When a loved one or a family member decides it is time to speak with you about their gender identity or talk to you about being trans* that is a moment when you have an amazing opportunity.
You get to show them you love them!
But in the moment we sometimes freeze.
These moments require you to be thoughtful and aware. Today let me share with you three ideas that can help you navigate supporting your child, family, member or friend.
1) Do not make an assumption that you understand.
As a cisgender* person I do not assume to have an inner knowledge of what it means to be a trans or a gender non-conforming person. I am a Psychologist who works with LGBTQ people and more specifically people who beautifully represent a wide and fabulous diversity of gender and sexuality.
*(A cisgender person is someone who identifies their gender as consistent with their anatomical sex assigned at birth. An example - I was born and the doctor said I am a male and I identify as a man so I am a cisgender person. Pronounced "sis" like sister)
Every single time I work with some who is trans* or gender non-conforming I can learn and hear from trans* people about their experiences but my job is not to explain or assume I know about their inner world or experiences.
A person who is aiming to be an ally will:
Allow the person to speak for their own experiences
Listen closely and with respect
Lead with understanding and love
Yield the time and not ask probing questions.
See what I did there, ALLY. It spells ally.
When a person who is trans* or someone exploring their identity decides they want to speak with you about their thoughts, feelings, or identity this is a moment when they are trusting you to listen, be there for them, and simply be there - present and honoring. You do not need to know all about what they are sharing. You can ask them to clarify something they said or a term you have never heard before - but you don't need to ask additional probing questions or specific details about their body, sexuality, or desires.
Be a listener and be ready to validate.
2) Get yourself some education
In the time a child or friend wants to get talk with you about their identity or their thoughts it is NOT the time for them to educate you. It is not a time for you to ask the person to explain to you the inner workings of trans life, medical transition, their mental health history, or to ask "Why?"
The questions you have are the ones you should silently note in your mind and follow up with through your own research and education. There are a number of wonderful websites I would recommend you consider when looking into learning more about trans* identities, sexuality, and gender in general.
Human Rights Commission
The two links above are just to help you get started. When a person decides to come out to you, asking them to become the expert for you and to explain their identity distracts from you offering support and again marginalizes their identity and makes them an outsider.
3) Follow up with the person soon after the conversation with their permission.
In the days and weeks following someone disclosing their gender identity or trans identity to you many different thoughts may run through their mind and yours. Make a plan that you will simply follow-up with the person a few days later to thank them for trusting you and letting them know you can continue to be a resource or support. If the person who comes out to you is a family member, partner, or someone you love you may also benefit from seeking out support as you process your reactions and feelings.
Take time for self-care and nurturing your emotions. If your child or loved one has come out to you it is totally normal to have your own reactions, confusion, and emotions.
An amazing resource in the Lexington area is PFLAG, a support for the families and loved ones of those within the LGBTQ community.
IMPORTANT POINT: Never out someone to others. It is not your information to share and it can be hurtful and emotionally damaging to out someone. We all make mistakes but this is an important point to keep in mind. That's why seeking your own support can be important for your emotional well-being and having a space to process what you are thinking about.
When a person decides they want to talk with you about their gender or identity this is a sign of trust and opening up. It is a chance for you to meet the person with love and offer a support they might not have been able to find in others. It is also a time when the person may feel very scared and nervous. Lead with love and listening. That sets the stage for growth and connection.