There’s no real way to be a perfect ally; sooner or later, you’re going to screw up.
Whether it’s a family member or a distant acquaintance, it takes time to adjust to the name and pronouns of someone you know. Though it’s frustrating to be misgendered and misnamed (I’m not personally a fan of the phrase “dead name”), I think it’s safe to say that most trans* people expect it at first. So, while you’re learning the basics, what are other ways you can be a good ally to a trans*-identifying person?
If you don’t know their pronouns, ask!
It’s a lot more considerate to just ask rather than to guess, since the outward appearance of someone isn’t a determining factor of their pronouns.
If you find yourself in a situation where pronouns are necessary and you haven’t asked the person, you can also either use their name (ensuring that it’s not their old name), or use they/them/theirs pronouns. Drawing from my own experience, I’d much rather here they/them pronouns directed at me than she/her, but everyone’s different, so tread lightly and politely ask when it’s appropriate.
Don’t redirect the focus to you
This isn’t to say that your relationship with trans* people is one-sided, but that when you make these mistakes, own up to it and move on.
Don’t go on a rant on how difficult it is for you to change name/pronouns, don’t complain how the person isn’t being reasonable, and, for the love of god, don’t start that insignificant topic of “well, they/them/theirs isn’t grammatically correct!” Just, don’t.
Drawing from personal experience, I already felt like a burden to ask people to use the right name and pronouns. This isn’t what any trans* person should feel, but some do, so don’t make it harder on them just because you have to put in a little bit of effort.
Educate yourself before asking
If you’re curious about something trans* related, such as what HRT, MTF, or FTM mean, that’s understandable, seeing as a lot of people don’t know those acronyms off the top of their head.
What I would recommend, though, is to not put the pressure on trans* people to answer every. single. question. you have about their identity. We’re fortunate to live in a time when information is abundant, so utilize those resources before asking something that might offend or hurt someone.
Questions regarding genitals, surgeries, and old names are inappropriate and unnecessary unless you’re a romantic partner, the persons’ doctor, or the judge at the name change hearing, respectively (even then, it depends on the context and how it was said).
If you’re debating whether to ask someone something, consider this: if you were an interviewee for a job and you asked your interviewer this question, would they call security?
Know when you’re voice is needed and when it’s not
If you’re with someone you know and they get misgendered, unless they told you beforehand not to, correct whoever misgendered them. Depending on the person, some trans* people are more than comfortable to correct people themselves. However, others, with myself included, feel anxious/afraid to correct people, and your stepping in shows that you care about their pronouns, their safety, and their mental health.
With that in mind, also know when your voice is not needed. It’s important to prioritize trans* voices and stories because, though it’s getting somewhat better, popular culture tends to overlook real trans* stories in favor of drama and stereotypes.
Certain events, such as clothing swaps and group discussions, can sometimes be trans* only spaces. This is not to exclude people that don’t identify as trans*, but to acknowledge the lack of trans* only spaces. The few existing ones create a safe space for people to be wholly themselves around others with shared experiences.
As a final remark, those “did you just assume my gender” jokes aren’t funny and only further stigmatize trans* identities.