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“My pal is very supportive of my ambiguous gender identity (as revealed in a drunken heart-to-heart). Too supportive. He (kinda) subtly brings it up in any conversation it might fit (almost regardless of who’s present) how okay and correct and *fascinating* he thinks my identity is. I’m not sure how to tell him nicely I don’t need to be reminded of who I am and how okay it is all the time. I *know* it’s okay. But it’s too heavy to always think about it. I feel like a zoo animal around him. Help!”

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

Erika Lynn Says:

SAM (your new name), I can totally relate.  My parents, after years of denial, anger, and overall disgust at the idea of my transition, within the span of a few months, very quickly decided that they would allow me to transition to Erika Lynn. After years and years of not telling anyone except for a handful of close friends as demanded by them, I suddenly was greeted on the street and in stores by family friends and my parent’s work colleagues telling me that they were totally supportive of me transitioning, and that as soon as my younger sister was ok, they’d call me Erika.

Whenever we had a conversation, either with some worker in a store, or with family friends, or with really anybody, my mom in particular would go out of her way to mention that I was a girl and that I was transgender and that I was Erika Lynn and so on and so forth. It was infuriating. I felt like I had absolutely no agency, and what made it more insulting was how openly uncomfortable she had been just weeks before. The last straw was when at a party for my sister’s soccer, she was telling half the parents details about my transition she had no right to share, talking about me as if I was some novelty thing, not her living breathing daughter at a very awkward, sensitive and volatile time in her life who needed to let people into her life more slowly that what her parents were doing. I literally pulled her inside our house and into her bedroom and in my loudest whisper explain how hurt and uncomfortable she made me, how she had no right to share that information, and how in the future, if she wants to let someone into my life on my behalf, she needs to tell me first. For the next month after that, she’d start off every conversation between the two of us with how sorry she was that she was insensitive, how she didn’t know what to do in situations like this, and how she was just trying to be supportive.

I think your friend is feeling some of these same feelings my mom felt. Key things I got from your question: 1. ZANE (your friend) lets people into your life on your behalf without your permission, it seems (given that he’ll bring this up around anyone); 2. he’s treating this part of you, and you by extension, as a novelty, as you put it, a zoo animal; 3. he likes to emphasize that your identity is “okay and correct.” All of these are signs of a well-meaning friend who has no idea how to integrate this new piece of information into their life, isn’t completely down with your new, surprising (to them) identity and is trying to do the best they can to be supportive and understanding of who you are.

I think it would be good for you to have a heart to heart with your friend, to tell him what you’re feeling, how he makes you feel when he treats you like a zoo animal, when he tells you you’re so fascinating. Chances are, he doesn’t realize what he’s doing to you, and he’s just doing his best to figure out new territory. You don’t owe him an explanation, and you aren’t responsible for his education, but if you want him to change his behavior, you need to sit down and tell him how you’re feeling, and offer a path for change. If you want, find some queer/trans*/gender-non-conforming education resources for him to read. Everyone is Gay is a great start! There are tons of other books I’m sure you could buy or check out from a library, and of course there are millions of relevant websites he could read. Given how “fascinating” he finds you, and how it’s seems you’d prefer to be non-confrontation, I’d recommend couching your suggestions in terms of opportunities for education. Ultimately, I think that will help him realize that mistakes he’s made, and give him the tools for change, in a way that’s agreeable for the two of you.

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"I think my partner is questioning his gender identity. He is maab and has been talking a lot about how he doesn’t feel comfortable with male gender roles, and seems to have some body dysphoria. He is struggling with not conforming to gender roles; he says he feels guilty. I 100% support him no matter what, but as a ciswoman I don’t know how he is feeling or what I should do. He hasn’t explicitly told me he’s questioning, and obviously I don’t want to push him on this. How can I be most supportive?"

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

Erika Lynn Says:

I think most queer folk can remember before they came out somebody making it very clearthat they would be totally ok (or not) if any relative (hint hint) were to come out of the closet. Years before I thought of coming out to anyone, even myself, all sorts of people just knew I was gay, and they told me in the most ambiguous and polite ways possible about their support or disapproval for my identity-to-be. What none of them knew, though, was that for much of the time that I realized I was “different,” I wasn’t struggling to come out as gay. I was struggling to synthesize my masculine and feminine and non-gendered selves, the difficulty I had with both male and female peers, the warm tingly feelings the girl sitting next to me gave me, and the (lower school version of) lust I had for my former best male friend in second grade (who “dumped” me for a “real boy” in the 3rd grade). They all assumed I was gay, and their quasi-insistence that I be a homosexual made my journey to self-fulfillment and understanding all the more difficult to live and understand, because I never once, even for the short time I very publicly identified as gay, felt any connection with that term.

Your partner (who I’ll refer to with he/him, as was given) might be trying to understand and synthesize parts of his life he’s never dealt with before. He may have wanted to explore these aspects of his life for a while, but never felt he had the access to do so socially, economically, time-wise, relationship-wise, etc. Maybe these are new feelings, and he wants to incorporate new ways of being into his life. Or maybe there is something else that’s going on that neither you nor I can imagine.

My point is that we can never truly know what a person is feeling or dealing with, and how they’re trying to explore or express themselves given the complexity of their many social and personal circles.

Going back to your question I think the crux of how you can be most supportive to him is by making any potential exploration, discovery and expression, or whatever it is he’s looking for, accessible, comfortably visible and less daunting.

By accessible, I mean that he needs to feel that he’s able to try or think about new things, even if just within the confines of his or your private space. I think first, you should figure out a way to make it clear that you are open to helping and want to support him in any way he might need. If I were you (and mind you, I’m really blunt and loud-spoken), I would say something along the lines of, “Hey, I want to tell you something. I noticed you’ve talked about how you feel a bit confined by gender roles. And I’ve also noticed that you’ve said you’ve felt guilty about that. I want you to know that I love you, and I want to support you in any way I can. If you want, I’ll never mention this again. I just want you to be happy and fulfilled, and to know that I’ll support you, no matter what.”

If you’d prefer a less direct way to make things more accessible for him, there are other ways you can break down potential barriers without having to explicitly broach the topic of gender and gender identity. If you’re a sexual couple, maybe broach the conversation of bucking tradition in bed and switching things up, if you haven’t already. Trust me, the Good Vibrations (my personal favorite sex shop) website has AMAZING things for all different kinds of sexual relationships, and could lend a helping hand if y’all are interested in trying that. You could also change up chores, so you’re doing the more stereotypically masculine ones, and he’s doing the more stereotypically feminine ones. More generally though, try to take initiative and, with his thought and consent, examine any gendered things y’all do together, to give him a space to try out anything other-than-masculine he might want to try out.

An important thing to consider is the fine line between visibility and invisibility when it comes to your support and him transitioning. You don’t want him to feel like he needs to hide himself, but he shouldn’t feel the need to be open to or in front of anyone he doesn’t want to, including you. This can be tricky. If he says he wants to continue exploring in private, partially or totally, let him. It’s not that he thinks you won’t understand or accept him, or that you haven’t been supportive. There’s only so much you can do. If he’s not ready, he’s not ready. But intentionally giving him that space could mean a lot to him, and could ultimately help him on his journey.

I would also try and find ways to make any exploration seem less daunting for him. Your support could help make making changes less scary. If he gets to a point where you two can talk about this more openly, I might try and help him think about small steps you can take together. Maybe trying new name(s) out, and a week later trying different pronouns out, and after that trying on some of your make up, or other things, stereotypically feminine or not, that he might want to try. However, he might want to change everything as soon as possible, if and when he reaches a point where he can talk about it. Either way, understand that there will be times when he will be overwhelmed. And that’s ok.

Another thing that can make this less daunting for him is de-emphasizing the importance of identifying as something, as well as the “coming out” process. I think that our current emphasis on labels and having a public “coming out” moment, is an impediment to true self-fulfillment, and social acceptance. By not pressuring him to identify as anything, privately or publically, and not placing importance on him coming out as an identity, you could provide him a lot of freedom and relief.

The last thing I want to talk about is good self-care. If he wants to transition, or make any type of less formal change, you need to make sure that you are taking good care of yourself. Yes, this process is about him, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t factor into the equation. This doesn’t mean you should ask him not to make a change, or to abide by a different time table than the one he wants, but part of being supportive is making sure you are also taken care of. If there’s something you want to try out, related to gender or otherwise, you should also feel free to bring that up. I’d also suggest seeking a therapist, even if just to meet with once every few months, just to have a neutral, non-biased person whom you can take with about these changes. Ultimately, that will make you better able to support him.

Long story short, you seem to be a really awesome partner, especially in how much concern you show for him. Whatever happens, I know he’ll appreciate you.

***

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"I have recently discovered that my grandfather is gay. He has no idea that I know. The members of our family that also know have been very cruel. I can see that he is afraid to say anything aloud. How should I broach the subject? He deserves to know that he is still loved and appreciated."

- Question submitted by Anonymous

Dannielle Says:

I think you just put yourself out there. I don’t know what’s up in your family or if you even talk about stuff like this, but if your grandfather is getting only negatives from the rest of the fam I can almost guarantee your positive vibes will be welcome.

If you’re nervous and you don’t know what actual words to say, maybe use an example. Perhaps one of your aunts asked your grandfather not to come to a family gathering because of his “lifestyle,” bring that up. You can LITERALLY SAY “Hey grandad, I just wanted to let you know I thought it sucked that AUNT CALCULATOR wouldn’t let you come to PIZZA NIGHT, I thought it was super unfair.”

That way, you’re pointing out an incident but not saying ‘HI I KNOW THAT YOU ARE GAY’ because that might be difficult for you to say without feeling uncomfortable.

Again, everyone’s situation is different, but the one thing I want you to take away is how amazing it will feel when your grandfather knows that he has you on his side. That feeling is something incredible. That support is incredible. You are incredible.

Kristin Says:

Agree, agree, agree. Goddammit. Your grandfather is going to be so happy that someone in his family is loving and supportive of him, no matter how you express it – and regardless of how you may have come to “know.”

I also want to say this: There have been some people in my life who, when I first came out, wanted to show their support but couldn’t say the exact words that they meant. In the months after my extended family knew (and many of them were NOT pleased), I had certain relatives who would shakily pull me aside at family functions. They didn’t know the words to say and felt intimidated or confused, but they’d give me a hug, tell me they loved me, that they would always love me, and that if I ever needed anything to just say the word.

Those family members didn’t need to explain that what they meant was that they supported me and that they loved me as a gay person. It was so present in my mind during that time, because of all the lack of support, fear, and anger I was facing. The simplest motion of love spoke so, so many words.

If you feel brave enough on the first pass to call out a specific incident, or to say ‘Grandpa, no matter who you love or how you love them, I will always love you,’ then do it. There is only love in those actions, and it sounds like your grandfather needs all the love he can get. If, however, your words fail you and you don’t say exactly what you mean… know that he still knows exactly what you mean.

Stand by him just by standing by him, by loving him fiercely, and by being his granddaughter.

You are a true light.
xo

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"how do you properly react when someone comes out to you?"

- Question submitted by Anonymous

Dannielle Says:

I always think being honest is best. BECAUSE YOU GUYS. When people try to act like everything is cool it just makes EVERYONE FEEL SUPER WEIRD.

Things that people said to me that made me feel weird:
“oh yea, I kinda figured”
“Jesus still loves you, he just doesn’t necessarily love your choices”
“ohhhh is that why you always spent the night with Carly?”
“I don’t care, I know lots of gay people”

Now, some of these were well-meaning, but anytime someone said “I don’t care” it made me kind of sad bc like… I DO CARE. You know? It took all my guts to figure out how/when to say I’M A GAY (or whatever I ended up saying) and then PERSON was so dismissive about it, you know?

I don’t think you should act fake surprised and I don’t think you should make everything super dramatic and say things like “OH MAN ARE YOU GONNA BE OKAY?!!?” I think you be the good friend you are, and be honest. Whether you were expecting it or not, simply saying, “So, if I have questions should I ask or are you not there yet?” can be an AWESOME way to open up the floor and make the conversation more inclusive of your friends feels without making a big statement that might make the whole convo weird. You know? If they’re open to questions, ask if they’ve talked to family, how that went, their thoughts on being out at work, if they’re dating someone, stuff like that so they have the floor to talk about anything and feel totally supported and comfortable!

Kristin Says:

Agree, agree, agree.

Also, I am sorry to break it to you, but 8 out of 10 coming-out moments are totally awkward. IT’S JUST THE WAY THINGS ARE. Unless the coming-out moment is part of a larger conversation, ie: “Oh my ex-girlfriend used to LOVE One Direction,” there is really no way to react that will make the conversation seem like your everyday exchange (btw in that exchange you obviously reply, ‘omg who’s your favorite member?!’).

Coming out has a tendency to be awkward, because not many everyday exchanges include announcing our identity categories. “HELLO LISA, I AM DOMINICAN, JUST SO YOU KNOW.” “HELLO TODD, I AM A COMPETITIVE SWIMMER. DIDN’T WANT TO KEEP ANYTHING FROM YOU.” “HELLO MOM, FYI I PREFER TO WEAR BOXER BRIEFS.”

If the coming-out moment is an announcement (as many are) rather then part of a larger conversation, then what I recommend is to say, “Thanks for sharing that with me. I know coming out is a big deal for some people, and for others its really easy… but whatever it was for you, I just want you to know I care about you and I appreciate you trusting me enough to share a part of yourself. Also, so long as this doesn’t affect your affinity for pizza, do you want to go to the dining hall with me?”

Then, you’ve not only said, “I care about you,” but you’ve acknowledged the moment as important, AND you’ve given them the opportunity to just grab some pizza and move along if that’s what they need/want/etc. On the way to pizza-town you can then follow up with, “Also, if you ever want to talk more about anything I am all ears.”

Blam. Boom. Best friend award goes to YOU.
Thank you and good day.

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"I showed my parents Macklemore’s “Same Love" video because I think it’s really cool and now I’m pretty sure they think I’m gay because they’ve been giving me weird looks for like 3 days… How do I start the “I’m not gay but I have friends who are and I care about equal rights" conversation with them? I’m also a tiny bit weirded out that THEY’RE so weirded out."

- Question submitted by Anonymous

Dannielle Says:

I mean… I would literally start that convo the way you fake started it in your question.

You both feel weird bc you feel weird bc they feel weird that you feel weird that they feel weird… you know what I mean?!!? Chances are, if you weren’t UNCOMFORTABLE with the idea of showing them the video, they probably don’t hate all gay things ever. Which is good, but also means they’re probably like “MAYBE OUR KID IS GAY AND NOT TELLING US BUT HOW DO WE COMMUNICATED THAT IT IS OKAY WE DONT KNOW MAYBE WE COULD I DON’T KNOW WE COULD LIKE I DON’T KNOW,” but that’s all in their heads so they just stare at you wide eyed, and then you stare at them wide eyed bc you’re like “why are they staring at me wide-eyed” and before you know it, it’s been three days and no one has left the living room.

I’m sure there was a run-on sentence somewhere up there, and for that I apologize. HOWEVZ, the point of all my ramblings = you all feel weird and the only way to clear the air is for you to say your PIECE. If you want to say “Hey so, I’m not gay ps. but I do have gay friends, and I feel pretty strongly about equal rights, which is why I’m super into that SAME LOVE song and I wanted to share that with you, is that okay?”

It will start the conversation, you’re not accusing them of being weirdos, you get to tell them you’re not gay (yet, AMIRIGHT?!!? CUZ EVERYONE IS GAY DOT COM) and it’ll give them a chance to talk about their feels. Everyone winz.

Kristin Says:

Agree agree agree.

Here is the thing with a lot of parental units: they want to be good parental units but no one has given them a guidebook or a manual or a learner’s permit or whatever the hell one needs to feel like they are properly prepared for something. They are just like, “Shit, well, I guess we will try this thing and hope it doesn’t mess our kids up too much – HERE GOES NUTHIN’.”

(They spell nuthin’ like that bc they are parents, you guys.)

There’s a good chance they are trying to be good parents but aren’t sure WHAT the next move is in this situation. You opening up a conversation where you say, “Hey it occurred to me that you might think that I showed you that music video as a hint toward my own sexuality – and maybe you are now wondering if you are supposed to ask me more questions or WHATHAVEYOU,” is a great place to begin. Say directly to them, “So, I figured I’d help us out in that step and let you know the reasons why I like the song, and let you know that it is not because of my own sexuality but because I think people standing up for human equality is important and should happen more often.”

If the parents are like, “We believe in those things, too, I am glad you cleared this up,” then you can all make pancakes or something and have a great day. If the parents are like, “Thank god, we were terrified you might be gay,” then this dialogue is going to open up some very big conversations. Stick it out and talk to them, though, because even if their starting point is, “PHEW GOOD THING YOU AREN’T GAY,” doesn’t mean that there isn’t a ton of room to grow and learn.

PS: thanks for supporting equal rights and all that good stuff. ////,
PPS: If you are new to this site, ////, is my high-five emoticon.

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