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My friend just confided in me that her college-age child just came out to her as transgender. How can I support my friend and her child?
Question: Beth, my good friend, Jane, just confided in me that her college-age son, “John” (that’s the name I know him by), just came out to her as being a trans-woman and planning to transition. I’m close to “John” as well. How I can I support my friend and her child?
(Question adapted from recent conversations with clients and friends)
Answer: Dear Ally-in-Training, I’m so excited that you are supporting your friend and her child. I don’t have all the answers by any means, but here are some things to think about to help you support both of your friends.
Chosen Name and Preferred Pronouns
First, I suggest talking to Jane and John (if you are friends with both) to find out what John’s preferred name and pronouns are. Your friend may not have realized to ask this question or may not have shared this level of detail with you yet.
Here are some possible scenarios:
- John may be presenting as female and be going by a female name and pronouns like “she” and “her” full-time at college. John may wish to always be referred to by their chosen name and pronouns regardless of how John presents.
- John may be in the process of socially transitioning and prefer to go by John and male pronouns like “he” and “him” when he is presenting in what many call “boy mode;” when presenting in “girl mode,” John may go by a chosen female name and female pronouns.
- John may be early in exploring transition and not have chosen a female name or use female pronouns. Furthermore, John may want to come out to people as transgender when ready and not want you or Jane to spill the beans to others.
By asking John directly what is preferred, you can then use John’s preferred name and pronouns in context and thus show support. Also, you can avoid outing John unintentionally by finding out John’s preferences.
Resources for Family Members and Friends
Second, I suggest building your knowledge and your own support team as needed. Read up on the transgender experience so you can better understand what John may be going through. You can find a basic overview of transgender people at the Human Rights Campaign website including how to support them. PFLAG has an extensive primer called “Our Trans Loved Ones: Questions and Answers for Parents, Families, and Friends of People who are Transgender or Gender Expansive.” As you learn more from John and Jane, you can fine tune your research and reading.
You and Jane may benefit from a local support network for friends and family members of LGBTQ+ people. PFLAG has over 400 chapters across nearly all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. You can find a local chapter here. Read about why PFLAG exists and how society’s attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people have changed since 1973 when PFLAG began its work.
Ask John directly what kind of support is desired. Perhaps John wants to go shopping with you or Jane for gender-affirming clothes, hair, makeup, etc. or maybe John wants to this alone or with friends of college age. Each person is different in their journey and how they like to be supported.
Resources for Transgender People
Third, I suggest that you or Jane look into resources for John, who may already be well-connected or may have no clue about where to start. Or encourage John to do this kind of search. Your local LGBT Center and LGBT Medical/Health Center can be key to finding what you need.
- Google “LGBT Center” and your local major city or cities. Most major cities have an LGBT Center that have a list of resources including medical, mental health, and support groups. Or search at CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers. For DC, The DC Center comes up.
- Google “LGBT Medical Center” or “LGBT Health Center” and your local major city. For DC, the Whitman-Walker Health Clinic pops up with this search.
- Look for LGBT Resource Groups on John’s college campus. Google is again your friend.
- Search for a gender-affirming medical provider/primary care provider for John. The local LGBT Center/Medical Center will sometimes have its own medical clinic and often lists other medical providers in the region who are gender-affirming. Mental health providers will often have a list of local doctors who are gender-affirming.
- Search for local transgender support groups. Your local LGBT Center often maintains lists of these. Some major cities have multiple support groups in different locations, nights of the week, or by gender identity (trans-feminine, trans-masculine, etc.).
- Search for local transgender social groups. These are sometimes found on Meetup such as the DC Trans Ladies network in Washington, DC. Others may be on facebook. Often you will hear about these through word-of-mouth.
- Consider searching for a local makeover artist and photographer who works with transgender women. Seeing oneself transformed by a professional can be incredibly gender-affirming. Search for “MTF Makeover” or “MTF Transformation” and the major city or region of interest. For DC, this includes my transformation services and you’re already at my website.
- Identify online communities of support such as Transgender Heaven. One of my friends helps run the site, and I’ve heard regular updates about the success trans-women have connecting with each other there.
In conclusion, listen to John and how they want to be supported. Be affirming with your use of John’s preferred name(s)/pronouns. Learn about the transgender community on your own so you have a framework of understanding when John describes experiences and feelings to you. Learn about resources for Jane and John so you can point them in the right direction(s) when they are ready. Encourage Jane to work through these steps too. This is not an exhaustive list of resources on how to be a good ally, but it should get you started in a positive direction.
Good luck and much happiness to you all on the journey ahead!