So you have a transgender friend or family member. What’s the best way to show respect for this person? How can you be encouraging without making them uncomfortable or calling too much attention to their trans status? Here are a few simple ways to support the trans person in your life.
1. Use the correct name and pronouns–even when they’re not around. You already know how important it is to use preferred gender pronouns. If your friend is open about their gender, take your allyship to the next level by always using the right words, even when they are out of earshot. It can be tempting to go along with the wrong name/pronouns when other people do it and your trans loved one isn’t there. This is can especially be a problem in families, where people are trying to change very old habits. By using the right name and pronouns even in private, you help cement the change in everybody’s minds, pave the way for respectful language next time your friend is around, and show other friends and relatives that you take this person’s identity seriously.
2. Ask them how you should talk about their trans status. You should never, ever disclose someone’s trans status without their permission–it’s disrespectful as well as dangerous. That said, each trans person is different, and sometimes it’s helpful to spread the word. Maybe your coworker who transitioned a decade ago doesn’t want you to say anything, while your newly-out cousin would really appreciate it if you filled in some other members of the family, and your nonbinary friend would have a better time at the party if you gave other guests a heads-up about their pronouns. Ask your trans loved one about their preferences.
3. Celebrate their gender. Affirm your trans friend’s gender, and avoid imposing rigid gender norms on them (and everybody else, for the matter). If you and your trans friend have a similar gender expression, perhaps you can enjoy sharing “girly” activities or doing “guy stuff,” as defined by your community. Some trans people have been routinely denied these simple pleasures, so it means a lot when someone wants to share them with us. You can also celebrate things they do that aren’t stereotypical for their gender, showing them it’s cool to be a guy who loves baking or a woman who kicks ass at videogames. If the trans person is your life is nonbinary, celebrate whatever gender expressions are right for them, and don’t pigeonhole them based on one or two aspects of their gender (again, this really goes for everybody).
4. Put gender on the back burner. There’s a time to talk about your trans relative’s identity and transition, and there’s a time to put gender aside and just focus on other things. It can be exhausting to think about gender all the time, especially if your friend is in the middle of transition. Be open to talking whenever the trans person in your life needs to; also be ready to let trans topics recede into the background. For example, while it’s good to be comfortable bringing up trans-related issues, you don’t have to inform them every single time you hear something about a transgender person. Sometimes trans people just want to eat lunch, go to the movies, or weigh in on current events–just like everybody else. By putting gender on the back burner sometimes, you can give your trans friend a break and show that you see them as a whole person.
5. Treat them like everybody else. Trans folks are regular people, just trying to get by in life like everyone is. When your trans friend has milestones in their transition, share their joy like you would for any happy occasion. When your trans friend faces challenges or has a bad experience, offer your sympathy like you would for any struggle. Are you someone who sends cards, makes care packages, takes people out for drinks, congratulates or commiserates on social media, delivers soup, makes mix CDs, gives hugs or high-fives? Your best guide for supporting your trans friend is however you already show people that you care. It’ll be the perfect thing, because it really comes from you.
Readers–what is one thing friends and family could do to support you? Feel free to share experiences, add suggestions to this list, discuss what not to do, etc.