Diagnostic Tool for Trans Allyship

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. https://theantioppressionnetwork.com/allyship

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: http://katiewoodzick.squarespace.com/contact

>>Support Woodzick’s work financially.



From the archives: 9/3/2006



swinging on a broken hinge
you find me
singing of flavors long since tasted
erased in
the hollowness
of an empty passageway.

echoing memories
bounce off the hardness
of oak paneling
the rich sweetness of wood—

come in,
you are welcome here

My Great-Aunt Helen’s Flag

Screen Shot 2017-09-25 at 4.21.52 PM

My Great-Aunt Helen was a pistol. That’s the best way to describe her. She was a transport sergeant in the Marines, and when I attended her funeral six years ago, the priest told the congregation that it was the first time he had performed military honors for a woman.

Helen grew up as part of a large Polish Catholic family in northern Wisconsin. She had two husbands, both of whom were named Wally. She met her second husband while singing the national anthem at a snowshoe softball game in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, which also happens to be the home of the Hodag. (A Hodag is what you’d get if you mixed a jackalope with a Game of Thrones dragon, BTW.)

Screen Shot 2017-09-25 at 4.22.49 PM

When it became clear that acting and singing weren’t going to just be a hobby for me, the nearest heredity influence my family could identify was Helen. She paid for my braces, and she helped to finance my undergraduate education as well.

I met Helen only a half a dozen times in my life. My favorite memory is visiting her at the nursing home, playing Christmas carols on the piano and singing with her to the other residents.

Let it be known that Helen never really cared for that nursing home, and planned an escape the following Easter. She knew which exit wouldn’t be heavily watched during the festivities and hightailed it out of there with her walker. State troopers picked her up just as she was about to get to the county highway.

My parents help to take care of Helen in her final years. While she was still at her home, a bear walked through her house and ransacked her many bird feeders. My father named him Roberto, and sent her postcards penned by that mischievous bear for several months.

Screen Shot 2017-09-25 at 4.23.32 PM

When Helen passed, I asked my parents if they would pay for a plane ticket for me to make the trek from Seattle to northern Wisconsin and back. They seemed surprised, but enthusiastically said yes. I asked if I could sing Amazing Grace at the service. They phoned back a couple days later saying not only could I sing the song, but would I also consider giving the eulogy. I cracked a joke saying “Well, of course—what else is a theatre major good for?”

After the service, we went to the cemetery where Helen’s several siblings were buried. A 21-gun salute honored her service, and my father shared that he and his sister, Jean, would often walk the cemetery as kids and pick up the bullet casings from these salutes. A folded flag was also offered to our family, and when no one else indicated interest, I said that I would like to take it home.

Fast forward to the present day, when Meridith Grundei, who is directing the second year MFA Theatre: Contemporary Performance ensemble in Under Construction, by Charles Mee, asks the cast if anyone has an American flag. I make an offering of Helen’s memorial.

The first day we rehearsed the closing moments of the play with Helen’s flag, I had a hard time holding back tears. I would like to think that Helen is watching me rehearse from the great beyond. It heartens me to know that her flag and her legacy live on.

Screen Shot 2017-09-25 at 4.25.17 PM.png

The MFA Theatre: Contemporary Performance program brings things into focus for its students. I’ve learned so much about the theatre artist I want to become and the work I want to share with the world. Helen is a part of that tapestry.

At home, I have a binder filled with letters that Helen wrote during World War II. My mother wants me to use them to write a play about her. Someday, when I’m ready.

Under Construction runs 9/29-10/8 at Naropa’s Nalanda Campus. More info & tickets here.

Screen Shot 2017-09-25 at 4.26.01 PM


I used to swim with seahorses
but found them to be inconstant.

(How do you love again when someone gives up on you as a person?)

Now I live with the lizards.
Baking on hot stone.
Shielding my heart from those unworthy.

Each of my scales
has enough surface area
to scribe
all of your h e a r t b r e a k s
I will wrap myself around you.

My mother called me coldblooded
even though my heart pulses with warmth
(& I place it on display in galleries
where photographs are not permitted.)

I know what it’s like to feel
submerged in an ocean of pain & anger,
the dark waters lapping
like a sadistic metronome.

(Always give yourself permission to change the tempo.)

I will shed my skin
once I have collected
a thousand heartbreaks
& written them down
with the ink of my venom.

I will remove myself
from myself
& give it to you
as a new set of armor.

& go back to studying
the evolution



5 9 2017



There are three cans of paint:

one is pain
one is fear
one is anger.

For years, I’ve tried to mute these colors
or hide them in the basement of my soul,
willing spiders spin a shroud around them—
and yet, the three cans still remain.

I was buying a bottle of whiskey
at Harvest Spirits on 30th and Arapahoe
and I see this German Shepherd puppy
who is a service dog in training.
She looks up at me from her place in line
and then eyes the basket of small bottles
of Bacardi Rum. She takes one in her mouth
and shakes it around like a chew toy.
The store clerk is afraid she’ll get drunk.
Her owner says she’ll pay for it if the teeth
puncture the plastic. The owner returns the
bottle, intact, but covered in slobber.
“What’s her name?” I ask.
“Hilde. Short for Broomhilde.”
“Cute,” I reply, searching for my phone,
which is in my car. Broomhilde leaves.
I buy my whiskey, which is called Larceny.

I would rather write about
the service puppy
and how she almost
drank a shot of
Bacardi Rum
than force myself
to write
about the cans of paint
stored in the
basement of my soul.

Their excavation is inevitable
and the paint fumes seep up
into my psyche on occasion.

If I’m feeling strong enough,
I’ll take a sniff.

Amber Days & Toys

Some days disappear like childhood toys.

Wearing down slowly,
the fibers disintegrating.
Impossible to remember in detail.

Once cherished, the days and the toys
evaporate into corners of memory,
next to the now unpaired socks
we were sure we once washed.

We do not mourn the loss.

The disappearances repeat
on a familiar amber loop that is
both warm and cold to the touch.

Radiating heat.
Expelling cold.

A gentle, inevitable sizzling
that echoes only if we stop to listen.

Charcoal & Chiclets

2016 was a samovar filled with
indifference, intolerance and
a myriad of other self-boiling
elements that took us far away
from tranquility.

Unbeknownst to us, palpable walls
began to rise at a preternatural rate,
built of pepper and spite.

A mouth cannot make
another mouth
if it is
intertwined with
brazen privilege.

Listen: we may tempted
to dump Benzodiazepine
into the waters of 2017.
Rewiring our brains.
Sedating us.

Or seek to terraform Mars,
creating a peace-filled
escape hatch, 54.6 million
kilometers away.

Here’s hoping we instead
have the prescience
to envision a better year.

To live it with zeal and grace.
Choosing gemütlich over schadenfreude.

2016 is done.

In 2017, new work begins.













I was sent forth by Gaia to slay a giant.
Eight legs. Dark heart. Venom in my tail.

My instinct was to grab goddesses with my hooked stingers.

Now I live in the firmament. A constellation.

I devoured Libra’s stars and made them my claws.

My destiny is to share the night sky with Orion.
I am chasing him into eternity.
You’ll never see us at the same time.

I watch earth with a stubborn hope.
Some day to return.

To kill every injustice with my ferocity.
Inject my toxins into each bigot,
drive intolerance to extinction with my rancor.

One loves more deeply with a dark heart.
Considering the expense of each emotion.

Watch me gleam in the cimmerian heavens.
I am making my way back to you with


Vows for a Feminist Marriage

I promise to love you without limits.
Breaking down the gender binary
one square inch of bubble wrap
at a time.

I am yours through sickness
and through health, yes,
but also through
smashing the patriarchy.

Together we will combat
microaggressions with
unassailable tenacity
and tenderness.

I promise to love and honor you.
We will obey the rules we write.
And not what has come before.

We will build a world for our children
that doesn’t mute the pink and blue
but brings forward all the colors
of their rainbow.

Whether taking a sledgehammer to glass ceilings,
or explaining the necessity of intersectionality,
or making sure that female superheroes line the shelves, too—
I am yours and you are mine.





The poem was commissioned by Kacey Shiflet by contributing to education fund to attend Naropa University’s MFA in Contemporary Performance. Want your own custom poem? Learn more here: https://www.youcaring.com/katie-woodzick-585387