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Family, Friends & Support

How to Come Out As Transgender to Friends

Louise D.

And How to Support Your Transgender Friend

We have several blogs on this site that cover the process of coming out, but this article will specifically focus on coming out to friends and also what to do when a friend comes out as a transgender person to you (when you are cisgender). 

Advice for Transgender People

There are some important things that you need to consider before choosing which friends to come out to and when, but ultimately this will be entirely up to your personal preference as everyone is different. 

You should, however, be prepared for negative reactions, confusion, or shock. It is essential not to take an initial shock reaction as an overall opinion. Give people time to adjust the idea before they make final judgments. It can be difficult for someone to adapt to a friend’s gender identity in the beginning. 

Also, be prepared that, in the beginning, they will likely make mistakes. A slip up here and there with your name or pronouns is normal and should not be villainized. Only when this is done on purpose, or there is little effort made to correct mistakes, should you address it. 

Coming Out As Transgender

Advice for Cisgender People

If your friend comes out to you and you want to react in a positive and supportive way, then the best way to do it is to congratulate them (this has been a big deal for them and took a lot of courage to admit to themselves and then bring it to you), so do not play it down. 

Then check two things with them: What pronouns/name do they want you to use, and who else knows (so that you do not out them). Even before they legally change their name, it would mean a lot if you started using their new name. 

Their birth name can be a trigger for their gender dysphoria, especially if your friend is a trans man with a very feminine name or the opposite for a trans woman. So as far as possible, try to remember to use their new name. 

Avoid inappropriate questions by asking yourself whether you need to know that information in order to be their friend and is it something you would be comfortable being asked. It is normal to be curious, but you will need to control this within yourself. If there are questions that your trans friend does not want to answer, you need to respect that. 

Remember that even if you do not entirely understand their identity, you can still respect it. Trans folks are the same as everyone else when it comes to a need for privacy, and many are denied that right. 

Coming Out As Transgender

Understanding Gender Identity 

For Transgender People:

When transgender people come out to their friends, it is important that you explain to your friend what transgender means to you and what your gender identity is. It is not absolutely necessary for them to understand completely, but having some background on what you mean might help them. 

How Much Information Do I Have To Share?

You and your friend might be having complicated feelings about this revelation, and your friend might want to be supportive, but to do that the best way that they can, they will need to have some basic understanding of what being transgender means to you as an individual. Gender identities are very complex, and the information available online might not be relevant to your individual experience. 

Having said that, it will never be necessary for you to tell them anything about your transition that you are not comfortable sharing. While rudimentary understanding can be helpful, they do not need to full picture of surgery plans, etc. Unless this is something that you want to share, do not feel obliged. If they are asking questions that are making you uncomfortable, then let them know. 

For a Cisgender Friend

If there are aspects about gender identity that you are unclear about, try to do some online research to educate yourself. There are countless sources available on the internet that can give you great information; just be wary of some of the nonsense that is out there too. A good place to turn for accurate information is the National Center for Transgender Equality. 

Remember Gender is Highly Varied

You can also check your understanding of gender identity with your friend. Be respectful and tell them you just want to make sure that you understand correctly. Be mindful of the language you use. If your friend indicates that what you are asking, or how you are asking it, makes the uncomfortable, it is important to respect that. 

Gender identity and sexual orientation are extremely varied, and your friend’s experience might be unique, so be aware of that when you are doing research.

Coming Out As Transgender

Reaching Out to the Transgender Community

For Transgender People:

As mentioned before, there is no particular way to be transgender and transgender people are diverse even among their communities. In your exploration to find out which identity label fits, it can really help your anxiety to get in touch with others who can share their transgender experience. It might be different from your own experience but can still be of value to you in your journey to becoming your own authentic self. 

The Start of a New Journey

If your friend is trying to be supportive but is unsure how to go about it, and you are comfortable with the idea, then take them with you to a support meeting so that they can learn from others how to support transgender people. 

If you are still trying to figure out how to come out to your friend, it can also be great to consult with other transgender people. While you will need to do this your own way, they could possibly help you work through possible scenarios and come up with action plans. There are some great resources available out there for the purpose of support. It might just take some time to find them. 

For a Cisgender Friend

If you are unsure how to support your friend and do not want to bombard them with questions, you can also reach out to the local or online transgender community. Trans people will likely be happy to help you become a successful ally for your friend. 

If you decide to do this, then keep in mind that your friend is still an individual person and might not feel exactly the same way about things as the wider trans community. 

Finding The Right Resources

Transgender communities are full of unique people who have their own personal opinions and needs, and no single transgender person’s identity can be generalized. Having said that, access to a support group can be really valuable to trans people themselves, but also to family members and friends. 

If you are making use of online resources, be wary of what you read. Some gender information on the internet is unreliable or outdated. Try to find the latest sources on websites that specialize in trans issues. 

Coming Out As Transgender

Learning How to Support Transgender People

For Transgender People:

There is a reason why most transgender people choose to come out to a friend before they approach a family member. Inevitably they tend to be less critical than a family member and more supportive. Having someone who supports you can help you feel comfortable about the person you are becoming. 

Ultimately, the coming out experience will be a learning experience for both you and the friend that you come out to. They might have never come across another transgender person, or they might find you are very different from another transgender person who they know. 

They might start becoming more aware of the lack of trans-inclusive laws and facilities around or the lack of support available locally. Overall, a friend will likely become your biggest ally during your transition. 

For a Cisgender Friend

Perhaps the most significant early form of support that you can show to your trans friend is to use their correct pronouns and correct name. Many people struggle to do this early on, and the wrong pronouns can really cause them anxiety, so when someone uses them right, it is often greatly appreciated. 

Remember that transgender people come out to friends early on in their transition, so it is possible that the rest of their transition is an ongoing process, and they will need support throughout. 

Coming out to anyone is a big step, and many of them end up having a hard time when their families are not supportive. It is good for a trans person to have someone with whom they can feel comfortable and can turn to when life gets tough. 

Coming Out As Transgender

Challenge Anti Transgender Remarks

For Transgender People:

This is a difficult part for a friend to get used to. While it will be easier for them to correct the use of your wrong name, it can be more difficult to tackle broader issues. Transgender equality might suddenly become more important to your friend now that they know a transgender person personally. 

However, if it is not in your friend’s nature to be outspoken or particularly vocal or even confident, it would be amiss to expect them to suddenly speak out publically for the rights of transgender people. 

Respecting Boundaries of Individual Personality

Remember that you are expecting your friend to understand that who you are as a person is not changing, so you would need to respect the same in your friend. If they are shy and softspoken by nature, it is unlikely that they will suddenly feel comfortable making public statements in defense of trans people. 

Allow your friend to be who they are and to support you the best way that they can. Not everyone has the constitution to be loud and proud and vocal about anything in public. There will be other ways that your friend can add value to the lives of transgender people and to your life. 

That being said, if your friend is the kind of person to get vocal about things, then help them find the right way to do it. They can become an excellent ally for marginalized people if they understand exactly what kind of support is needed. 

It can take people quite some time to wrap their heads around a vast new topic like the rights and needs of transgender people, and being an ally can become a full-time job if you live in a town where the concept of a transgender person is still alien. If your friend is willing to take on the challenge, then try to give them the proper tools to do it right. 

For a Cisgender Friend

If you want to be a good ally, it is important that you challenge anti-transgender remarks when you pick up on them. While it is common for people to make mistakes early on, it should not be a continuous and repetitive thing. 

Helping a Friend While Staying True to Yourself

Make sure to check your own feelings. If something is bothering you far more than it bothers your friend, consider why that might be. Do not let your feelings cloud your friend’s needs. 

Also, remember that your friend is still the same person, and it is only one aspect of their world that is changing. It is a big step in their life, and it is important for them to feel safe. In many parts of the world, trans people are not safe. 

While being a trans ally, you need to find a balance that works for you. You can be a great ally while still being true to your own personality. If you are too shy to speak in front of others, find another way to advocate for trans rights. 

Even simpler things like helping transgender people in your life speak to their parents can make a big difference. You do not need to change who you are as a person to be an ally for transgender people. 

Coming Out As Transgender

Gendered Language, Include Name and Pronouns

For Transgender People:

Language and how we talk can be a difficult thing to adjust to. Most of the time, we say things automatically and according to constructs that we have been using since early childhood. This is why it takes some people so long to adjust their language around transgender people. You literally have to rewire your brain. 

It is, therefore, sometimes necessary for a transgender person to be more patient with people who use offensive or incorrect language. They might really not understand that a term like “real woman” can be very hurtful. For the most part, if you correct them kindly and tactfully, even explaining why and how it is hurtful, they will likely make a point not to use such phrases in the future. 

A person might really not know what gendered language is, and once they understand it, it can be a difficult thing to change in their lives. Unfortunately, the world around us has created such deeply ingrained concepts of gender that it can be hard for people to shake. 

What makes this even harder is that much of it is subconscious. The concept of male and female are subconscious categories that our brains are wired to use as sorting boxes for people. 

This is an entirely subconscious process and is a protective action for our brains. There is a limited degree of information that your brains can handle actively, in our immediate consciousness, and in order to protect our brains from sensory overload, there is a bunch of information that it sorts through extremely quickly and entirely subconsciously. Gender, in terms of “this, is a woman” or “this person/animal is male,” is one of those subconscious sorting processes. 

Needless to say, the action of addressing this subconscious tendency that we have about the world around us can be a massive hurdle in everyday life and can quite frankly be overwhelming. You might need to be patient who people who have not been as actively aware of gender identity as you have been. 

For a Cisgender Friend

Perhaps one of the most important rules about language with a trans person is to never refer to their birth name as their “real” name. You will also need to put in the effort to get their pronouns right. A handful of mistakes early on is okay, as long as you are trying to get it right.

If you do happen to get something wrong, apologize and move on. Do not make a huge deal about it or draw too much attention to it. Listen to how they talk about themselves and try to use the language that they use. It will be language that they are comfortable with. 

Furthermore, begin actively working on speaking more gender-neutral in general. You might be coming into contact with more transgender people going forward, so gender-neutral language can be a great help to you. 

Avoid using he/she, him/her, and stick to gender-neutral options like they/them (which is still grammatically correct). For example, instead of saying something like, “I love Adelle, such a talented woman.” You can practice with other options like “I love Adelle, such a talented person.” 

Even if ‘Adelle’ really is cisgender, it is still grammatically correct to refer to them this way. It is especially appropriate when writing. People tend to use “he/she or sir/madam” when they are unsure of someone’s gender, but this is binary language and excludes non-binary and gender-nonconforming people. 

It is therefore much better to stick to gender-neutral language as far as possible in order to avoid excluding someone. 

Coming Out As Transgender

Closing Thoughts

No one is denying that it can be quite a shock to find out that a friend who you always believed was a cisgender woman now tells you that they are transgender. 

It might be a little easier to believe if the friend has never really adhered to gender roles, etc. But in some cases, they might have been so deep in denial with themselves that there were no outward indications of their gender dysphoria. 

What is most important in that trans person’s life is to know that there is someone who they can talk to and someone who supports them. There are some parts of the world where being transgender is not safe. Even some parts of the United States might be dangerous for a transgender person. So, coming out is no small thing. 

Many people are capable of everyday feminism like it is second nature to them, but they find it difficult to wrap their heads around the concept of transgender people. It is perhaps pertinent to remember that someone who is capable of everyday feminism, even casually so, likely believes in gender equality, which should, naturally, extend to trans rights as well? 

If not, maybe we should rethink the meaning of “gender equality” if it will not include transgender people. 

When we speak specifically about a friend who has come out as trans, you might need to take a moment to gather yourself if you have found the news to be a big shock. Maybe instead of reacting initially in a way that you might regret later on, tell your friend that you are quite shocked and need some time to make sense of this before you react in any real way. 

They are probably expecting you to be shocked to some extent and, regardless, will appreciate honesty more than a shocked explosion that, in the end, does not reflect how you really feel about the situation. 

As long as we can share respect amongst ourselves as human beings for the diversity that exists in the world, there is hope for our future. 

Coming Out As Transgender

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