If a friend or family member has told you they are transgender, we’ve come up with 6 tips on how best to support them at different stages of their transition
1 – Believe them
Someone really close to you has decided to tell you that they’re transgender. This will probably be a really emotional conversation, and that’s okay. You might also feel as though you don’t understand everything they are telling you – that’s okay too.
At this stage, the most important thing is to understand that this person is telling you their truth. They’ve told you because they trust you, and want you to be there with them on their journey. Whilst you might have a lot of questions, the most important thing to do is believe them.
If you want to ask questions, be sensitive. Don’t question their identity or ask them if it’s a phase. If someone comes out as trans, this is probably they’ve been thinking about for a really, really long time and they need you to support them, not question them.
NCTE have put together a list of Questionable Questions About Transgender Identity – so have a read through those in order to understand the do’s & don’t’s when it comes to asking questions.
2 – Listen to them
Transitioning – when a trans person takes steps to live in the gender they identify with – is a complex time. As someone close to a trans person, this will have an impact on you and your feelings are totally valid. However, your trans friend/partner/family member is about to/ is going/ has gone through something life changing, and you should be ready to listen to their experiences.
Give them the space to talk to you, and really listen to them. When they tell you how they are feeling, what their experiences are and what they want, sometimes the best thing to do is just listen. Sometimes advice isn’t always what someone needs.
When someone we love is going through something hard, we want to make it better for them and help them in whatever way we can. However, just saying “I hear you what you are saying, I believe you and your experiences and emotions are valid” can often be the thing they need most of all. Making your trans friends feel safe, loved and valid is incredibly important.
3- Do your research
The internet is a wonderful tool, so use it! You may not know much about what it means to be transgender, and even if you do, you probably have A LOT of questions.
Thankfully, there is a wealth of information available online for those who are supporting their friends/partners/family members’ transition. Educating yourself is important because with everything your friend/partner/family member is going through, they may not have the emotional energy to educate you too.
You can click here for some really useful resources on lots of different trans issues. There are also hundreds of trans activists, bloggers, vloggers, Twitter personalities, instagrammers, articles, books, events, online communities, and forums that are accessible at the click of a button. This way you can access other people’s experiences of being trans and transitioning, as well as the experiences of their friends and family who are going through something similar to you.
4 – Make Space For You
Processing someone’s transition will be different depending on your relationship to them. Whether it’s your best friend, your sibling, your child, your parent, your partner, or someone else altogether, there will be certain things that will make each experience slightly different.
Please remember – your feelings are valid. There is no right or wrong way to feel when someone close to you tells you that they’re transgender. It can be a mix of feeling happy, sad, scared, confused, excited, apprehensive… there’s no one size fits all.
It’s important to not put more pressure on your friend/partner/family member. So try and find someone else to talk to.
It could be another person who your friend/family member/partner has confided in. It could be an (anonymous) online support group, a support group in your community, or whatever works best for you.
You need a support system too. When you’re in a plane and they tell you that you need to put your oxygen mask on before helping someone someone else – the same rules apply here. Make sure you’re taking care of yourself so you can be a good support for the person who is transitioning.
5 – The little things really do matter
Like it or not trans identities are politicised. This means that being transgender can make you hyper-visible in society and a target for transphobic attitudes and laws.
A lot of the rights that cisgender people take for granted aren’t available to transgender people – from the right to use the bathroom of their choice, to a fear of losing their jobs or places in school.
Therefore supporting your transgender friend/family member/partner means it’s time to get political. This might sound hard – but it just means making sure you’re informed, educated and taking action. It’s so easy, and the little things you do really matter, both for the person you’re supporting and for changing attitudes towards transgender people in society.
Trans Equality have put together a list of 52 things you can do for Transgender Equality. Some of the things are as easy as asking your school or local library to have books that deal positively with trans people.
Other things you can do are also simple. If the person you’re supporting wants to go shopping, go with them and have fun! If it’s the first few times they’ve been shopping for their preferred gender identity, it’s going to exciting but also probably nerve wracking. Let them experiment with their clothing, encourage them to explore and play with their style.
If they have a doctor’s appointment, you could volunteer to go with them, or if they want to try out new events or clubs, you could go as well.
Most importantly, always make sure they get home safe. Unfortunately transgender people are statistically more likely to be the victims of violence and assault. If you know your trans friend or family member is going out late or on their own, make sure they have a safe way to get home and let them know they can call you any time.
6 – You’ll make mistakes – that’s okay, apologise & learn from them
Learning is a process. We all make mistakes. That’s fine, but correct yourself and apologise when you do. One of the most common mistakes we all make is misgendering someone.
Misgendering means using the pronouns a trans person was assigned at birth rather than the pronouns they wish to be addressed by. If you accidentally misgender someone, that’s okay. Recognise you made a mistake. Apologise. Correct yourself. Move on. There’s nothing worse than someone being over apologetic and drawing attention to the situation.
Learning to take criticism is also really important. When someone calls you out, they’re not personally attacking you. All they are doing is calling you up on offensive language, and asking you to change it in the future.
If you don’t understand why something is offensive, take a note and google it. If after doing some research you still don’t understand why what you said was offensive, then it’s fine to ask someone. But make sure you’re being sensitive and show that you’re trying to learn and grow.
If you say or do something really insensitive, take responsibility for your actions. You may owe the person a really big apology. And a sincere one at that. Show that you are trying to learn from your actions, and are willing to pay the consequences. You understand why what you did was hurtful and show that you’re willing to commit to changing your behaviour in the future.
Never be embarrassed to apologise. We’re all human. We all make mistakes. What matters most is that we care and respect each other enough to recognise when we’ve done something wrong and apologise.
Advice, help & resources
Whilst there are going to be many ups and downs along the road, remember how special this time is. Someone loves you and trusts you enough to invite you on this journey with them. Embrace the little moments as well as the big ones, because they will be memories you’ll treasure and share together forever.
If you, or someone you know needs any advice, help or support on the processes of transitioning, what it means to be transgender, gender dysphoria or questioning their gender identity please head over to Juliet Jaques’ amazing list of online resources.