So your loved one just came out as trans and/or nonbinary. Let us help.
Illustrations by Leo Mateus.
Maybe you’re confused. Maybe you’ve only ever heard trans or nonbinary terminology in passing. Maybe you’re frantically digging through Google in search of answers to questions you don’t know how to ask to best support your loved one. Fortunately, our own Fox DeNova, FOLX Member Advocate, has compiled tips from trans and/or nonbinary staff here at FOLX to get you started on being a supportive ally: these may not apply to every trans or nonbinary person, so get a feel for what your loved one needs and expects.
Being a cisgender person (your gender matches the sex assigned to you at birth), queer or not, you may be unfamiliar with the idea of what it means to be trans and/or nonbinary. Maybe the only representation you’ve seen is from the media, and oftentimes those portrayals can be illegitimate and harmful to community. With that being said, come to these discussions with your loved one with an open mind. Use active listening and absorb what’s being provided to you with the understanding that you are being entrusted with something incredibly personal.
Your loved one has confided in you - their personal information is not always yours to share. Some folx don’t want or need the help of spreading this information and will do it on their own accord. Others may appreciate the support and allow you to help. It all depends on the comfort level of your loved one, so ask first! Never share this information without their consent, as it is incredibly personal information, and could potentially put them in jeopardy in the wrong hands. Consider your loved one’s safety and comfort and as always, just ask first.
Some trans and/or nonbinary people are comfortable with the name they were given, and others prefer a new name. Either way, respect what they want to be called! Choosing a name that fits their identity can be difficult but empowering. Many trans and/or nonbinary folx are unhappy with the name they were given at birth, as it may not be reflective of who they are. For cis folx, this may be kind of a mystery, but remember tip number one and come from a place of respect and love even if you yourself do not understand.The process of finding a name may take a bit of fine tuning. Your loved one may pick a name and stick with it, or run through a handful before making a more permanent decision. Regardless of their process, it is crucial that you begin use of their name. Something as simple as writing the correct name in a birthday card can be so positively impactful.
If your loved one is comfortable with others knowing their name and feels comfortable with you doing so: use their correct name in the company of others to help alleviate the stress that some feel having to do it themselves. It’s not uncommon for others to have a lesser reaction when a parent, for example, uses a “new” name and pronouns casually in conversation.
Ask your loved one what pronouns they use! They may use binary pronouns like he/him/his or she/her/hers, or they may use “neutral” pronouns like they/them. Some folx choose to use pronouns that are not yet as widely known like ze/zir, it/its, or their name only. And others are comfortable using multiple pronouns. Ultimately: never assume!
If your loved one is comfortable with others knowing their pronouns and feels comfortable with you doing so: use their correct pronouns in the company of others, and gently correct if others are using the wrong pronouns. Another way to do this is to introduce your own pronouns as well to normalize correct pronoun usage in that setting.
Many trans and/or nonbinary folx have heard, typically from family, that they are being mourned. Sometimes friends or family members feel that they are “losing” their loved one, when in reality, they are gaining someone much happier and healthier in their full self! Referring to coming out or transitioning as a death/loss can be painful on the receiving end. Never grieve, always celebrate.
Trans and nonbinary folx are unfortunately accustomed to being asked invasive and uncomfortable questions, especially when it comes to transitioning. Asking a person about their body (genitals, specifically), surgeries/procedures, and sexuality/the sexuality of their partner(s) can be humiliating and degrading. Consider your reaction to these questions if you were in your loved one’s shoes. If you feel that you would be uncomfortable answering, it is likely that they are uncomfortable answering, too. Instead, let your loved one provide this information freely as they choose to. Some folx may not, and some may be more open about sharing. Normalize respecting boundaries always, regardless of a person’s identity! If you’re ever unsure about how to start this conversation, the best question to ask is “how can I support you?”.
Is it okay to ask a loved one questions about being trans/nonbinary? Honestly, that is up to them. Your loved one is not suddenly an “expert” on all things gender simply because they’ve opened up about their identity, and, in fact, may be continuing to learn themselves. Consider your loved one’s feelings when curiosity comes up, and seek out other resources to educate yourself. The FOLX Library, social media accounts, & Google can be your friend in this situation!
Check out the rest of our ever growing Library for more information and educational resources. As always, we’re here to help empower you!