When someone confides in you that they’re transgender, you’ve just received an incredible show of trust. Many transgender individuals undergo years of struggle to come to terms with their sense of self and how it relates to sex, gender and personal identity. As a loving, supportive friend, you want to be a positive part of their life. Here’s how you can make your friendship a safe place for your transgender friend to be.
Validate Their Identity
You’ve known your friend by a different name and gender for the length of your friendship. Now that’s changed. It may be surprising to you and even throw you for a loop—you’re wondering now if you can still enjoy the same activities that you used to share together, or if they’re going to drift away to find new friends to match their new identity.
But they need friends who know who they are as a person. You’re their friend and have been for some time. They trusted you enough to share this information. So what’s the best thing to say? You can tell them that you don’t understand—accepting someone else’s choices doesn’t mean you have to understand exactly what they feel and why—but you should also tell them that you accept them for who they are.
This involves using the pronouns they’re comfortable with, accepting any changes in name they’ve chosen and treating them like a person. They’re still your friend. Now they’re simply taking steps to be more comfortable with themselves and their identity. Don’t think that it reflects on you in any way; a person’s gender identity is something they have to choose and accept. It has nothing to do with how they were raised, their friends or their hobbies.
So How Do I Help?
You’ve taken the first step by searching out information on your own. Now keep a few things in mind:
• Use the pronouns/name chosen by your friend
• Be supportive in actions as well as words
• Treat them like the friend they’ve been before
You may make mistakes, such as calling your friend by the wrong pronoun or forgetting to use their chosen name. It’s all right to make mistakes. This is a new experience for you and your friend; no one gets it right every time. Just keep in mind that your friend needs support in claiming their new identity. If you use the wrong name, laugh, apologize and correct yourself.
If you’re ever in doubt about a question you want to ask your transgender friend, ask yourself that question first. If it’s offensive or upsetting to you, then it’s going to offend or upset them. You can do independent research to questions that you really want answers to without hurting your friend’s feelings. When in doubt, just remember to treat your friend like the wonderful person they are. They’re your friend for a reason, after all.