Allyship is not an identity—it is a lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency, and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people. Allyship is not self-defined—our work and our efforts must be recognized by the people we seek to ally ourselves with.

In preparing for an upcoming restorative justice conversation, I came up with this framework that can be used as a diagnostic tool for trans allyship. Please use if it’s helpful to you and feel free to share widely. -Woodzick

Tier One: The True Ally

When folks are working at Level One, they are demonstrating committed allyship on a daily basis. They are jumping in to correct pronouns when others slip up, but they also have a mindfulness of performing routine safety checks with you to see if certain situations that are more or less safe to make these corrections and know to adjust quickly and accordingly. They will escort you to the restroom, to your car, to your apartment and know to stay close in public situations, if needed. They will work with teachers or people in positions of power to reframe problematic language and can be called upon at a moment’s notice to speak for you so you don’t have to, or if you find yourself in a situation where you are dissociating and in a place beyond words.

Real-world example: I taking a class and the professor was having a difficult time wrapping his mind around they/them/their pronouns. I was quite triggered, crying and mentally checking out of the room. I found my classmate during a break and asked her to stay with me after class and walk with me to my car in case he tried to have a private conversation with me after class. She did so, and physically put herself in between me and him. Not because he was going to hurt me in anyway, but because she wanted to physically act as a barrier to protect my emotional and mental health. She talked to him about it so I didn’t have to. This same classmate volunteered to work with teachers to make changes to texts or find texts that are more inclusive of gender diversity (often without me even asking her!)

Best uses for Tier One folks: Bring them in to do your heavy lifting! Have them labeled as ICE on your phone, call them/text them when you need an ally assist ranging from “I need a ride home now, I don’t feel safe” to “I’m feeling super dysphoric today, can you send me some silly GIFs?” Sometimes they are more effective in navigating challenging situations with organizations, plus you shouldn’t have to do the emotional labor of educating folks all the time.


Tier Two: The Casual Ally

When folks are working at Level Two, it means that they are operating with 90% or greater accuracy with pronouns–they are happy to facilitate pronoun introductions and are open to feedback and have the capacity to grow. However, they often need to be prompted and may say careless things without thinking. (i.e. “Ladies and Gentlemen” instead of the more inclusive “Honored guests.”) They are good folks to have in your corner, but you may want to keep them at arm’s length.

Real-world example: I have a teacher who I respect greatly. She brought in a text from the 1940s to class that was linking the work we were doing to Jung’s concepts of anima and animus. The text itself were deeply enmeshed in the gender binary, and with each “man or woman” or “male or female” phrase that was read, I felt increasingly dysphoric and my sense of fight or flight started to kick in. We were passing the book in a circle and when it came back to me I said “I find this text very alienating and will listen to it, but I will not read it out loud any more.” We took a break and stopped reading the text, and she apologized, gave me the space to sit in a corner for the rest of class and make a verbal committment to be more mindful about the texts she brought into class. All good actions, but ones that came after the triggering incident had already happened. Now she knows that had she framed the chapter as a historical document with dated language, but the only one available to connect the dots between these two specific concepts PRIOR to reading it out loud in class, it would have made all the difference.

Best uses for Tier Two Folks: Should you want to spend your time and emotional labor this way, these are the folks that you can really challenge to do better. You can cultivate a relationship and push them to have some Level One moments. It’s up to you how much effort you to dedicate to this endeavor. These folks will want/need more specific direction and resources offered to them than Level One folks who intrinsically know to seek it out for themselves.


Tier Three: The Explainer

When folks are working at Level Three, they have a rudimentary knowledge of trans identified folks. These are the people who will casually drop transphobic jokes into conversation for a cheap laugh. They will make excuses about pronouns like “I’m just too X (old, much of grammar nerd, etc…), it’s going to take a while for me, thanks for your patience” or “I’m just never going to get it.” (Which, if you’re reading this–neither of these sentiments are appropriate to share with a trans person. You may think you’re helping, but you’re actually putting the trans person in a position where you are assuming that they will accept your mistakes and missteps, which they DO NOT HAVE TO DO.) They may also use “biology is destiny” language, and are unlikely the remember or practice the proper steps to self-correcting when they misgender someone (1. acknowledge the mistake 2. apologize, 3. correct the mistake and 4. move on.) These folks need to de-center their own discomfort and work on making trans folks feel safe, seen and heard. Regardless of their intentions, their actions are consistently perceived by trans folks to be marginalizing and disrespectful.

Real-world example: My friend had posted on Facebook about the trans military ban. One person commented “Well, since transgenders are more likely to kill themselves anyway, why shouldn’t we let them do it for our country?” Many folks jumped on the thread to call out the behavior and several of us reported the comment to Facebook, who later responded that upon reviewing the comment, they didn’t feel they needed to take any further action.

Best uses for Tier Three folks: Honestly, I’d steer clear of them, unless it’s someone with whom you have a long term relationship personally or professionally. If they are someone you cannot avoid, enlist the help of a Tier One ally (or a promising Tier Two who needs a practical experience in one-on-one allyship) to educate them.


Tier Four: The Hateful Instigator

Folks who are working at Level Four are hateful, transphobic jerks, simply put. They are actively seeking to harm trans folks on verbal, emotional or physical levels (and sometimes all three at the same time.) These are folks who will use words like “tranny” as a slur, purposefully misgender folks, police restrooms or at the very worst, demand that trans folks “prove” what genitals they have with a threat of physical violence.

Real-world example: I have a friend who was filling their car with gas. A couple of guys told them that now that Trump had been elected, people like my friend needed to watch their backs because no one was going to protect them any more. My friend was so terrified, they threw the gas pump to the ground, spilling gasoline all over their pants, jumped in their car and drove away.

Best uses for Tier Four folks: AVOID THEM AT ALL COSTS. Unfortunately, sometimes they may come and find you, trying to engage you in conversation. If there are allies with you, let them step in on your behalf. Deescalate when possible, call the authorities or find a relatively safer space (a business or public space nearby.)


I hope you’ve found this piece helpful! If you have any suggestions for edits, please leave them in the comments below. If you’d prefer to email me privately, please use this contact form:

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