As an educator, you care deeply about the well-being of your students. You want to support them in exploring and accepting their authentic selves. In any case, with good motives, it’s feasible to actually hurt genuinely transsexual and nonbinary youth through kindhearted cissexism. This happens when cisgender individuals, meaning those whose orientation character matches the sex they were doled out upon entering the world, force their own convictions and values on trans encounters with an end goal to ‘help’ or I Thought I Was Saving Trans Kids.
The Harm of “Helping” Without Listening
To provide well-intentioned help to trans youth, it is crucial to first listen without judgment and understand their experiences. Assuming you know what is best can be harmful, even with good intentions.
Some ways “helping” without truly listening can be damaging include:
- Speaking over trans youth voices. Do not make assumptions about their needs or what they find helpful. Let them share their truth in their own words.
- Pushing your own agenda. Do not project your beliefs onto someone else’s experience. Your role is to support them in the way they determine is most helpful for their own wellbeing.
- Failing to perceive their independence and office. Try not to treat trans youth as though they can’t come to their own conclusions about things that impact their lives. Regard their capacity to realize what they want.
- Promoting the possibility that being trans is something that should be “fixed”. Try not to outline being trans as an issue that requires treatment or an issue that should be tackled. Acknowledge and attest trans youth for what their identity is.
To be an ally is to walk beside, not lead. Make space for trans youth to feel heard, respected, and empowered. Do not decide what they need – listen and follow their lead. Promote their autonomy and trust in their ability to know themselves. Uplift and amplify their voices, rather than speaking for them. This compassionate and thoughtful support can make a world of difference.
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How Cis Saviorism Upholds Oppressive Systems
To truly support trans youth, cisgender allies must recognize and address the systemic cissexism within benevolent actions. Though well-intentioned, cis saviorism upholds oppressive systems by centering cisgender voices and experiences.
Cis saviorism frames cisgender people as the heroes and trans people as victims needing rescue. This perpetuates harmful narratives that trans people cannot save themselves or determine what they need. Cis voices dominate discussions about trans experiences and drown out trans leadership.
How Cis Saviorism Further Marginalizes Trans Youth
Cis saviorism often involves speaking over or for trans people. It fails to recognize trans people as experts of their own experiences and the best advocates for their communities. When cis saviors appoint themselves as the voice for trans rights, it implies trans people cannot represent themselves. This amplifies the marginalization of trans voices.
Cis saviorism also portrays trans people as problems to be solved rather than human beings deserving respect and equal rights. Framing trans youth as victims needing rescue from cis saviors is dehumanizing and paternalistic. It does not challenge systemic cissexism or make space for trans leadership and advocacy.
To genuinely support trans youth, cis allies must address cissexism, center trans voices, and follow the guidance of trans leadership. Support means empowering trans communities by amplifying trans voices and experiences, not hijacking the conversation or acting as self-appointed saviors. Trans youth need allies, not heroes.
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Dangers of Benevolent Cissexism
I Thought I Was Saving Trans Kids: The Dangers of Benevolent Cissexism refers to actions and beliefs that are well-intentioned but ultimately harmful to transgender people. Even those aiming to support trans individuals may unknowingly perpetuate cissexism. For example, some believe they are “saving” trans kids by discouraging them from socially transitioning or accessing gender-affirming medical care. However, this denies trans youth the opportunity to explore their identity and access treatment proven to vastly improve mental health outcomes.
Some argue that trans kids are too young to know their gender identity or that transitioning will cause irreversible changes. However, social transition is reversible and the effects of puberty blockers are temporary. Preventing access to care risks lifelong distress. Rather than saving trans kids, benevolent cissexism severely damages their well-being.
Another example is framing being transgender as a “choice” or the result of confusion, trauma or mental illness. This is a harmful misconception not supported by science. Gender identity is innate. While some trans people do experience mental health issues, this correlation does not prove being trans is a disorder. Benevolent cissexism contributes to the staggeringly high rates of anxiety, depression and suicide within the trans community by promoting stigma and discrimination.
In reality, accepting and supporting trans kids by allowing them to explore their identity and access necessary care is how to truly help them. Educating others about what being trans really means and advocating for inclusive policies and laws will make the world a safer place for people of all gender identities. We must recognize benevolent cissexism and instead offer empathy, validation, and compassion.
As you reflect on your actions, recognize that even benevolent intentions can inflict harm. Make efforts to educate yourself on issues facing the trans community and understand that you do not have the authority or experience to determine what is best for trans youth. Your role is to provide empathy, support, and advocacy by amplifying trans voices and respecting self-determination. Do not make assumptions or insist you know better. While it may be difficult, work to identify and address your own internalized biases and prejudices. The trans community deserves advocates willing to do this difficult self-reflection to become better allies. You have a responsibility to avoid causing additional trauma through benevolent cissexism and instead support trans youth in living authentically. The path forward begins with listening, learning, and following the guidance of trans leaders.