By Lauren Anthony
Support. Love. Trust. Strength. These four words hold so much more than just what we say or use them for in our day-to-day lives. Sharing these words with one another helps bring us closer, but also establishes a new form of communication. We will examine these words while focusing on being an ally for those who identify as transgender.
I am no expert when it comes to being the best ally after someone comes to you and opens up as transgender. Honestly, no one is going to have the best or only answer for a topic such as this. Instead, I am going to offer some advice and tips that I have found helpful. Through sharing my own experiences my intention is that it will help others who read this article feel comfortable around a touchy topic.
In the past couple years those who identify as LGBTQA have been able to feel more comfortable coming out in society but the stigma is far from going away. Society may not be the most forgiving place to receive support for those who are transgender. Those around the person such as friends and family may be the best support.
I have had two experiences with people being open with me about being transgender, one friend and one family member. When these conversations emerge, no one is really sure of what to say.
When it comes to friends and family, the last thing anyone wants to do is drive them away or say the wrong thing. My biggest fear was not being able to convey the sense of security and support they asked for. After interacting with both of these people a couple of times, I found certain things I did as an ally to be incredibly helpful to them. Let it be known that these tips can be changed or not used, as everyone is different.
Tips to be an ally for someone who is coming out as transgender:
- Support them: This may seem relatively simple, but the support you can give to the individual is going to be a huge piece. Showing them support is one of the first steps to helping engage in meaningful conversation, but also in a safe manner.
- Listen with your ears, heart, and mind: When talking to someone about a topic that is as sensitive as this one, be mindful of what they are saying. Let them talk and just really listen and take it all in. By giving them the floor to speak, as they want, it helps them instill that sense of trust with you.
- Keep what is said confidential: If someone is comfortable opening up to you, the last thing they want is it to be told to others without their consent. Whatever is told, keep it between the two of you. If anything is brought up that seems it needs to be brought to the attention of someone else, ask the person if they are comfortable.
- Share your emotions and feelings: Information sometimes can cause a great amount of emotions and feelings. Once the person has shared what they have, do not be afraid to tell them how you feel. No one should leave the conversation feeling they did not get to say what was on their mind.
- Ask them if they wanted to be called something else and which pronouns they prefer: This tip is something I used towards the end of the conversation and when I felt it was most appropriate to ask. By asking, this gives the person a chance to share with what they may prefer.
- Ask if you can do anything: It may be as simple as calling them a certain name, using pronouns, or just being there for the person. Just asking them if they need anything is helping establish a strong and safe connection.
- Remind them they are not alone: One important way to end a conversation or just to let the person know is to share that you are here for them. If they need to call, text, meet, whatever the case, you are around. This not only gives that sense of trust, but it helps the person feel the support and love that you are offering as an ally.
As shared previously, these are tips I have used when trying to be the best ally I can to those who have come to me. Everyone is going to be different, so please take what you will from this list of suggestions. If you want more tips for helping be an ally, you can check out Tips for Allies of Transgender People and PFLAG National. Two other sites included are Be a Better Ally and Resources for People with Transgender Family Members. The first site provides support for helping friends who come out as transgender, the second one focuses specifically on family and some additional resources to help support the individual.
If you know anyone who may need some resources who is transgender, you can check out Transgender Resources for more information on crisis, organization, and other general resources. If you are currently attending the University of Idaho you can also check out the LGBTQA resources offered on campus.
I challenge anyone who is reading this article to become an ally for those who identify as LGBTQ. Society is making big steps in helping create a safer and more inclusive space for these individuals, but as an ally, all of us can help make a bigger safe space. Everyone needs to know that who they are does not make them any less of a human being and they are valid.