My Story

Growing up in conservative West Michigan, I watched lesbian and gay friends and family members struggle to be accepted and be treated equally. There are gains and losses in this fight every day, and it is vital for LGBT individuals and their straight allies to stand up and to pay attention.

08 October 2015

How to be a Trans Ally, As Told by Trans People Themselves

An Introduction from Coco: Hello! I am excited to see this blog started up again. It is written by my sister, Jaime Coon, who has always been and continues to be an active ally to the queer community. This blogpost explores what it means to be an ally to the trans community, and offers some insight and advice from members of the trans community. For more information on trans issues, you can check out my blog, "Free to Be: Transcending the Gender Binary."

Transpeople experience unbelievable levels of violence and discrimination. Allies can play a significant role in supporting people who identify as trans and making spaces safe for all people, but many allies or would-be allies (including myself!) are woefully uneducated or unaware of the issues transpeople face. Often even the most well-meaning people do not know how to be an effective ally. I’ve always thought of myself as one of the better-informed allies, a role I’m proud of.

However, I’ve recently had to practice what I preach in a deeper way than ever before. My sibling Coco recently suggested that I start using they/them/their pronouns to refer to them. Not only was this an impetus for me to educate myself on issues related to the trans community, but it has also made me aware of how little people know about transpeople and how to support them.
So, in an effort to better educate myself and other would-be allies, I decided to reach out to people in the trans community, including Coco, and get their advice on how I can be a better ally. My new mantra is to learn from listening. And so, with that in mind, Coco and I reached out to people we knew who identied as trans and asked them to participate in this blog post. I’d like to thank Harold, Coco, Kaden, Cathryn, Jesse, and Logan for their contributions.

First, let’s get some definitions out of the way.

Trans//adj (from Wikipedia): people experience a mismatch between their gender identity or gender expression and their assigned sex. Transgender is an umbrella term which may include genderqueer people whose identities are not exclusively masculine or feminine, but may, for example, be bigender, pangender or agender. (Also, don't use "transgendered, read why here). 

Cis//adj: people who do not experience a mismatch between their gender identity or gender expression of their assigned sex.

1. Listen first, talk second
This is the most important lesson, and a difficult one for me. I have things to say! But, even the best meaning allies can silence trans individuals without meaning to. Here’s what my panel of experts has to say on the issue:
Kaden: “Learn when to sit back and allow others to speak. Sometimes you may think you know the answer but know which voices carry more weight. Learn from them.
Cathryn: “1) Listen 2) Listen 3) Listen. 4) Ask respectful questions. 5) Listen 6) Listen... But, seriously though, active listening and being willing to reflect on information is crucial. Sometimes allies get so caught up in being an ally that they forget that being an ally is actually all about the person you are supporting.”
Logan:Remember that the oppressed group is nearly always right about issues pertinent to their oppression. If you’re saying something about trans issues and an actual real-live trans person steps in and says “Hey friend, actually it’s this way…” listen to them.
2. Respect and trust trans identities
It isn’t about being politically correct. It’s about being respectful and kind.
Harold:Treat us as the ultimate authority on our own identities. If you find yourself thinking that you know better than we do who we are or why we exist in the world the way that we do, question your motivations for wanting to know more.” 
Jesse:Be cognizant of the politics involved with being trans. Not all transpeople pursue surgeries; do not enforce binarist expectations or tell transpeople who are comfortable with our genitalia that we are "less" trans. We may face less violence, but not less pain. Remember that identities such as "genderqueer" and "agender" are also highly politicized, and the bodies that are readily accepted as agender are almost always thin, white, and able. This means that people of color, disabled folk, the highly feminine in presentation or heavily feminine/masculine-faced, and/or the overweight or curvy, have a difficult time being accepted as agender because these bodies are seen as innately categorized into the role of man or woman by society. A person can be agender and wear makeup and dresses or be feminine. Or masculine.”

3. Use the correct pronouns, but don’t be afraid to make mistakes
This may seem overwhelmingly difficult at first, but I can speak from experience: it’s possible. I’ve been using one set of pronouns for Coco for as long as I’ve been speaking, so if I can retrain my brain, so can anyone. Also, any difficulty I may have is miniscule compared to someone who has been assigned the wrong gender identity by society.

Coco: “Try not to misgender people. Always use a person’s preferred pronous, and practice them. If you mess up, just apologize and correct yourself. No big deal.”
Logan:Use our pronouns! I don’t care if you haven’t heard of ze/zem pronouns before, or if you think they/them can only be used plural, or if you think your binary trans friend doesn’t pass well enough to be called by their chosen pronouns. If you call yourself an ally, you use whatever pronouns we give you.
Jesse:Use the correct pronouns even when the person isn't around to hear you use them. Don't make excuses for when you make mistakes - because you will make mistakes and that is okay - but rather, own up to them completely and do not attempt to diminish your behavior. Avoid saying things like, "The pronouns are just hard for me"; trust me on this: being misgendered by people who are supposed to protect your identity is a lot harder than remembering to say 'he' instead of 'she'.”
Kaden:Be willing to listen and learn. While you may have good intentions, you could be making quite a few mistakes. No one is perfect, so don't expect yourself to be."
4. Respect your friends’ boundaries
What is right with one person may not be with another. Use common sense and common decency.
Logan:First of all, asking how to be a good ally is not offensive. Asking questions because you’re curious and don’t know any better and want to be educated is not offensive…If you know a trans person well, there are very few questions that are offensive. If you don’t know this trans person at all, there are more questions that aren’t okay. Use your judgement. For example, you wouldn’t ask that stranger at the bus stop if he was wearing an undershirt beneath his work clothes.”
5. Respect and understand intense emotions come from a place of pain
It’s easy to be offended or be turned off by anger, but understand that anger is often an expression of pain. It’s a privilege to not be angry.
Jesse:It is the profound strength of transpeople that often serves as a preventative barrier for cisgender folk to comprehend our delicacy. Allies need to be conscious that beneath our anger and pride is an ocean of fear, shame, hurt, and frustration. Transwomen face wildly elevated murder and sexual abuse rates; exceeding that of ciswomen. They occupy a disproportionate portion of the murder rate; so far, [21] transwomen have been killed this year. So, when listening or talking with an angry transperson, keep these figures in mind because if they haven't experienced it yet - chances are that they will."
6. It’s okay to be uncomfortable—but keep moving forward
I’m not always comfortable, and I’m afraid of making mistakes. But, don’t let this discomfort or fear shut down your ability to move forward. It’s okay to take small steps, as long as you’re taking them. Just because someone rejects the gender binary does not mean you have to change your own sense of self. Transpeople are not a threat to your identity.
Harold:Allow yourself to imagine a different world. Don’t say “gender is never going to go away” or “this is how it’s always been,” and close down your creative thinking about a world where gender diversity is seen and respected.
7. Get educated
I frequently have to turn to google to learn what new terms mean. In the age of Tumblr, new phrases and categories crop up all the time, and I honestly can’t always keep up. And it’s okay to not know, but it’s not okay to refuse to accept or learn new things.
Coco:Educate yourself! Read books and zines and blogs (especially by trans people) about transgender issues and transgender history."
Kaden:Don't be afraid to ask how you can help. Assuming you know is probably not the best bet.”
8. Speak up
I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it 1000 more times. Always speak up if someone is disparaging an individual, an identity, or a group of people. You never know who may be listening, you never know who may be hurting.
Harold:Speak up for us when we’re not around. It’s great for other cis people to know that they’re not free to be transphobic in an all-cis space. This last one applies to all kinds of oppressions.
Coco: “Always speak up about oppression and bigotry. This is one of the most important jobs of an ally. When someone says or posts something transphobic call it out. Even if you are still learning how to be a better ally and may not know all the proper ways to talk about certain issues, speaking against bigotry is important, and can help create safe spaces for trans people (in real life and online). If someone says something that doesn’t take trans or non-binary trans people into consideration, point this out. Raising awareness, educating people (and yourself), and speaking out against injustice is so incredibly important."
Logan:Stand up for us even when we’re not there. You have the ability to speak to other cis people in a way that we don’t. If someone makes a transphobic joke or uses a slur, call them on it (if you feel safe doing so). You can help make more and more spaces safe for us.
Coco, third from right

9. It’s all about respect
Make every attempt to be respectful. If you err on the side of respect, then that gives you an opportunity to listen, speak up, learn, and grow alongside people of all identities. Trust a person’s individual experience even if you do not share it, and be willing to go outside your comfort zone. Remember, it’s all about making sure every person on the planet feels safe in their own skin.  That’s worth the small amount of discomfort I may experience when treading into unknown waters or using new words.
Coco: “As Leslie Feinberg said, “ I care which pronoun is used, but people have been respectful to me with the wrong pronoun and disrespectful with the right one. It matters whether someone is using the pronoun as a bigot, or if they are trying to demonstrate respect.””
Logan:Basically, be respectful and listen, listen, listen. Trans voices are all too often erased in the broader community, so the more cis people that let us speak, the better.”
I’ve learned that when you speak up, make sure to do so in the context of bringing other voices up with you. That’s what I’ve tried to do today, and will continue to do as I work to become a better ally.

While the issue may seem complicated, reading all this advice from transpeople has taught me that it’s actually quite simple. If we trust people with their own identities, believe every person deserves to feel safe, and fight for everyone’s right to be full participants in society, then there’s nothing complicated here. What’s a few pronouns between friends, anyway?

And I think Jesse sums it up perfectly:

“Support us, listen to our stories, love us unconditionally.”

Want to know more? Visit Coco's blog. It's really great. 

26 June 2013

A Monumental Day

The federal ban on same sex marriages is dead. The state ban on same sex marriages in California is dead. We have achieved a huge victory for equality today. The country is changing its mind, and the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision was on the right side of history. Let's keep moving forward. YAY!

Read SCOTUSblog for more details on the decisions.

30 November 2012

All Eyes on the Supreme Court

Later this afternoon, the Supreme Court is set to announce whether they will rule on same-sex marriage in the upcoming year (update at bottom of post!)

If they decide to take up the case, it would most likely be heard in March, with a decision in June. Ten petitions are in front of the court, and eight of them are about the federal Defense of Marriage Act (a more detailed legal description can be found here). The justices are behind closed doors right now (I'll post an update after their decision!).  

In places like New York or Iowa, marriage equality is recognized under state law, but not recognized by federal law because of the Defense of Marriage Act (which the Obama administration believes is unconstitutional). So, legally married same-sex couples do not have equal access to federal rights. California's Proposition 8 (a ban on same-sex marriage that was recently overturned and is now being appealed) is one of the issues before the Supreme Court. If the justices take on this case, the court could potentially only rule for the couples in California. Or, they could rule on the issue of marriage equality in all states. I cannot express how HUGE that decision would be.

This comes after a series of historic victories for equality on election day. After Maryland, Maine, and Washington approved same-sex marriage, a total of nine states have legal same-sex marriage. 

This is addition to re-electing the first president in American history to support marriage equality. 

However, a total of 31 states have banned same-sex marriage in their constitutions, and 7 states have banned it by state law.

(From Mother Jones. Not pictured: Alaska, banned by constitutional amendment, and Hawaii, banned by state law)

So, even though the tide is turning, we still have a long way to go. And that is why this Supreme Court needs to take up the issue. Fighting for marriage equality state by state has left a patchwork of unacceptable inequalities. 

As the Supreme Court said in 1967:

"Marriage is one of the basic civil rights of man, fundamental to our very existence and survival."

This was in the landmark Loving v. Virginia case, which finally declared race-based anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional. To continue:

"To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law...Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State."

Let's not forget what this is all about. This is about rights, this is about equality for all, this is about societal acceptance, and this is about love.

Richard and Mildred Loving, arrested to for violating the law against marriage between a white and a black person in Virginia. (1960s)

Phyllis Siegal, 76, and Connie Kopelov, 84, the first couple to be married under New York's marriage equality law (Watch part of their ceremony. Beware of the potential for an outpouring of tears.)

Mildred Loving (pictured above), was quoted on the fortieth anniversary of the 1967 ruling Loving v. Virginia, in a rare public statement only a year before her death:

"Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don't think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the "wrong kind of person" for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people's religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people's civil rights."

This Supreme Court case could be huge. It could have a federal impact, or it could just have an impact on California. But, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." So let's get to work!

Join with me today in calling for the Supreme Court to consider the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. From my family to your family, let equality, love, and acceptance be the ultimate goals

And let's get there sooner rather than later.


UPDATE 4:30 pm, 30 Nov. 2012
Supreme Court delays the decision on which case to hear another week. But it's likely that they will be hearing at least one of the cases. More from the LA Times here

UPDATE around 3:00 pm 7 Dec. 2012

The Supreme Court has announced they will take two cases about marriage equality during this session! They will be deciding cases about the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8. This is good news! Read more from the New York Times here.

PS--There's an interesting film in production about many issues I talk about on this blog. Check it out to see if it's something you'd like to support. 

03 November 2012

An Election About Life and Death and Love

This election is of vital importance. 

For the first time, the President of the United States came out in favor of same-sex marriage. I was beyond excited when Obama gave voice to an affirmation that resonated around the globe (see my blogpost about my enthusiasm and reservations about his statements here). This was huge, massive even. It was a giant leap toward equality. 

But in this election, the progress I've fought for--that we've fought for--could be taken away from us. And, astonishingly, there's been next to nothing from either presidential campaign about LGBTQ equality. The presidential candidates had a debate on domestic issues, and yet the millions of LGBTQ Americans without rights were not even mentioned. It's time to make the case for a President that believes in LGBTQ equality.

This election is of vital importance. 

I could talk about how I disagree with Mitt Romney's views on women's rights, the environment, healthcare, and education for hours. I could explain how I agree with major components of Obama's platform for a few more hours. But right here, I'm only going to delve into an extremely personal issue for me: marriage equality. 

This election is of vital importance.  I have friends tell me it's all a bunch of political "BS," that real change won't ever happen, that it's not worth voting, that it won't make a real difference for people who is president.

But they're so wrong. This election is about whether my sister will have access to equal marriage rights within the next four years. This is tangible, this is real, but it's also not just about my sister.

It's about millions of people. It's about the kids with lesbian or gay parents, it's about hospital visitation, it's about tax benefits, it's about bullying to the point of suicide, it's about partner healthcare benefits, it's about access to first-time home buyer programs, it's about veterans' partner benefits, it's about societal acceptance. It's about the 1,138 benefits or rights of marriage (as calculated in 2003 by the US General Accountability Office) that gay and lesbian couples have unequal access to. 

This election is of vital importance. It's about what these candidates stand for, and how they're going to serve all of the citizens of this country.

Gov. Mitt Romney


  • "I didn't know you had families."
  • Thinks Don't Ask Don't Tell was effective. Although, he has disagreed with himself on this issue. 


  • "Some gays are actually having children born to them... It's not right on paper. It's not right in fact. Every child has a right to a mother and a father."


  • Blocked a Massachusetts bullying guide for public schools because it contained the words "transgender" and "bisexual."
  • Vetoed hate crime prevention in Massachusetts, doesn't see any need for additional anti-discrimination laws, and his running mate voted against the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes Prevention Act. 

Don't forget how dangerous and prevalent LGBTQ bullying is. This is an extremely significant issue, and to be against hate crime and bullying prevention can have incredibly dire results.




Keep in mind that Gov. Romney is trying to sound much more moderate than his actions have shown he is. Please explore the bullet points above to fully understand his views. Also, unlike what he implies in the above video, he does not support further nondiscrimination policies, national equal rights initiatives, bullying prevention if it includes transgender individuals, and holds contempt for same-sex parents. I don't know what "gay rights" he is in favor of, but supporting a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage makes it pretty clear where he stands. 

President Barack Obama

In terms of what Obama has done, I outlined a more detailed report on this blog post, but to sum it up:
  • Supports and has enacted bullying prevention programs that includes LGBTQ people.
  • Made hate crimes against LGBTQ people a federal offense. 
  • Supports same-sex marriage (with some reservations).
  • Supports LGBTQ human rights initiatives around the globe.
  • Declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional

The next President will continue to make important decisions about marriage rights, LGBTQ people in the military, bullying and hate crime prevention, and perhaps most importantly, will have the opportunity to nominate justices to the Supreme Court who will continue to impact these kinds of decisions long into the future. If Obama is reelected, I truly believe that in four years we will either have marriage equality or will be a lot closer to it. After the first four years, we sure are closer to marriage equality than ever before. 

This election is of vital importance. Get to the polls, and get everyone you know to the polls. This is an extremely personal issue for me. I've seen the beginnings of real change, and I do not want to go backwards.

I mean, come on America. This is about life and death and love. It's unacceptable to be on the sidelines. Vote for equality.

Your vote will matter for millions of school children with two moms or two dads who don't understand why the world says their mommies or daddies can't get married, why their family is wrong. It will matter for the teen contemplating suicide because their society rejects their identity. It will matter for the same-sex couple who has been together for thirty years, and cannot understand why they are labeled as a sinful "other" undeserving of equal rights.

This election is about life and death and love.

So. Let's go forward. 


09 May 2012

Finally! Obama Endorses Marriage Equality

Today, something truly great happened. President Barack Obama has finally come out and said what many people already knew: he's in favor of marriage equality.

(For some giggles, check out Fox Nation's original response to this, although it has been recently altered slightly).

Why is this happening now? Well, one could argue that this was simply a long time coming. Of course, there are the arguments that this is incredibly political (to which I have to say: what does a President of the United States do that isn't political?)

However, I believe it's actually due to what I like to call THE BIDEN BOMB.

Watch this:

After Biden's comments, the Obama 2012 campaign at first backtracked Biden's statements. After a few more days of uproar by the LGBTQ community, Obama has finally come out in favor of lesbian and gay marriage rights himself.

I have seen so many comments and announcements that Obama is, yet again, using "words not actions." However, it's been nearly the opposite. At the same time that Obama was "evolving" on the issue according to his statements, his administration has:
So, what does Obama's statement mean in context of the rest of his administration? Obama stopped short of the full endorsement I had been hoping for, and I have several issues with his statement. And, it's clear that this is the perfect political storm for this to happen, with "gay money" supposedly replacing "Wall Street money," the Romney campaign's completely egregious stomping on gay people earlier this month, the Biden Bomb, and North Carolina's very recent approval of a ban on same-sex marriage all create the political storm that almost required Obama come forward and say something.

And he did say something. It doesn't matter if it's politically motivated, and it doesn't matter much that it's imperfect. He said something.

What I've come to realize is that for loving, same-sex couples, the denial of marriage equality means that, in their eyes and the eyes of their children, they are still considered less than full citizens.

Even at my own dinner table, when I look at Sasha and Malia, who have friends whose parents are same-sex couples, I know it wouldn't dawn on them that their friends' parents should be treated differently.

So I decided it was time to affirm my personal belief that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

Words are so powerful. They are used in campaign ads by both sides to either demonize or idolize politicians. They are used to bully. They are used to give hope and inspire. Words give movements power. They start things and they end things. They are used on both sides to rally around or against an issue. 

So, let's rally. 

Obama's administration has been taking seemingly small actions to further LGBTQ equality for nearly four years, and I've been blogging about them for over a year now. However, until today, there has been no rallying point. People I know are in favor of LGBTQ rights have no idea what Obama has already done because the administration hasn't been willing to broadcast it. I had to read between the lines when Obama slightly hinted at being in favor of gay marriage over a year ago.

Today, he actually said it. People are reading and watching and discussing and rallying. This is what I've been waiting for. Movements around the globe will be energized by having Obama's support.

Grain of salt time: what Obama has said--it's not perfect. And it's dangerous to take these words and assume change has been achieved. Progress has been made, but Obama still says that states should be allowed to make their own decisions, like North Carolina just did. North Carolina is the last of the Southern states to approve a ban on same-sex marriage. Do you know what this reminds me of?

When states were allowed to vote about whether or not people who looked a certain way could be enslaved or not. This is not the same issue, but it's similar. The rights of the minority cannot be decided by an oppressive majority. I urge Obama to jump to the right side of history instead of tentatively stepping over the line. A politician with so much at stake, I understand that he actually has to be reelected in order to take further action on this issue. Nevertheless, I believe that with more than half the country supporting lesbian and gay marriage, it's time for Obama to make that leap. 

So let's rally not around Obama's statements, but around the promise they hold. And let's continue pushing for some change we can believe in.

15 February 2012

In Case Anyone Forgot About (Love)

This is what love looks like:

Married 2011

Married 1992

My Grandparents, Married 1952

Married 2005 (actually a civil partnership)

Married 2008 (but without federal rights)

Together since the '90s (but unmarried because of inequality)

My Sister, Coco Lam, and Casey Watson, To Be Married July 14th, 2012! (will they have equal rights?)

Happy Day After Valentine's Day 

Shouldn't we all get to (love) without (parentheses)?

27 January 2012

That Old Slippery Slope Argument (VIDEOS)

If we allow gay people to get married, what's to stop us from accepting a man with a horse? A woman and a 10-year-old boy? A man and a rock? A woman with a starfish?

This is an argument we've heard over, and over, and over. 

Many people don't know how to counter the argument at first. Those of us who know gay and lesbian couples can't even fathom how to explain that how love between two people is different from bestiality and pedophilia. I can't quite make the jump that two loving, consenting people marrying each other could lead to these things. To me, the following argument makes about as much sense as the slippery slope argument:

"If we let women vote, the next thing you know we'll all be walking around naked!"

But, many people truly believe that LGBT people put society at risk. So, in a concise manner, I've decided to counter those old ideas that people still believe.
  • If we let men marry men and women marry women, pedophilia, polygamy, bestiality, and people having sex with rocks will come next.

Just like the video mentioned above, marriage and sex is between two consenting adults. Children, animals, and rocks cannot consent to these things. It seems like more of a plateau than slippery slope to me.
  • Children are not safe with LGBTQ people.

Is Cinderella a part of the "straight pedophile movement," then?

Children are just as safe with LGBTQ people as with straight people. LGBTQ people are not more likely to be pedophiles than straight people. We see lesbian and gay couples and immediately think about sexuality... but what we should be thinking about is relationships. We have got to stop thinking about LGBTQ people in different terms than straight people. Really, there isn't as much of a difference as we think.
  • God has punished LGBTQ people with HIV/AIDS.

Being gay does not make a person more susceptible to HIV/AIDS, unsafe sex and dirty needles do. People always complain about the evil "behaviors" of LGBT people. Like I said earlier, straight people can contract HIV/AIDS the same way that gay people can: unsafe sex and dirty needles, or perhaps even a blood transfusion from back before donors were screened.
  • Lesbians and gays should not be allowed to adopt because children need a mother and a father. 
"Mother" and "father" are social roles we have created for ourselves, not necessarily biological ones. This idea comes from the fact that we need to learn our gender roles from our parents. This is such an old idea: would you believe that I learned to cook from my father and my mom pays all the bills? Children need role models for how to become good people, not for how to fulfill old fashioned gender roles. It's more important for a child to have a healthy, happy, loving couple as their parents than for each parent to have different genitalia than the other. There are so many kids who need homes, and so many healthy families that would be willing to give them one. This one is a no brainer for me.
  • LGBT people are unnatural. 

A quick Google search led me to this news article which claims that at least 1500 species "practice" homosexuality in nature. Lesbian and gay people can live many different lives, just like straight people. They may like to go to those stereotypical gay bars (I sure know a lot of straight people like to go to "straight" bars) or they may be in their pajamas by 8 pm.

They may be artists or engineers or accountants or actors, just like straight people. "The gays" make imperfect parents and people, just like "the straights." I'm really tired of pointing fingers talking about "those gay people" like they're some sort of "other."

"They" are, simply put, a part of "us." And it's time we start thinking about it that way.  

We're all people.

Respectfully, and always hopefully,
Jaime J. Coon, Ally