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"My best friend just came out to me as trans*, and I’m very excited for her. She’s still trying to decide if she wants to change her preferred gender pronoun/name/take t/etc. How can I best support her while she’s still figuring these things out?"

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Liam Lowery as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Liam Says:

I remember (and probably always will) the day I came out as trans to my best friend in high school. It was a few days after graduation; she was swimming in her above ground pool while I sat on the sides with my feet in. She chatted about big plans for the summer, how great it would be to start college, her relationship with her boyfriend. Then we got to me. Over the knots in my stomach and lump in my throat I managed to say: “I have to talk to you about something.”

Afterwards, she told me, “I love you and believe in everything you’re doing, but I just want you to know you will always be my best lesbian friend.” She swam over to the side of the pool, gave me a sopping wet hug, and went inside to order a pizza. After a few minutes, stunned, I got up, got in my car, and drove home. I decided that would be the end for our friendship.

Fast forward to now, reading your question in my apartment that I share with a fiancée, with my dog laying across my feet like a hot water bottle. Even now, though, the memory of that day can chill me.

That time in my life was not warm. It was a very lonely and isolating time, wherein I formed excellent self-preservation habits, but lost most of my long-term friendships because my friends acted in ways that disrespected my evolving identity.

I am glad that your friend has you in their life, and feels comfortable letting you in on their journey of self-discovery, because it is a huge deal, for them and you. I am glad that you are taking time out to try to be the best friend you can be in this pivotal moment. Someday you (and your friend) will be very glad you did!

Now, onto your question. Get ready, I’m about to summarize the main point of every transgender ally training I have ever attended: ALWAYS ASK YOUR FRIEND EVERYTHING!

Not sure on their pronouns? Ask. Want to know about their evolving relationship with their sexuality? Ask. They told you they are considered several different names but aren’t sure which one they like? Ask what they are and offer to call them by one name one day, then another the next to see what fits. Just always ask. As long as it genuinely comes from a place of love, asking a newly-out transgender friend is the best solution because it might also give them new things to think about. If this is a friendship you want to keep, you need to ask your friend lots and lots of questions, then follow-up by checking in to see if they still like their answers.

Second, if you are not sure of someone’s preferred gender pronouns, try not to use pronouns at all! This is often because someone is transitioning and has told you, etc. but also applies for if you are in line at the supermarket and don’t have your glasses on and can’t tell if in front of you that is a man with beautiful long hair or a lady, but wither way you saw them drop something and need to get their attention. The best thing to say is not “Ma’am!” or “Sir!” but “HEY! You dropped your wallet!”

I try never to use gender pronouns until I am sure what someone wants because they have told me. It felt odd at first, and it may be the same way for you, but it provides people the opportunity to self-identity—and prevents me from hurting them, even unintentionally.

One way to avoid gendered pronouns is to use “they/them” pronouns. Let’s use your question as an example, replacing gendered pronouns with “they/them:”

“My best friend just came out to me as trans*, and I’m very excited! My friend is still trying to decide if they want to change their preferred gender pronoun/name/take t/etc. How can I best support my friend while they’re still figuring these things out?”

You said in your question that your friend is “still deciding” a lot of things, and that is great. My advice would be to go the extra mile to make them feel respected and comfortable by deferring to neutral pronouns, so as not to alienate them from you. When I was first coming out to people, I told them things like “I have always been a guy,” or “I identify as a transgender man.” At the time, I didn’t know to just tell people “you need to call me Liam and use he/him pronouns or we aren’t talking.” That self-assuredness takes time, but it shouldn’t have to take suffering. Make it easier on your friend by remaining neutral and awaiting further instruction. They might say that they will keep their name and preferred pronouns as-is, or they might not! But out of respect for this process, you should reflect a change in how you address your friend, unless they tell you not to.

Then the name stuff. Here’s where it gets interesting. For me, selecting a new name was a very private process. For others, it is something they need friends and family to play a role in, since they will be the ones saying the new name.  This is where your knowledge of your friend comes into play. Are they part of a tight-knit group of family and friends? Are they getting support in their transition outside of your relationship? Are they extroverted and declarative about changes in their gender identity, or are they more introverted and need privacy to sort of their feelings? Talk to them about these needs, and see where you fit in as a resource.

You know your friend much better than I do, you clearly care for them, and as long as you ask them questions and listen to their answers, you can be a tremendous resource and safe-harbor for them in this time of transition. I bet friendship will grow even stronger. If you don’t show them that respect, though, you need to be aware that you could lose them—and you will deserve to.

I wish you both the best of luck in this new stage of your friendship, and this very exciting time in your friend’s transition. Remember, there’s no such thing as a dumb question!


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4 thoughts on “Supporting Your Trans* Friend

  1. I am newly trans to be perfectly honest although I did feel as such for a couple of years before I could really place the feeling.
    I came out to my best friends and my mother a short time ago and my only advice is:
    Don’t remind them of it when you can – avoid pronouns and their name as often as possible if they haven’t already specified what pronouns and name they would prefer to be referred to by
    Be respectful and supportive – it is difficult and extremely stressful but those times are what friends are for
    Let them be angry and frustrated and upset – it’s normal. I kept how I felt bottled up for years and I regret it. Tell them you support them fully even if you don’t fully understand their situation, you’re there for them.
    (I also personally find it really lovely that you can ask for advice and want to know how to help them)

  2. Liam:

    Oh my gosh. Your friend tried to support you, gave you a hug, said you would still be her best friend, and you ditched her because she said the wrong thing by putting in ‘lesbian’? I can only imagine how much that must have hurt her, to lose a friend without explanation after she thought she did the right thing in saying she supported you. It clearly came from a genuine place of love, and instead of explaining to her, she just ditch her? Her best friend? Wow.

    When you have a disagreement with your BEST FRIEND, the solution is not to just up and leave. It’s to explain the situation and how what they have said or done made you feel, and, as best friends, work things out. It’s only when things can’t be worked out that you should consider ending the friendship. Your friend didn’t “disrespect” your evolving identity – she showed that she cared, and said something that was a mistake to say. Nobody’s perfect – including you.

    1. I wish there was a way to like comments here because that rubbed me the wrong way, too. People aren’t always automatically super excited for their friends or family and you don’t need to cut everyone out of your life because they didn’t go “okay wow I’m so pleased you came out to me let me go figure out how to support you and not step on your toes uwu”

      It’s possible to want to be an ally but accidentally say insensitive things. You won;t learn unless you are taught and “just Google it” in an instance like this isn’t a fair request. I would say a lot of this answer is incredibly confusing. Don’t hop to gender neutral pronouns unless your friend says you should. Ever. Ask how a friend wants to be referred to. It’s probably not going to be that often you refer to your friend by their pronoun rather than their name; if you make a mistake, hopefully your friend won’t slam a restraining order on you. I would say “ask” is the best advice on this page, but the horror story of “my friend made a mistake and I never told her so and now we’re not friends any more so maybe don’t make mistakes with your questioning/trans friend” was entirely unnecessary. Just ask. Every person is different and experiences things differently. So the best person to ask this advice from is your friend.

  3. So my friend I havent known for very long is trans, and they changed there name and gender but some people refuse to use the correct pronouns or just not use any at all,how do I help.I really want to help them but I’m not sure how

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