Making the choice to transition is a big milestone. Whether it’s your partner, a friend, or anyone you know, transitioning can be an incredibly identity-confirming—and sometimes overwhelming—process.
When a loved one is transitioning, one of the best things you can do is support them. Support can be given in a lot of different ways, and in this blog, we’re going to break that down for you.
Ways to support your transitioning loved one
- Get educated.
If you don’t understand concepts like gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, learn about them. For example, you should know that gender identity and sexual identity are two separate things. You can use the internet, or ask someone who may know. You can also ask the person who is transitioning, but be sure to ask them first if it’s okay to talk about those subjects with them. Learning about these things could really make an impact in how your transitioning friend may feel supported. Sometimes, feeling understood can speak volumes.
It’s important to listen to anyone going through transition. Their path is often difficult and lonely. A sympathetic ear can mean a lot. Relatives and friends should be aware of their own feelings about those who are transitioning. Self awareness helps people to understand their own reactions without acting on them. Let your loved one know that if they need to talk, you’re there to listen. And even if you don’t explicitly offer, be ready to hear them out when they want to talk.
- Ask questions—the right way.
If you don’t understand something your transitioning person is talking about or has mentioned, politely tell them you’re having trouble connecting the dots, and that you need some guidance. It’s likely that they know a great deal about what you don’t understand, and they may be able to answer. However, always ask if it’s okay to talk to them and ask them questions. Everyone has personal boundaries, and they need to be respected.
- Say it.
It may be implied that you support your person who is transitioning, but sometimes a verbal show of support can also make them feel good. Things like, “I support and care about you,” and “What is the best way for me to help and support you?” Everyone likes to be supported differently, so talk to them, let them know you’re there, and find out what works for them. Someone may not want your help (or the help you want to give), and you should respect that, too.
- Believe in them.
The decision to transition may come easy to some folks. Sometimes, it’s not that simple. For some folks, telling their loved ones and community is a hard step for them. After your loved one tells you they are going to transition, you might have a lot of questions. While this may not be the case with everyone, some of those questions could trigger your person into anxiety, depression, or something else. Doubting or questioning their decision could also trigger your person, and break trust between the two of you. You may still have questions and not totally understand their choice to transition—but you should remember it is not your decision to question. You may mean well in asking them “Are you sure?” but that could backfire, and send the message you are doubting their decision.
- Use correct pronounces and names.
If your loved one hasn’t already asked you to call them by a different name or used their personal pronouns, start doing it. It’s also possible they don’t want to be called by a different name or use other pronouns—but it’s important to know regardless. If you don’t know what their pronouns are, ask them. You should also ask them if there is another name they’d prefer you call them. Those two things—name and pronoun—are important to someone who is transitioning. Sometimes they're not. If you follow their preferences, it will make them feel supported and seen for who they are. Keep in mind, you might use the wrong pronoun or name while you’re switching to their new ones. If you do, apologize and correct yourself. Your loved one will appreciate your effort, and know it might take some time to adjust.
- Don’t stereotype.
Every trans person is different. Everyone who decides to transition is different, and they transition for different reasons. They have different experiences, thoughts, feelings and emotions. So you should not and cannot make a stereotype assumption about your loved one transitioning and trans folks. Their reason for transitioning may be completely different from what another trans person’s is. Additionally, just because someone is transitioning, does not mean they are changing their entire identity—although some may choose to and are entitled to. So, for example, don’t assume that someone who is transmasculine will now like sports, wearing men’s clothes, or love UFC fighting.
- Avoid harmful words.
Trans folks deal with so much stigma and discrimination, including bullying, harassment, and assault. Be aware of insulting and harmful words, and do not use them. Using derogatory, politically incorrect words to describe someone who is trans can be very hurtful and triggering.
- Encourage them to get resources they need.
Everyone is different. And everyone’s needs may be different. If your loved one hasn’t already set up a support system—like therapy, support groups, etc.—encourage them to find something works for them. It's also their prerogative if they choose not to do any of those things. There are plenty of resources, professionals, and communities someone who is transitioning can rely on. Be mindful when discussing resources with them. You don’t want to come off as demanding or doubtful about your loved one’s ability to go through the transition process.
- Get support if you need it.
Supporting someone you care about who is transitioning can be emotionally taxing on yourself. Transitioning is an emotional experience, for all parties involved. So if you find yourself struggling, reach out to a friend, consider therapy, or other resources that may help you process what you’re feeling.
How Apicha CHC can help
Apicha CHC has a Trans Health Program. As part of this program we also offer short-term behavioral health services, care management resources, and referrals to specialists. If you're interested in scheduling an appointment, click the image below.