For LGBTQ people who are transitioning — which can mean many things — having support throughout the process is crucial. In what ways can you support a friend who is going through a life-changing transition?
To get perspective and helpful advice, Everyday Health spoke with two experts: José A. Romero, director of community advocacy, research, and education for the Pride Foundation in Washington, which conducts advocacy, research, and education activities centered around trans, two-soul, bisexual, and queer people; and Corinne Votaw, PsyD, a psychologist and advocate for gender diversity in Denver.
Here is where you can start.
1. Respect their identity
Romero says the first thing you can do is believe them. When they tell you they have become who they really are, respect their identity as their truth.
“Trust the person who is moving on. Believe that person,” says Romero, who is non-binary.
You should also remember that experimentation — with nouns, pronouns, designations, and what that person’s gender looks like — is part of the process.
“In no way should this be confused with confusion. It’s all part of gender development,” says Dr. Futao, a transgender woman. “If someone comes out as non-binary, they may not be non-binary forever. They may decide that they are part of a larger gender transition.”
Votaw points out that this experience is something non-binary people don’t often do in their youth, when most people learn to experience who they are.
“Believe them while understanding that it’s practical for people,” she says.
2. Get to know the Trans community
If you don’t know where to turn first, Romero suggests people reach out to education-focused LGBTQ+ organizations like the Pride Foundation. Romero also recommends searching the Digital Transgender Archive for historical information and resources on transgender people.
There is much to learn about the history, culture, psychology, and human rights issues of transgender identity. An important aspect of gender identity to understand at the outset is that transition between the sexes varies from person to person. There are no hard and fast rules – it’s about what this means for each individual.
According to Planned Parenthood, transition can include social, physical, legal, and domestic changes, or any combination of these changes. One person’s transition may include a name change or gender-affirming pronouns, while another person may choose to undergo gender-affirming surgery—which also looks different for everyone. While many transgender people find that physical transition is an important part of their experience with gender dysphoria, it is not part of everyone’s process.
3. Decide what type of support you would like to provide
Your role as a friend to someone in transition may be decided by that person, Romero says, but there are some considerations you need to think about yourself.
According to legislation tracked by the Equity Union as of May 2023, 18 states have banned gender affirming sponsorship in some way. While most laws apply only to minors (those under the age of 18), some states already have laws in place or are proposing laws prohibiting adult gender confirmation sponsorship. Kansas, South Carolina, Oklahoma and Texas have proposed bills that would ban sponsorship of people under the age of 21. Another proposed ban for Texas extends to people under the age of 26. And lawmakers in Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri and Oklahoma have introduced bills that not only ban the use of state funds to pay for Medicare for gender confirmation but also bar insurance companies from offering coverage.
Romero notes that people who live in such states may need to cross state lines to get care. Even then, obtaining gender confirmation sponsorship can be a legal minefield, especially as new laws are proposed.
Romero says to ask if you’d be willing to drive your friend to another state to support his or her physical transition. Are you willing to donate money or meet lawmakers?
Realize that if you are a cisgender person (meaning you identify with the gender you were assigned at birth), you may not be able to support your friend in the ways they need to, and you may need to give that person the space to blend in. new community.
“Being able to meet other LGBT people was central to my transition,” Romero says.
But, they add, thinking about and preparing for how you can offer your support applies to everyone.
“A willingness to rejoice as well as struggle will be part of it for any ally in any of this,” Romero says. “Even if you are of the same gender identity, some internal capacity checks still need to be done.”
For cisgender friends, Votaw says to simply treat your friend as the gender they identify with.
“When you’re overly inclusive or overly supportive, that can come off as caring,” she says. “It’s about starting to treat the person as the sex that tells you they’ve always been so strong.”
4. Don’t apologize too much if you make a mistake
Everyone has their own preference for how they would like to be socialized, which includes that person’s name and their pronouns. Ask – never assume – what they would like to be called. Then do your best to incorporate these choices into your vocabulary.
If you’re offending someone or hear them dead—meaning you call that person by the name they used to call them but no longer do—your first impulse might be to apologize profusely. While it is important to recognize your mistake, doing too much of it will likely only make it worse.
Understand that this happens to everyone. “Trans people misunderstand other trans people all the time,” Romero says.
Be sensitive, own up to your mistake, and move on, working on adopting the person’s real name and pronouns in your language.
“It’s similar to learning another language. A lot of times, as long as you try, as long as people see that you’re making a good effort and you’re doing it for the right reasons, that’s fine,” says Romero.
5. Leading change
Supporting a friend who moves on often doesn’t just involve being there for that person one-on-one. It can also take the form of working to create a safe and supportive environment for LGBT people.
This will depend on where you live and who you are, but driving change must begin by looking at your life and your beliefs.
“What’s important, more than outward advocacy on behalf of whatever peer they’ve come to, is a period of reflection on what you’re doing that might harm the non-binary or transgender community,” Votaw says. “Start by looking at your own life and see what doesn’t align with being a supporter, family member, friend, or even co-worker.”
She says this can include political party affiliations or beliefs about LGBT people. Becoming an outspoken activist isn’t always part of supporting the person, she adds, and that’s okay.
“This can be very daunting for cisgender friends or family. Just because they now know someone who is transgender and nonbinary, doesn’t mean they have to go out and wave flags,” says Futau.
If you decide becoming an activist is how you want to help, you can approach it in a number of ways. It can be fighting legislation that includes bans on transgender rights, Medicare, and visibility by contacting elected officials or speaking at community or school board meetings. Or make a point to introduce yourself to new people using your name and preferred pronouns, to give people a chance to tell you their pronouns as well as to incorporate the practice into your community. It can also be arranged with the human resources department of the employer to bring in someone who can start LGBT-focused training in the workplace.
Whatever the case, “get involved in the cultural action,” says Romero.