October 11th is National Coming Out Day, and in honor of that I have composed a list of eight ways to be a good ally when a loved one comes out to you as trans. Of course, everything is contextual, and you’ll have to discern for yourself if these are right for your situation. But, if you need a little advice, these are good starting points.
1. Listen more than you talk.
When a person comes out as trans, whether you are the first person they tell or the millionth person they tell, it’s important to actually let them tell you what being trans means for them. In my experience, it doesn’t matter how many people I’ve told that I’m trans; it’s scary every single time. It requires an incredible amount of vulnerability to tell someone that you’re a trans person. One way to respect that vulnerability is to let them tell you their own story. It’s easy to want to jump in. It’s easy to want to tell them you understand, that you’re supportive, and perhaps even that you have other trans friends. However, ultimately, what shows the person that you’re supportive of them is not how much you know; it’s how much you care enough to listen.
2. Thank them for trusting you with their truth.
Coming out to another person requires great trust. So often—too often—coming out as trans is a dangerous task. It can result in the loss of friends and communities, and unfortunately but truthfully, even physical violence. Support your trans loved one by acknowledging (after they’ve finished talking) that you know it’s a difficult task. Thank them for being who they are and for having the courage to trust you with their whole selves. Assure them that trust wasn’t placed in vain.
3. Just because they trust you with their truth doesn’t mean it’s now your story to tell.
It’s tempting to tell others that a loved one has just come out to you as trans. There are some instances when the story of someone coming out to you as trans actually seems like a helpful experience to share. However, it’s important that you always ask before you share this information that a loved one has entrusted you with. Just because they trust you to know doesn’t mean they trust the world—or even your friends or partner—to know. Let your loved one tell their truth as they see fit.
4. Don’t tell them how to be more like a (man, woman, gender fluid person, etc.) unless explicitly asked.
Many times, when a person comes out as trans, it doesn’t actually change them to their core. Rather, it’s a way of identifying themselves; it’s a way of being acknowledged as the person they already are. It’s perfectly fine to encourage them to be exactly who they are and to assure them that you love them as such. However, unless they explicitly ask for it, they don’t need help knowing how to be a “better” man, woman, gender fluid person, etc. Our societal standards and expectations for what makes a person a specific gender are unhelpful. Just assure your loved one that you love them as they are and that you respect and support their identity.
5. Ask if it’s okay to ask questions—especially personal ones.
It can be difficult to understand a loved one coming out as trans, especially if you’ve never known another trans person before. But before you launch into all of the questions you have for them, simply take the time to ask if it’s okay to ask them questions. Moreover, choose your words carefully so as not to be too invasive. It may even be helpful to specify what kind of question you want to ask before you ask it, so your loved one has a better idea of how to prepare for your question or say they’re not comfortable with you asking it. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself if appeasing your sense of curiosity is worth their discomfort. Along with this:
6. They are not your theological sounding board; don’t treat them as such.
If you’re a Christian, it’s natural to have theological questions about a loved one being trans. And it’s a perfectly acceptable and good thing to seek out answers to your questions. But your trans loved one may not be the best person to ask. It’s not because they’re not a valuable resource, but they’ve likely had to defend themselves to too many people already, and sometimes theological curiosity can come across as theological scrutiny. There are plenty of online and print resources to aid you.
7. Ask how you can best support them.
This question, that is: How can I best support you? is one that can always, always be asked. The key here is that when you ask it, it’s important to actually follow through on it. If they say what’s most supportive is using the appropriate name and pronouns for them, actually use them. If they tell you the best way you can support them is to simply listen to their story, then sit and actually listen. Your loved one knows themselves enough to know what they need, and if they’re courageous enough to tell you what that is, do your best (within your means) to do it.
8. Find some way to be a visible ally.
Lastly, find some way to be a visible ally. This can be as simple as being intentional about using trans inclusive pronouns when conversing with the people around you. It could also mean advocating for gender neutral or single-stall restrooms at your school or workplace. You could put a trans ally sign in your office or home and when people ask about, explain what it means and why you’re an ally. It’s just important to take your support for your loved one outside of the private conversation and into every day life (without breaking their privacy, of course).
The work of allies is so very important to the trans community and we thank you for your love, support, and eagerness to learn how to best love us.
- 8 ways to be a good ally when a loved one comes out as trans - October 11, 2015
- Why I defend an institution that does not defend me - March 19, 2015
- Opening doors: The closet of depression - February 2, 2015