I would like to offer some words of advice to anyone who has had someone they know and/or love come out as transgender. I am drawing on my own experience as the mother of a transgender child. I’m not saying that this is all you have to do. I’m not saying if you do this life will be all happiness and rainbows. What I am saying is that these things will make a difference. Of that I’m sure. What I will tell you is that there are many people who are no longer a major part of our lives (meaning my children, husband, me) and this is a choice that they have made. Maybe if they had done a few of these things, my children would have more extended family in their lives and my son’s life, especially, wouldn’t be so darn small. (“Why don’t you tell them?” I can hear you asking. My answer- done it…..more than once….in very clear, concise language.)
To avoid getting caught up in specific pronouns, I’m going to stick with “they” when referring to your transgender family member or friend.
It’s not about you.
Your friend is sharing the most important innermost part of their being with you and they are trusting you with their heart. Handle with care.
You may feel a plethora of emotions and that’s okay but they are YOUR emotions. Do not unload this baggage on them. They need love and support. If you can find it in yourself to understand them- even better- but don’t worry if that doesn’t come immediately. Take some time to learn about what they are going through. Educate yourself. Ask questions- but be considerate. The more you know, the better you can support.
Your loved one requires more love and acceptance than they have ever needed before. They are incredibly vulnerable. You might be thinking you are showing support safe in the comfort of your home, behind the keyboard on your laptop or with your phone firmly in hand texting all the right words and that’s great if you want to make yourself feel better. You can tell yourself that you “told” them that you love, support and are here for them- HERE being the relative term. (Gentle reminder- It’s not about you and if you’re at home sending an e-mail, you’re not there for them. And yes, I understand that it is not always possible.)
Your transgender child/parent/sibling/friend needs to know you are with them and they need to feel it- really feel it. Empty (safe) texts and emails won’t cut it. When you see them, you need to talk to them and SEE them as the person they really are. You can’t look for the face of that other person. Being seen, acknowledged and accepted is vital to their survival. Regardless of their age, they have spent years of their life trying to be someone they aren’t- trying to fit in with their family and friends and the world while they don’t fit in their own body!!! They have done this for a variety of reasons but one of them is YOU. Coming out is terrifying and liberating all at the same time. They are afraid that the love that they received from their nearest and dearest isn’t as unconditional as they thought. And they fear that the biggest condition placed on that love is that they remain a prisoner in the body they were given. They have heard stories and probably know other trans people who have lost their families and faced rejection.
DON’T GIVE UP!
Don’t give up on them. As they transition and come out to people in their lives, they are going through A LOT. At times they might not seem responsive. They might be very emotional. That can be due to fluctuations in their hormones as they work to get their body in order or it just might be good old-fashioned emotions. Coming out and/or transitioning and learning to navigate the world as their true selves is challenging.
I know that this can be incredibly confusing for you, especially if you had no clue that there was anything going on. Please try to remember that just because someone you love is changing their name or the way they dress, it doesn’t change the person they are deep down inside. If you really do love them and you are struggling with this, talk to someone about it. There are groups on Facebook. There are parents like me blogging about it. Reach out. We know how you feel and we can help.
But while you are getting yourself together, remember that your person needs you too. And don’t forget about the parents/siblings/children of the transgender person in your life- There’s a chance that they will lose people in their lives because of their inability to accept and/or understand what being transgender is. Knowing that you are there for them will make all the difference in the world.
Take a deep breath and take a good look at this person. Don’t look at the boy or girl, woman or man you thought you knew. Just look long and hard at the person. That’s who you really love. And that’s who you don’t want to lose. Taking that extra time to really let them know that you care, not just token gestures, might be the one thing that prevents them from becoming another statistic.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. As the parent of a transgender child, every news story that reports the death of another transgender person by suicide cuts straight to my core. It is another reminder of how much at risk my child is. I speak for all parents of transgender kids when I say that we don’t want to lose another one.
Handle with care.