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Here’s how to support someone in your life who is transitioning

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Transitioning can be a huge decision for a person to make, and sharing that with their friends or families can be an even bigger one. 

They might be overwhelmed with mixed emotions, from joy and love to stress and apprehension. If someone in your life has shared with you that they are transitioning, meaning they are undergoing a process to change the way they present to affirm or match the gender they feel internally, you might be wondering how to best support them in their journey. 

A strong sense of community, whether in real life or through online platforms, such as a transgender dating app genuinely dedicated to trans people, can be super important for your loved one in feeling seen and accepted. 

As you encourage them to connect with their community, here are some tips to keep in mind while supporting them in their transition. 

Make it known that you support them

When someone decides to share this vital piece of their life with you, the first step is listening to them and letting them know that you can be a support system for them. As simple as it sounds, just being an ear to hear them out can go a long way.

Hold space for them to share however much they feel comfortable telling you. Let them know that you support them every step of the way, whether that means being an advocate for them when they tell less-accepting family members or joining them in doctor’s appointments — and then take the steps to follow through with those actions. 

You should also ask your friend what pronouns they would like for you to refer to them as — he/him, she/her, they/them, or something else — or if there is a different name they would like you to call them. 

This could be a safe way for them to see what kind of language feels affirming. Keep in mind that it might not yet feel safe for them to use certain pronouns or names in all contexts. Be sure to ask them if there are people or situations they aren’t comfortable being out with and where you should avoid using certain words to refer to them.

You might not always get it right the first time, and that’s OK — everybody makes mistakes, but show your commitment to learning from them and doing better next time. If you accidentally misgender your friend, which means using the wrong pronouns or gendered language for them, a simple apology and correction can be sufficient; try not to make a big deal out of your slip-up or put the burden of forgiving you onto your friend. 

Be mindful of any actions, such as making insensitive or invalidating comments, that may require a bigger apology and conversation that shows you understand why it was hurtful and what you will do to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Remember sexuality and gender are separate

Remember not to conflate gender and sexuality. Gender is a social construction of how someone identifies as a man, woman, and/or nonbinary, agender, genderfluid, or gender nonconforming person. On the other hand, sexuality refers to who someone is attracted to, and can include orientations such as lesbian, queer, gay, pansexual, bisexual, or heterosexual. This popular illustration of “The Genderbread Person” is a great way to conceptualize the differences. 

Remember that gender and sexuality are not inherently related. Don’t automatically assume that your trans friend is now sexually attracted to a different sex than before they came out to you. Every trans person is different and can identify with any sexual orientation that feels right for them.  

Don’t ask invasive questions

Keep in mind that there are many ways to transition, and they are all equally valid. Some people choose to medically transition, which can include taking hormones and undergoing top or bottom surgery. Some people change their names and sex on their legal documents. Some people dress or style their hair differently. There is no one way to transition, and you should support your friend no matter what their journey looks like. 

When your loved one tells you that they are transitioning, let them lead the conversation and share however much they feel comfortable with. Don’t assume they will incorporate all or any of the mentioned steps that some take in transitioning. 

Don’t ask invasive questions about body parts, transgender sex, or personal choices like surgery if they haven’t shown a willingness to talk about those topics.

Release expectations of the gender binary

Keep in mind that gender expression — how someone outwardly expresses their gender —  looks different for everyone, whether they are cisgender or transgender.

If someone is transitioning, don’t expect them to adhere to the gender binary, which classifies gender into two opposing and often rigid forms of masculinity and femininity, generally presented as men and women. 

For example, if your friend is trans-masculine, they might still be open to wearing makeup or other stereotypically feminine products or clothing. Don’t express confusion or invalidate their gender based on these decisions — instead, remember that gender exists on a spectrum and there is no one way to perform femininity or masculinity. 

Celebrate the fluidity of transition

As you support your loved one in their transition, hold space for change. 

Their identity and needs may be fluid and expansive as they get further along in their journey. If they ask you to refer to them by she/her pronouns at first and then, later on, tell you that they/them pronouns feel more comfortable, listen to them and incorporate those changes into the language you use with them. If they decide to undergo a medical transition such as top surgery, they might wear different clothing that feels more affirming afterwards. As they learn more about themselves and embrace new experiences in their transition, be open to supporting this fluidity. 

Do independent research

Don’t put the burden of education onto your loved one. Some people may not mind answering your questions, but make sure to ask beforehand how they feel about you asking certain questions. 

The internet additionally has a wealth of resources out there to teach you more about what it means to transition. If you’re reading this article, you’re probably off to a good start! Reading articles from educational sites or official organizations such as the National Center for Transgender Equality or Planned Parenthood can be good stepping stones for you to learn more. This will help you have more informed conversations with your friend and give you a better idea of what they might need in their transition.

Ask what they need

When in doubt — ask! The trans experience is diverse and vast. No group is a monolith or defined by just one experience, and this is undoubtedly true for the transgender community. What works for one person might not feel right for another, so don’t be afraid to ask your friend something as simple as: “What do you need?” or “How can I best support you right now?” Be open to their response, and try to be proactive about recognizing the ways you can show your support without them needing to ask for it every time. 

Encourage them to seek community and resources

Lastly, encourage your friend to seek out others who have gone through a similar experience to them. You can help them look into local LGBTQ+ groups in your city through social media apps or even fliers at queer-friendly spaces such as coffee shops. 

Seeking out mental health counseling can also be a good idea for someone who is transitioning. It is especially important to find queer- and trans-friendly therapists who have been specifically trained in LGBTQ+ matters so they can appropriately affirm and offer support to a person who is transitioning.

If you don’t live somewhere with a large openly queer scene or just don’t know how to find them, transgender dating apps can be a great way to meet people and find support from others in the community. 

Encourage your friend to make an account and connect with trans people online. While your friend might end up having a network of supporters, let them know that you’re always in their corner and will show up how they need you to as they transition. 

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