather hide until everything feels just a little safer – but for those I love, I can’t. Besides, there are simple actions we can take to be a better ally, right now. 

It starts with education

There are 100,815 transgender and non-binary persons in Canada, according to Statistics Canada. That’s 1 in 300 Canadians. Gender refers to an individual’s personal and social identity.  Transgender refers to people whose gender does not correspond to their sex assigned at birth (based on a person’s reproductive system and other physical characteristics). Non-binary refers to people who are not exclusively a man or a woman. In both cases, the gender identity, which is the experience of gender internally, does not match what society expects. 

Maybe, as an ally, you are familiar with these terms, but do you know about the history of trans and non-binary rights in this country? Have you read any trans or non-binary-authored resources lately? Being a good ally is more than being a friend; it is important for us to educate ourselves about the lived experiences of trans and non-binary people to better understand what they encounter daily. And we have to educate ourselves. It is critical to consider where we put the burden of this work.

Three friends with colorful hairstyles smiling and posing together outdoors.


Names and pronouns

For many transgender and non-binary people, names and pronouns are an important issue.  They may find themselves constantly on the receiving end of being called by their old (“dead”) name or the wrong gender or pronoun (“misgendered”), which can be incredibly hurtful. The most respectful approach is to introduce oneself using one’s preferred name and pronouns and ask if you’re not sure. Mess up? Respectfully apologize, then concentrate on correcting yourself moving forward.


Allyship is incredibly important in keeping transgender and non-binary people safe – especially in today’s politically charged climate. And it can start young. Mae Ajayi, who is non-binary and a parent, says making allies of our kids is one of the best ways to keep trans and non-binary kids safe.

 “It’s about having conversations with kids that are really explicit about transphobia,” Ajayi says. Explaining what it is and how to be an ally is a helpful start, says Rachel Malone, parent of bigender Sacha, and cisgender Peter. “We can’t wrap our kids up in bubble wrap, right? And we can’t be there 100 percent of the time, so we can’t be their only protectors.” Malone knows there is a lot to do to improve safety for transgender and nonbinary people. She told me how Sacha’s brutal bullying over her gender identity in kindergarten resulted in serious mental health concerns and asked me not to use her or her children’s real names because of reports of families of transgender kids being targeted with violence.

Safety is a theme not only for children but also for transgender and non-binary adults, who are more likely than cisgender adults to experience violence. Allies who stand up for their transgender and non-binary friends, colleagues and neighbours are crucial to improving safety for these adults.

Mental health

Robyn Letson, MSW, RSW, is a trans social worker and psychotherapist who works with transgender and non-binary clients. According to them, “There is huge potential for allyship in providing affirming mental health care to trans and non-binary people.”

Transgender and non-binary individuals are more likely than cis-gender individuals to live with poor mental health. This could be due to a variety of reasons, but the transphobia, prejudice, and discrimination that they experience just for existing certainly does not help.

An ally can help support the mental of transgender and non-binary people by being supportive, respecting their privacy by not asking invasive medical questions about transition or hormones, and seeking their feedback on how you can adjust your care approach (you may not know that your approach isn’t working unless you ask). You can signal with signage that workplaces, schools, and clinics are safe and affirming spaces for transgender and nonbinary people.

It also takes work to really help support the transgender and non-binary folks in your life. “I would suggest starting with critical self-reflection,” says Letson. “For cis people who want to begin or deepen a journey of practicing better allyship and solidarity with trans people, I always suggest beginning with one’s own relationship to gender.”

Ongoing commitment

There is no “completed” badge for being an ally – it is all about continuous education, working against discrimination and transphobia, and challenging one’s own biases. 

“Make space for fewer assumptions and just allow yourself to feel like you don’t know,” suggests Mae Ajayi. “Cis(gendered) folks should understand how sad and scared people are right now and that it feels very frightening as a trans person and also as a parent – it’s a very real danger,” they say.

I can only imagine how frightening it is to be a transgendered or non-binary person in Canada right now, and as an ally, that makes my blood boil. However, being angry isn’t enough – being cisgender is currently a privilege in our society, and it is an ally’s responsibility to use that privilege to act. 

It sounds like a big job, but if you start with supporting transgender and non-binary people, work on educating yourself, commit to learning and using the correct names and pronouns, think about protecting their safety, support their mental health, and then make an ongoing commitment to act against transphobia and discrimination, you will be well on your way to being a better ally.


Author: Jessica Ward-King (she/her) is the StigmaCrusher, a mental health advocate, speaker and author who is a loving ally to many in trans and non-binary communities.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

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