So, your friend/family member has just come out as trans and they have disclosed to you that they want to use a new name and/or set of pronouns. Going off the assumption that you’re reading this, I’m glad to see you’re accepting of them. New pronouns can be difficult to get your head around, especially if they are “unconventional”. Whether they/them, he/him or ze/zir; this startup guide should help you get around the hurdles that you might face.
1. Learn and Practice
The first and arguably most important step is learning what they are comfortable with. For example, maybe this person is no longer comfortable with being referred to in masculine terms [e.g. “man”, “bro”, “dude”, “brother”, “son” etc] and it is almost as crucial as getting the correct pronouns. It is not your job to go out of your way to ask them, however, if something is unclear it’s obviously more beneficial to ask rather than move forward until they tell you otherwise. Therefore you must practice. I know that if my friend comes out to me, I practice their new name/pronouns in my head to make sure it sinks in as quickly as possible. We don’t want you to put your back out, but when a trans person comes out, they hope it to be the end of people using the wrong pronouns – so let’s try and make this transition easier for you and those around you, after all, if others here you using the correct name/pronouns they’re sure to pick it up quicker too.
Deadnaming: to use someone’s deadname; the name used before they came out as trans
2. To correct others is to correct yourself
A trans person does not want to come out to every single person they encounter, which is especially difficult for non-binary identities, because they aren’t widely recognised and thus frequently misgendered. It gets extremely tiresome to have to constantly correct others. This is why it is so helpful and supportive to correct people around you if they misgender your friend or family member. For example, here’s a conversation between you, friend 1 (transgender) and friend 2,
You: “Oh, hello friend 2, have you met friend 1?”
Friend 2: “Um, yeah, it’s *deadname” right?”
You: “No, it’s actually friend 1.”
Friend 2: “Oh, okay.”
That’s it. You don’t need to come out for them, reveal a history of their identity or even address the deadname. The best thing you can do for hypothetical friend 1 is to politely correct friend 2 and move on.
Alternatively, you may have to correct yourself sometimes. We all make mistakes and it’s very easy to just internalise the mistake and move on as if it didn’t happen, especially in conversation. However, you can only learn by correcting yourself, or at least it will be made easier to adjust because that mental note will become more prominent. Again, you don’t have to go out of your way to correct the wrong pronouns that you might have said 5 mins ago, but if you catch yourself in the moment, just say sorry and move on.
A lot, if not all, trans people feel especially awkward during this adjustment stage because they begin to feel like a burden for being themselves, which forces everyone to adjust. The trick is not to add insult to injury by making a big deal out of your own (or anyone else’s) mistakes. This sort of social adjustment is the most obvious demonstration of your support for any trans person because it is a public display that you have adopted and accepted them for who they are.
3. Display acceptance in place of ignorance
To you, some pronouns and identities may seem out of your own perceived ordinary, and that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with a lack of understanding. However, it’s how you approach this lack of understanding that can be a make or break.
- Show respectful curiosity
If you don’t understand something, there’s nothing wrong with asking. Whether it’s about the meaning of a label, the use of a pronoun, social history of transgender people or controversial events – any issue approached respectfully is welcome. On a face value level, being able to talk over one’s identity with others willing to listen can really play into positive face values as well as validating one’s experiences and identity within. It allows a deeper understanding of both parties and can encourage interesting discussion. Don’t be hostile, don’t question the validity of identity and don’t be too pushy. There might be a reason someone isn’t disclosing things to you and that’s okay.
- Blind acceptance
As long as you know how to use their pronouns, you’re golden. The blind acceptance route allows you to continue to live unaffected by LGBT+ issues whilst continuing to love and build up those around you. Although that sounds cynical, sometimes it’s the best option. It comes back to that phrase, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Now, I’m not saying you have anything nasty to say at all, but if for any reason you’re nervous about talking to someone about their identity, then as long as you continue to talk about them in the correct terms, you’re doing great.
- Open Ignorance
You could be the worst out of these three options. You could tell the person that you disagree with their identity and that their pronouns are a limit on your free speech and that you think there are only two genders (even though you have nothing to back up that claim), and you’re totally within your rights to say that – as long as you don’t start breaking hate speech regulations on the platform and in your country. But do remember this, just because you have free speech does not mean anyone is obliged to listen to your hateful viewpoint [using your in a general sense here, dear reader, I’m sure you’re lovely].
All things considered, all you can do is your best.
What more can I do? First of all, you could do some research about what being transgender means. Obviously, no one transgender person has the same experience as another, however, I’ll leave some names and links at the end of this post for you to check out in your own time. Private research to better understand your trans peers is always going to be a good thing, but remember to keep invasive questions to yourself. Furthermore, you can put your pronouns in your bio on social media. Some trans people do this so people know how to refer to them, so to do that also helps normalise it. If you’re unsure of your pronouns, talk about yourself in the third person, do you say “he” or “she” – if he, your pronouns [if you’re cis] he/him/his but if you said she they’re she/her/hers.
What if my friend/family member is scared/nervous about their identity? Take their lead. Allow them space and time to talk to you. If they’re nervous, let them be nervous and comfort them gently without crossing boundaries. Be open to conversation with them about their identity and allow them to come to you for aid and support – especially in the case of unsupportive friends/family.
How should I praise them? Some are inclined to praise a trans person for their “brave choice” after they’ve come out. Remember that gender identity is not a choice and although it is brave to come out, it is not to be hailed as “brave” to be trans. It is great that they have felt comfortable coming out to you, so just say that. Tell them you’re proud of them and that you support them. Maybe just steer clear of “brave” and “choice.”
But what if I don’t think their identity is real? Well by real I assume you mean “not a thing” because identity is made on a person to person basis. If someone was born with female genitalia and dressed in a masculine way with a short haircut but still felt and identified as a woman, you wouldn’t give her a second look. The same goes for someone assigned male at birth who dressed traditionally masculine and feels and identifies as a man. You wouldn’t question it. Gender is the same for everyone. Gender is how you feel and then present yourself as a result of that. It starts as a feeling. It is the same for all identities, including non-binary ones. In summary, “the very existence of outliers proves their existence” [copshatemoe] and therefore if a person has come out to you as something you don’t consider real, well, it is real.
I thought there were only two genders though? CLICK
Ultimately, to support a trans person is to be a friend, to support all trans people is to be an ally. Identity is an insanely complex thing and I for one cannot even begin to try and explain every intricacy of a trans identity to you. It’s impossible. This is where you come in. I’ve laid the framework, now all you have to do is consolidate your learning. Go out there and learn, practice and correct yourself. Put your pronouns in your bio, talk and tweet about trans people and help raise their voices as one of the most mid-heard communities [especially in the UK]. The first step was reading this post. Thank you x
Cool trans people to check out
Youtube: copshatemoe, Noah Fince, Ash Hardell, Luxander, Sam Collins, Samantha Lux, Roly, Brennen Beckwith, Milo Stewart, Jammidodger and many more cool LGBTQ+ YouTubers on the platform – this is a start.
Also, check out the work of Jack Monroe!
To find my socials go to iocutmore.com. On my website, you can also find LGBTQ+ support links as well as a list of brilliant (mostly LGBTQ+) creators to who you should go and show some support. I hope you farewell until next time,