“My friend has recently begun the process of transitioning from male to female. She hasn’t told many people (including family) and still dresses male for work etc. She is really struggling with still having to pretend, but knows she isn’t really to be fully out yet. I’m 100% supportive, but I don’t know what words I can say to help her. I can keep saying I’m here for her, but is there any other way I can help make life a little easier for her???”
- Question asked by Anonymous and answered by Red Davidson as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions
I want to preface my answer by saying: I am not a trans woman. I can only answer this question from my own experience of being nonbinary and having trans friends (most of whom are men given where I currently am). My advice is also informed by the things I look for/want from allies. However, in order to be an effective ally to your friend you’re going to have to do a lot of your own reading and thinking. You also need to be prepared to know that you’re going to mess up sometimes, and that when you do you will need to take that as an opportunity to learn, whether it be from your friend or someone else, instead of getting defensive. We live in a very transmisogynistic society, so everyone who is not a trans woman, including myself, need to understand that we are culpable in benefiting from and upholding (despite our best intentions) transmisogyny.
One of the easiest things you can do to support someone who has come out to you, especially if they’re still in the closet to most other people, is to listen and to be a source of validation. What works as validation may vary from person to person, but for me sometimes validation is something as small as people using my name (i.e. not my birth name). Or hearing myself be referred to by the correct pronouns. But validation also includes not belittling negative feelings and emotions she might express. If your friend experiences dysphoria and talks about it with you, even if it might be tempting to try to comfort her by making the problem seem less intense than it is, that might actually make your friend feel worse, or like she can’t trust you. If she needs/wants help getting clothing that she feels more comfortable in, you can offer to give her some clothes that you’re not using anymore (if she’s close to your size) or offer to go shopping with her. There are also clothing exchanges online specifically for trans people.
I think that one of the biggest things you can do to support someone is to read and learn more. Don’t just be a “friend,” work to be an ally. Allyship doesn’t exist in stasis, you can’t “achieve” allyship—it’s a constant process of unlearning and learning. Read! Read things written by trans women. Read things written by trans women of color. Janet Mock and Laverne Cox are both pretty high profile people right now, and it’s fairly easy to find videos of both of them speaking about transmisogyny. But there’s also a lot of history of trans women’s writing and theory. Read things about and by Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. Read things you can find written by trans women bloggers who aren’t famous. Learn the right language to use—especially because it can change pretty frequently. For example, most trans people don’t like the phrases “male to female” or “female to male” because it implies that they were once “actually” the gender they were assigned at birth. And question your assumptions. Learn to recognize the thoughts and preconceptions you have that are oppressive/transmisogynistic. There is no perfect process of doing this work, and there’s no easy way to answer this question.
Here is a (short) list of books by black trans women. I would also recommend reading things written by trans women at Autostraddle. And you can always Google things and look around Tumblr for things written by trans women about allyship.
Unlearning oppression is very difficult, and trying to learn how to support a friend without accidentally hurting them in the process—especially if you don’t have any other people to talk to about it—can be scary. Coming out for the first time is also a really scary and vulnerable experience. While you might be feeling uncertain about the best ways to support your friend, your friend is probably feeling a lot more scared and unsure about how they feel being out, and how they feel about still being in the closet to people. So, again, one of the easiest things you can do is talk, listen, love, and remember that sometimes you might mess up, but that it doesn’t have to be the end of the world.
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