It is revolutionary for any trans (transgender) person to choose to be seen and visible in a world that tells us we should not exist. ~ Laverne Cox
Over the past couple of years the transgender community has gained a higher level of mainstream exposure. This is in part thanks to the transgender men and women who helped fight for equality at New York City’s Stonewall Inn riots back in the1960s. They, among many other social influencers, paved the way into popular culture for transgender individuals like Cher’s son Chaz Bono, Laverne Cox on the hit Netflix show Orange is the New Black, as well as activists and authors like Janet Mock, who released last year’s Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More.
Awareness of transgender issues recently hit stratospheric heights when former Olympian and Decathlon winner Caitlyn Jenner came out as a transwoman in a historic interview with Diane Sawyer. Her story has prompted conversations in households and workplaces that many folks never had before and left the world with a more intimate understanding of what it means to be transgender.
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Undoubtedly, many families are now finding themselves learning how to best support loved ones that identify as transgender.
I hope this piece will give them, as well as you, some very practical tips on how to do that.
Create an environment that is supportive of all people (of all genders).
One of the most important things that you can do to best support someone who is transgender or gender nonconforming is to create a safe space for ALL people. Contrary to some critics, transpeople don’t want “special rights” or unsolicited attention. By far, folks who identify as trans want to be seen for the whole of their being, not just their gender identities.
If you can help create a space and environment in your home or workplace that is safe for a variety of genders, sexualities, races, religions, or levels of ability, you can be sure that you’re creating an environment that is welcome to trans people. You can reflect your acceptance by something as small as a rainbow sticker on your door. Organizations can adjust forms that allow for an open response for gender demographics. A little change goes a long way.
Do your own research.
If you would like to further your knowledge about what it means to be trans, there is a lot of information online that you can readily access. Chaz Bono released his documentary Becoming Chaz back in 2011. The film, which is currently available on Netflix, explores Chaz’s transition and his relationship with his superstar mother. You may also want to read Janet Mock’s book mentioned above; you can find it in most bookstores.
Along with a wide selection of blogs and websites, there are also some great YouTube channels that feature trans people such as Jazz Jennings, who is a 14-year-old transgirl who was once featured on ABC News. A Girl Like Me with Chloe M is also a great vlog channel for transwomen and families seeking to learn more. Aydian Dowling, a transman and fitness model, also has a YouTube channel and he recently discussed his gender identity and transition on the Ellen show.
Although it’s not your loved one’s responsibility to educate you about all things trans, some people do relish that opportunity. You will get a good sense if they’re open to educating you once you express genuine interest and curiosity in their process. It should be noted that if questions are well intentioned, generally speaking, most people are going to respond favorably.
Ask for PGPs.
Preferred gender pronouns or PGPs are ways in which we all identify ourselves, or others in a conversation. For instance, if you were assigned a male sex at birth and identify as a man, you may prefer the terms “he/him/his”. Whereas if you were assigned a male sex at birth but you identify as a woman, you may want to use female pronouns such as “she/her/hers”. However, a word of caution – some trans or gender nonconforming people may prefer gender terms that you may not consider obvious given how you perceive them, which is why it’s so important to ask someone for their PGPs to avoid misgendering them altogether. Gsafe has a great online resource on gender pronouns that you can find here.
Learn to apologize.
Odds are, no matter how well intentioned you are, you will make the mistake of using the wrong PGP or refer to your friend or loved one by an old name. In a perfect world none of us would ever make those mistakes, but it has been my experience that you will get a pass if you say “I’m sorry”, then correct yourself and move on quickly.
Stand up and become an ally.
One of the most powerful ways that you can support trans people is to become an ally for the transgender community. Challenge your other friends and colleagues on their assumptions about gender. Write your local representatives to advocate for fair bathroom access for transpeople in your area. Participate in local organizations that fight for equal rights.
The efforts and hard work you’ll be putting in won’t go unnoticed by the transgender, gender nonconforming, and general public!
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