When someone in your family comes out as transgender, it’s normal to feel like you want to do everything right, but don’t know how. What do you say? What’s the “right” reaction? It can feel overwhelming to learn about transitioning.
But you can breathe easier-- showing support for their transition isn’t hard. You’ve already got the most important part down: You care enough to spend time learning.
Don’t underestimate how much difference you make just by staying involved with your transgender loved one and supporting them in their gender affirmation journey. Transgender people as a population are at high risk for depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts (nearly half will experience these, compared to overall averages of 6-18% in the overall U.S. population), but if they have support for their transition from friends and family, that risk plummets. Social support for transition and gender affirmation can be the thing that keeps your loved one mentally and emotionally healthy.
Even so, there are ways to support them that are more helpful and informed than others. As we’re coming up on Pride season, it’s a perfect time to share a few simple tips to help families of transitioning people be the best cheerleaders, allies, and safe confidantes possible.
Ask for-- and use-- their correct pronouns.
Being misgendered with the wrong pronouns is sadly common for trans people, and contributes to low self-esteem and feelings of being stigmatized or rejected. Worse, it can “out” them as transgender in unsafe situations.
Learn some basics!
Just in time for Pride 2021, we’re offering a free [Gender Affirmation 101 webinar][link?] on Zoom on June 17th from 5:30-6:30 PM EST. In that hour, we’ll answer a lot of common questions, especially about gender affirmation surgery.
Embrace their new name.
Aside from pronoun misgendering, “deadnaming” (calling a transgender person by the name they no longer use) is one of the most common struggles trans people face with their communities, and one that causes deep harm. One of the easiest ways for you to show respect and support is to use their new name.
Ask what terms they like or dislike.
There’s a lot of vocabulary around transitioning, and your trans loved one probably has some strong opinions about it. For instance, they might object to the terms MTF (male to female) or FTM (female to male), or they might use those terms themselves.
Find out if they need help with medical procedures, and assist them if they do.
Finding the right doctors, learning about gender affirmation surgeries or procedures like the ones we offer, and figuring out how to pay for them can be pretty overwhelming. If your loved one says they welcome your help, you can relieve a lot of stress and confusion by working with them to get what they need.
It can get really tiring-- and sometimes not feel safe-- for a transgender person to have to constantly correct others who use deadnames or wrong pronouns, or to have to educate others who have negative ideas about gender affirmation and transitions. Show that you have their back by jumping in when other people say something hurtful, intentionally or not. It’s especially important to do it when your loved one isn’t present to do it for themselves.
Be their wingman in trans-friendly spaces.
It’s thrilling for a newly-out trans person to finally be able to go someplace like a Pride parade, trans-inclusive gay bar, or even a support meeting. But it’s also nerve-wracking, so your company might make it easier for them to go.
Celebrate this incredibly important event with them!
As hard and scary as transitioning and coming out can be, understand that it’s also exciting and joyful for your loved one to finally embrace and show their true self. Do something special for them-- take them shopping for new clothes, plan a nice dinner out, even ask them if they’d like a party. Coming out as trans is as big a deal as graduating college, buying a house, or getting married for many transgender people, so show them that it matters to you, too.
It’s true that there’s a lot to learn when someone you love comes out as transgender, and you might make some mistakes along the way. The important part is that you love and respect them, and make an effort to always get better at supporting them in their transition. Take your first step today by signing up for Gender Affirmation 101! It’s a great way to show them how much you care.