How to React When Your Friend is Transgender
Your Friend is Transgender, Now What?
So your friend or family member has just come out as transgender. Maybe your sister said "I don't feel like a girl, I feel like a boy" or your best friend said "I feel like I was born in the wrong body." How should you react? What should you say? Finding out that a friend or family member is transgender is difficult, stressful and confusing. You probably have questions and you wonder whether you should ask them. This page is written for you. Please continue reading as I detail my experience of finding out my friend is transgender and what I've learned along the way.
Image is in public domain, according to Wikimedia
Is It Okay to Ask Questions?
My personal opinion is that YES, it's okay to ask questions when someone comes out as transgender. However, you want to be careful not to ask rude questions or ones that are too personal.
Two questions that are always okay are: "What would you like me to call you or do you want to change your name?" and "What is your preferred pronoun?" These are great questions that show that you care about your friend's feelings. There are some gender-neutral pronouns that you may not be familiar with such as zir or zhe. If your friend asks you to call them by one of these, please make every effort to do so.
Other questions that you may have such as whether they will get surgery, how they define their sexuality, etc. These can be touchy subjects and you should probably avoid asking them. If you want to know more about their transition, you can ask "What should I know about your transition?" If you really want to know the answers to these questions, PLEASE ask if your friend is willing to talk about the more personal aspects of their transition before you bombard them with personal questions. If your friend says no, please respect that!
Be a Good Friend!
Whatever you do, make sure your friend knows that you love and care about them. Make sure that they know that changing their gender does not matter to you. Many transgender people lose friends in their transition and that is very sad!
My Friend is Transgender
How my Sister-in-Law is Now My Brother-in-Law
***For the ease of understanding, I will refer to my friend as she and Alisha for the first part and then transition to AJ and he for the rest***
I met Alisha in 2003 at a summer program called Upward Bound and became instant friends. We roomed together at Upward Bound, went to Washington, D.C. together, she even introduced me to her brother who ended up becoming my husband 5 years later.
In the fall of 2012, I got the shock of my life. It was just a few weeks away from her wedding to her fiancée Amy when Alisha told her brother and me that she was transgender. We listened to her as she explained a few things such as her name change (changed to Ajax, nickname AJ) and that she wanted to be called "they" because she didn't want to be "she" anymore and she felt like "they" was a bit more fitting (this later changed to "he" as the transition continued). I nodded my head and tried to absorb the news as much as I could but I stayed very quiet.
After we went home, my husband (AJ's brother) and I discussed the news. He took it pretty hard and was very confused and upset. We talked about all the possible things we didn't understand and wrote out a list of questions for him to ask them and they scheduled some time to hang out and talk in private. All the while, I started researching transgender issues, proper etiquette, etc. I wanted to stay well-informed and prevent myself from making AJ feel alienated or uncomfortable if I asked a bad question or said something wrong.
The hardest part for me was not learning that my friend was transgender. It was that my husband and I were one of the few people who even knew. AJ was not "out" to everyone and it was hard to switch back and forth between saying "AJ" in their company and "Alisha" in the company of people who didn't know. It took a lot of practice and a lot of willpower to make things run smoothly. After AJ came out to everyone else, things became easier but sometimes I still mess up. Fortunately AJ is very understanding!
When AJ first started taking testosterone, I was worried that he would change, that he wouldn't be the person that I remembered. But that worry was for nothing. AJ has been on testosterone for about 9 months now and I haven't noticed any personality changes. Obviously there have been some physical changes such as a deeper voice and a thinner face but I can deal with those. But AJ is still the great friend he was before.
I honestly feel like I've dealt surprisingly well with AJ's transition. I was worried that I would be resentful or hurt. I believe that what helped the most was reading first hand stories of transgender people and feeling the pain that he must feel from having to deal with a body that doesn't feel right to them. I read forums, I learned about transgender issues and I tried to be the best friend I possibly could. I hope that this page helps someone out there be the best friend that they can possibly be too.
Learning a friend is transgender can be tough. It can almost feel like you lost your friend and a new one replaced them. If you need help dealing with your friend's transition, I highly recommend going to a PFLAG meeting. There are lots of great people there that can talk you through your feelings and even help you understand the issues your friend will face.
You can find a link to a PFLAG chapter locator in the Resources section of this page.
This highly rated book is a great resource for anyone who has just learned a loved one is transgender. It has a great overview of what it means to be transgender as well as many of the issues your friend will face in their transition.
Who is the trans person you know?
I found that reading stories of families whose children are transgender helped me a lot. This is a great collection of such stories.
Here are some great websites that may answer some of the questions you have about your friend's transition.
- Ten Things Not to Say to a Trans Person | Matt Kailey
Short list of things NOT to say to a transgender person.
- Trans Etiquette for Non-Trans People | Matt Kailey
Short etiquette guide for non-trans people.
- Find a PFLAG Chapter
The best way for parents, family members, friends, of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people to get support, receive educational materials, and learn about PFLAG's advocacy efforts is to visit a PFLAG local chapter.
- Guide to Being a Straight Ally
This guide is written for friends of LGBT people. It contains information on how to be a straight ally - someone who works to make sure LGBT people have the same rights as straight people.
- How to Respect a Transgender Person: 9 Steps (with Pictures)
How to Respect a Transgender Person.
- Do's and Don'ts for Families and Friends
Great list of Do's and Don'ts to follow when you find out a friend is transgender.
- How To React When Someone Comes Out: Dos and Don'ts for Straight Allies
Dos and Don'ts for Straight Allies. These general guidelines will help you create a safe space and eliminate tension or embarrassment when someone comes out to you as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
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© 2013 Jessica