Our culture is undergoing a shift in the way we think about our transgender population, and more people than ever are coming out as trans. If a family member or close friend is undergoing a transition or has already changed their gender identity, you may not know what to say or how to approach the person. Most of us walk on eggshells until we find the right thing to say so as not to offend.
Although considering another’s feelings is important, especially in something as vulnerable as a gender transition, being an ally requires gaining the education necessary to have open and honest conversations. You don’t want to be afraid of interacting with your friend or family member lest you say the wrong thing. So, where do you start?
The first thing to do is to get a handle on your own reaction to their gender transition. People have different morals, religious beliefs and other ethos that may have them questioning a transgendered person. Although you’re free you have your opinions, recognize that your friend or family member is equally free to have their own. The more we keep this two-way street in our awareness, the more open-minded we are.
Respect your friend’s humanity and freedom to make choices regarding his own body. It may also be helpful to read stories about others who have come out as transgender. It’s not easy to live differently, whether gay, bisexual, non-binary, transgender, etc., and we should all have compassion for those who have been openly vulnerable about their gender and sexuality.
Baby, I was born this way
Many transgender people will agree that they have always felt that they weren’t in the right body or they were meant to be a different gender. When they come out, however, it can still be a shock to family and friends who may not have understood their emotional experiences. Every story is different, and you don’t necessarily need to understand every part of someone’s gender transition to be respectful of it.
Follow your friend or family member’s lead when addressing them by name or pronoun. Ask what their preference is so you become accustomed to using the labels with which they’re comfortable. If you slip up and use a previous name or pronoun, simply apologize and correct yourself. Transgender people are just that: people. They understand that mistakes happen, but it means a lot when you admit your mistake openly and correct it.
I’m comin’ out
Even though your friend or family member has come out, they may not be ready to speak about every aspect of it with you. Asking their name and pronouns is a necessary question to address them with respect. However, there are other questions that are simply your own curiosity, and these should be treated with a little more intentionality. According to TransEquality.org, before you ask any other questions, first ask yourself, “Do I need to know this information to treat them respectfully?” and “Would I be comfortable if this question were turned around and asked of me?”
You know your relationship with your friend or family member best, so it will be up to your discretion when it comes to asking questions and showing interest in their transition. However, there are some questions most transgender people do not like to discuss or that may make them uncomfortable. These include their “birth” name, what hormones they are taking, what surgeries they’ve had or not had, and questions about their sexual relationships.
Those who are part of the transgender community are beautifully strong but are unfortunately still vulnerable to discrimination and other harm. If you feel inspired by the story of your family member or friend, you can become an ally for the community and speak out in support of transgenders’ rights everywhere. Some simple ways to do this include:
- Politely correcting others when they use the incorrect name or pronouns of a trans individual
- Challenge anti-trans remarks, jokes and conversations
- Think about changes you can make in your own life to make those who are a part of the trans community feel more openly accepted
Remember, someone else’s gender transition isn’t your decision. Being respectful of our fellow humans is important in creating a world where everyone feels accepted and loved for who they are. By educating yourself and knowing the respectful ways in which to interact with our transgender community, you can be of real support to your friends and family members undergoing a gender transition.