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Nobody asked: How to learn about trans and gender diverse people

Updated: Mar 13

We wrote recently about decentering yourself when learning about trans and gender diverse people. But how do you actually go about self-educating? What should you generally avoid doing, how can you tell the quality and relevance of information, and what specific resources should you start with?

Overall, there are several key points to keep in mind throughout your self-education.

  1. Listen to trans and gender diverse people. We are the experts on our own experiences. This is not to say that there is never quality content available from cis folks on these topics, but make a habit of centering trans and gender diverse creators as much as possible. This is also not to say that everything a trans person says is automatically correct--we can be just as wrong about things, including gender, as anyone else. But in general, when you're trying to learn about a particular identity, learning what people in that group have to say is essential.

  2. Don't create more work for us. "Listen to trans people" doesn't mean "ask your trans friends/family/coworkers to educate you." Seek out content that trans and gender diverse people have chosen to publish, as that has a much higher likelihood of being material that we have chosen to share willingly on our own terms (much of it is free, like this blog, but pay creators for their labor if there is a way to do it and you are able to do so).

  3. Seek out information from lots of sources, as trans and gender diverse people are not a monolith and we will have different opinions on a variety of topics. Remember that nobody is wrong about their own feelings or experiences, but those are not necessarily representative of anybody else's. Be especially careful to avoid learning about one particular identity (e.g. white trans women) to the exclusion of others. If you find that you haven't been incorporating any materials by trans and gender diverse people of color, disabled people, people outside of your own country, nonbinary people, etc., then seek out those perspectives (while still remembering that no individual represents everyone, even of a specific shared identity).

  4. There is a lot of harmful content out there. Between ignorance and active transphobia, you cannot trust a resource about trans and gender diverse people without digging into it a little. See if you can find reviews by actual trans and gender diverse people (StoryGraph and Goodreads may be helpful for those). Do not obsess over trying to find out if a given author is trans or gender diverse if that hasn't been shared by them; people deserve privacy and safety, and we don't owe information about our genders to anyone.

  5. Language and ideas about gender change over time, and different people have different terms that they use for themselves. Don't discount material just because it uses words that aren't considered the most current way of describing gender; you'll rule out a lot of important content that way.

In practice, learning about trans and gender diverse people requires seeking out books, articles, podcasts, movies, and other forms of media by trans and gender diverse people and sustaining this work over time (like, literally the rest of your life). There's plenty of 101 content out there that is quick and easy to learn, but that's usually surface level stuff about memorizing terminology. Think of it as a gender equivalent to spending a couple hours learning a language on Duolingo. You'll know the gender version of how to ask where the library is, but you won't have any deeper understanding in a way that lets you extrapolate. You might even end up doing some harm (different harm from continued ignorance, but still harm)--for example, if you learn that pronoun sharing is a thing but not that it shouldn't be required. The 101 content is a start, but you can't stop there.

Recognize that this self-education may be difficult and take time. Truly learning about trans and gender diverse people and issues necessitates unlearning a lot of ideas your culture(s) has about gender; it's not just remembering what words to say (or not say). Many of us have decades of societal erasure, ignorance, and misinformation about trans and gender diverse people to overcome. It can feel overwhelming, and that's okay! This is new information for a lot of people. It probably isn't your fault that you have so much catching up to do, but it is your responsibility to do it to the best of your ability. It might help to know that you can't possibly learn everything--there's simply too much, so don't make that a goal. Start somewhere, and your capacity for new-to-you information will develop over time.

Like any topic, it can be tricky to maintain interest and retain information if you don't have a way to connect what you're learning to your own life. Memorizing a list of terms or pronouns is interesting but may not be terribly useful if they're not ones you are ever using, so that may not be the best use of your energy. So learn about trans and gender diverse people and issues in areas you're already interested in. If you're like art, look into trans and gender diverse artists. Same with music. If you're a fan of a particular sport, look into the issues trans and gender diverse people face there. In your professional life, research what trans and gender diverse inclusion looks like in the context of your field.

Fortunately, there is a lot more content available than there used to be, so here are some suggestions to get you started.

  • 101-type information: yes, we did say that this isn't enough, but you need to start somewhere. Find some options on our Resources page.

  • The U.S. Trans Survey: This is super valuable for learning about the common experiences of trans and gender diverse people in the U.S. In addition to the overall report, be sure to check out the breakout reports on specific intersecting identities.

  • Podcasts: This is a good way to hear from actual individual trans and gender diverse people (remember that we don't all automatically agree with each other about literally anything, though). We highly recommend Gender Reveal, which has many many many interviews with trans and gender diverse folks and very effectively demonstrates that we are not a monolith (and that we're allowed to care about things apart from gender). Since many of the interviewees are authors or other types of creators, you'll also get more ideas for what to read next than you know what to do with.

  • TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly: This is a long-running journal with scholarly articles and book reviews on all sorts of topics; reading it (or even skimming the table of contents) is a fascinating way to learn about some of the very specific topics people are researching.

  • Autobiographies by trans and gender diverse people: An increasing number of these are available; if you can't afford them, ask your library to add them to the collection.

  • Nonfiction about gender: There's a lot in this category, so we'll stick to a few particular recommendations and let you do the rest. Transgender History and The Transgender Studies Reader give some historical context; Trans Bodies, Trans Selves is a great resource with a new 2022 edition. To Survive on this Shore is a beautiful book of portraits and interviews of older trans and gender diverse people (also available for free on the website). Histories of the Transgender Child is exactly what it says on the tin, as is Trans People in Higher Education. There are more books than we can possibly list here about specific events or individuals.

  • Practical information: Learning about gender should also involve finding out what you can do to support trans and gender diverse people. Start by looking up anti-trans legislation in your area.

This is by no means all there is, or even the best resources available--just the ones that came to mind as we wrote this. The important things to remember are the key points above, and the fact that you can and should self-educate about gender diversity. It may feel like a lot as you start; we can assure you that like any topic, you'll only realize that there is even more the deeper you get. And that's a good thing!

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