Talking to transgender people isn’t hard, with this guide it’s easier than talking to CIS folk.
While that lede might be tongue in cheek the following is not, too many transgender allies get hung up on ‘responding correctly.’ I get that, due to the media exposure there is an understanding of transgender existence but not exactly a common comfort level talking to transgender people.
In particular, coming out is one of those things that makes many people feel like they should respond (it’s a big moment etc.). I hope this post will help.
There are three things you should think of if someone has the courage to come out to you directly.
Below this is a guide on what to do if you find out through a third party that someone is transgender and is now out with a new name and/or pronoun.
- Accept – accept the things you’re being told, use body language like nodding the head and verbal language like, “yes,” and, “I hear what you’re saying.”
- Affirm – affirm what they just said, affirm your friendship/relationship/love/familial connection/security of vocation. Say things like, “I’m so happy for you, is there anything I can do?” or, “That’s wonderful news! Can I help in some way?”
- Respect – respect that a transgender person might not have all the answers you wish or any. Respect the info that they are willing to volunteer, respect their right to privacy, respect their requests around pronouns, names and confidently.
The above is a real bare bones summary of how to react to a transgender person coming out to you directly.
So what do you do if you find out that someone is an openly transgender person via a third party or piece of mass communication (e.g. an email, text message, social media post etc.)???
- Breathe – this is a public announcement, not directed at you, therefore there is no imperative to respond in the first place. If you decide not to respond but then interact with this person later, skip to step three. If you decide to respond to the public announcement proceed to the next step.
- Be supportive – support the decision to be public about their existence, see above the section above on, “How to respond to someone coming out to you as transgender.”
- Exist as per normal – most transgender people desperately want to live normal lives. The best way to show support for a transgender person is to treat them like a human, call them by that name they ask and the gender they identify with and go from there.