Transgender For Friends
When someone comes out to you as transgender, it can be difficult to know how to be supportive. The kind of support your friend might need should be an ongoing conversation. It’s okay to check in with your friend every now and again to clarify their needs. These are just some broad guidelines to help you understand some of the ways in which you can support your transgender friend. What’s most important is that you ask your friend what they need, because everyone’s trans journey is different!
Transgender people tend to come out to a select few friends and/or family members before coming out to the broader community. First and foremost, it’s important to acknowledge that a friend telling you they are transgender can be privileged information. Someone coming out to you isn’t necessarily an invitation for you to tell other people. A question you can ask is “Have you told anyone else?” or “Are you comfortable with me telling other people?”. If they’re not ready to come out, care should be taken not to accidentally out them by inappropriately using their new name and pronouns. This ongoing process is often referred to as “social transition”.
It is also important to know that people can, and do, use the word transgender in different ways. It can be helpful to ask your friend “what does being transgender mean to you?” to make sure you are on the same page. Care should always be taken to respect the choices of your friend. Sometimes you will get your friends names and pronouns wrong, especially if you’ve known them for a long time. Don’t bring attention to it, apologise if it’s appropriate, and keep trying to do better. It can be a sensitive point for a lot of transgender people, but they tend to understand as long as the effort is made. It might be tricky for you to learn at first, but it makes a huge impact when you get these things right!
Having friends and community members who are supportive and can also advocate on their behalf can be life saving. Being trans can be exhausting! Educating friends, family members and the community on what it means to be trans, along with correcting people when they make mistakes with names and pronouns, is often a full time job for a trans person. You can help ease the load by taking on some of this responsibility. You might experience hostility when doing this from those who are transphobic or those who just do not understand and need education. If this distresses you, know that you can get in touch with the services who can help you. AGA offers support and advocacy for allies, friends, parents and families of trans* people, with full knowledge that stigma and discrimination effect not only trans people, but the people who support them.
It’s also important to note that due to stigma and discrimination, there are much higher rates of mental illness and suicide in the transgender community. Being someone who checks in every now and again can make all the difference, but it’s important to realise that you are not expected to fix all their problems. When your friend is struggling, encourage them to seek out help and follow up. Here is a list of crisis helplines, but also feel free to contact AGA for support and come along to our many events.
- Good allies can be hard to come by. Being able to create spaces where your friend can be supported, expressive and open, can make a great difference in their life.
- A friend coming out to you doesn’t need to change the dynamic of your relationship and doesn’t invalidate whatever boundaries you have between you.
- Care should be taken to ensure your friend is the one in control of who they are out to and when.
- Ongoing dialogue is one of the best things you can do to support your friend, whether through social transition or mental health support.