How To Support A Loved One If They Come Out As Trans

On Tuesday, “Juno” and “Umbrella Academy” actor Elliot Page came out as transgender and nonbinary.

The 33-year-old actor wrote in an essay shared on Twitter and Instagram that he will be using the pronouns “he” and “they.”

“I feel lucky to be writing this. To be here. To have arrived at this place in my life,” he wrote.

Among the supportive messages the actor received in response were tweets from parents of trans kids, who, as one mom said, were grateful to see “this kind of amplification and acceptance.”

Page is, after all, someone many millennials and Gen Z-ers grew up with. The Canadian actor and producer is known for roles in the movies “X-Men: The Last Stand,” “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “Inception,” as well as the recent Netflix series “Umbrella Academy.” His coming out is a clear win for visibility.

Some parents said they were most grateful that Page devoted much of his statement to highlighting the rampant and underreported violence faced by many trans and gender non-conforming people ― especially Black and Latinx trans women.

“Thank you, Elliot,” said Daisy C., an owner of a dog boarding business in Miami, in a reply to Page’s tweet. “My daughter is trans, and the constant reminder of how her life can immediately be altered by some hate filled, ignorant individual worries a mother to no end but I stay positive for her.”

In an interview with HuffPost, Daisy, who asked to use her first name only to protect her family’s privacy, said she saw Page’s coming out as a teachable moment for parents of trans kids. Her own daughter came out as trans at the age of 26.

“My immediate reaction was that of absolute calm, which is what I recommend all parents do,” she said. “As my (now) daughter was trembling when she was talking to me, I think my calmness made all the difference.”

Of course, not every parent or relative of a transgender person will respond with as much grace or collectedness.

“I had to aid her in telling her father, who took it hard, but I insisted he better look within and find the support for her that she needs, as it was so brave of her to come out,” she said. “I would not change a thing about how I approached this.”

“Don’t ask ‘Are you sure?’ or ‘How do you know?’ Trust that they’ve done the necessary interior work to arrive at this point.”

Parents and close relatives play a vital role in helping someone transitioning, said Alexis Bleich, a social worker and the clinical director of Kip Therapy, a New York City therapy group specializing in gender, sexual and racial identities.

“Coming out, or choosing to share parts of our identity, is a really vulnerable step to take,” she said. “The person is likely feeling a variety of intense emotions ― fear, excitement, anxiety ― and you can help them to feel safe and reassured just by thanking them for sharing with you.”

There’s a lot to delve into when it comes to how to best support a trans and gender non-conforming person who’s just come out to you. Below, parents of trans kids, as well as Bleich and other therapists who specialize in gender issues, share their best advice on how to be present and supportive.

Listen with empathy and keep your judgment at bay.

Coming out as transgender takes courage. When someone shares their experience with you, your primary job is to listen openly and without judgment. You don’t have to understand the nuances of a person’s transgender identity to respect it or show your family member the same baseline respect you would otherwise.

They’re in the driver’s seat here, so follow their lead, said Jay Bettergarcia, a psychologist who works with the LGBTQ+ community and is an assistant professor at California Polytechnic State University.

“Do they want to tell you and move on quickly? Great! Move on,” they said. “Maybe they really want to tell you their story of coming out to know themselves and process it all with you? Great! Sit back and listen. Perhaps what they really want is to be reassured that you will love them no matter what? Great! Provide reassurance and support.”

This news may come as a surprise to you or be hard to wrap your head around, but try to be what they need in this moment, Bettergarcia said.

“Trust what they’re telling you, believe that their identity is valid and real, and show them your unconditional love and support.”

“Trust what they’re telling you, believe that their identity is valid and real, and show them your unconditional love and support,” Bettergarcia said.

Don’t make it about you. (And if you have doubts or confusion, keep those to yourself.)

Don’t bring up your fears, your doubts, or your thoughts on J.K. Rowling’s seemingly never-ending anti-transgender rants. You’re entitled to feel all those things, but remember: Your family member only has one opportunity to come out to you.

This isn’t the time to get into the weeds about your thoughts on gender identity or ask your loved one to help you process your feelings. Keep the focus on them, said Louise Futcher, a genderqueer therapist working online and in London.

“This guideline especially applies to any thoughts you have … whether trans is valid or ‘a phase’ the person is going through because they were influenced by friends or people on the internet,” she said. “Views like these are very harmful.”

Don’t ask “Are you sure?” or “How do you know?” Trust that they’ve done the necessary interior work to arrive at this point. Don’t challenge them on their identity using “evidence” from their childhood, either. (For example, don’t tell a trans man, “but you weren’t even a tomboy growing up.” It’s not relevant and that’s not how it works.)

“Gender is not black and white, rigid or static,” Futcher said.

Another thing worth noting: Try not to minimize their coming out with phrases such as “I don’t care what you are” or “it really doesn’t matter to me.”

While well-intentioned, these statements trivialize a part of a person’s identity and their struggle, and can make them feel as though they don’t matter, Futcher said.

Learn their pronouns and chosen name and make an effort to get them right. (If you slip up, just apologize.)

Don’t overcomplicate pronouns ― it’s as easy and simple as calling someone what they want to be called ― and don’t dismiss them, either. Don’t say things like “she is now a he.” Simply say “he” and “him” and leave it at that.

If your family member has shared their chosen name and pronouns, do them the courtesy of using them. Avoid using their legal name or their “deadname.”

If they haven’t shared their pronouns, ask what they want. (Stay clear of the phrase “preferred pronouns.” It suggests someone’s “true” gender is their assigned gender and that they “prefer” something different.)

“Actively avoiding talking about gender or any gender-related things with your loved one for fear of making mistakes can also work against building a stronger relationship.”

– Ren Lee, staff therapist at Kip Therapy in New York

For some, these pronouns are static, but for others, including some nonbinary or gender-fluid people, they may fluctuate over time, Bettergarcia said.

“Some people choose to use he/him/his or she/her/hers while others may feel most comfortable with gender-inclusive pronouns like they/them/their,” they said. “Whatever the pronouns are, practice using these by yourself, in your head, and with others (if the person is out to those people). Practicing over and over can make it easier to switch pronouns and avoid misgendering your family member.”

And it will take some practice. Tia, an Australian mom whose son came out as trans at age 15 this year, said that patience is paramount when it comes to pronouns; there will be times when you slip up, even when you’re making a genuine effort to be mindful of them.

“I think everyone in the situation needs patience because the previous pronouns are a habit,” said Tia, who asked to use her first name only for privacy. “In our family, we stopped apologizing whenever we messed up and just correct or remind each other. Same with other family members. Just a gentle ‘he’ when they say ‘she’ does the trick.”

Practice saying your loved one's name and pronouns on your own. It makes it easier to not get it wrong in front of them.

Practice saying your loved one’s name and pronouns on your own. It makes it easier to not get it wrong in front of them.

Don’t ask personal questions you normally wouldn’t anyway.

Avoid any overly personal questions about whether the person plans to medically transition. Also avoid any queries about what this means for their sex lives or sexual orientation (because, really, would you ask your cisgender, heterosexual relative about their sex lives? Way too objectifying and awkward).

“Definitely don’t ask about surgeries, hormones and things like that right off the bat,” said Ren Lee, a staff therapist at Kip Therapy in New York. “Revel in their joy and think about the logistics later.”

Do your own gender homework on your own time.

You no doubt have feelings of your own to work through, but in the immediate moment with your relative, show up for them and center their vulnerability. Learn on your own after you talk, said Renée H. Reopell, an LGBTQ+ supportive psychotherapist.

“Before asking your family member questions, consider if this answer could be found on Google or through other means of self-education,” they said. “It is emotional labor for trans and nonbinary folx to educate others.”

Gender identity, expression and constructs vary across cultures and over history. Delve into learning. When trans creators have put out so many resources already, there’s no need to put the onus on the nonbinary people in your life to educate you.

Where do you start if you’re fairly in the dark about this stuff or confused about what it means to be gender-fluid, nonbinary, cis, trans or the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation? Bleich and her team at Kip Therapy recommend visiting The Gender Unicorn to start familiarizing yourself with new vocabulary and a nonbinary way of thinking.

The National Center for Transgender Equality has a lot of great resources as well, and GLAAD has some helpful tips on how to be a good ally.

When someone shares that they are transgender, your primary job is to listen openly and without judgment.

When someone shares that they are transgender, your primary job is to listen openly and without judgment.

Let your loved one share this news at their own speed, with whomever they feel safe with.

While you may be beaming with pride that your relative was brave enough to come out, don’t forget: This is ultimately their story to tell. It’s as personal as it gets. Unless you’ve been explicitly asked, no need to start spreading the news.

“Treat this disclosure with reverence, dignity, and respect,” Reopell said. “This information is theirs, and belongs to them, so sharing that requires consent on their part.”

When in doubt, ask. It’s better to ask than make an assumption you may end up regretting. Kirren Summers, a dad in Rochester, England, learned that the hard way when his 13-year-old son came out as trans six years ago.

“My advice to parents is to not be too much of a cheerleader,” he said. “I got so wrapped up in the world of transgender and wanted to show how proud I was of him that I didn’t realize that I was ‘outing him’ to the world at large before he was ready.”

“I’d suggest that you should go at their pace, let them dictate when they are ready to let people know,” he said.

Don’t go silent after having this conversation.

Overall, don’t let your fear of messing up ― with pronouns, with the nitty-gritty nuances about gender identity ― keep you from having open, honest and ongoing conversations with your loved one. (Of course, if they’d rather not talk about it anymore, that’s their prerogative, too!)

Be active in supporting them. Correct others who mess up so that the pressure isn’t just on your family member, Lee said.

“Silence isn’t the answer,” they said. “Actively avoiding talking about gender or any gender-related things with your loved one for fear of making mistakes can also work against building a stronger relationship with them and can lead to them feeling unable to bring it up.”

And if you’re ever at a loss for what to say, keep it simple: Just ask them what else they might need from you.

“Do they need help talking to other family or friends? Do they need a hug or just to know that you support them?” Lee said. “Ask with compassion and curiosity. Let your loved one know their safety and happiness is a priority for you and that you are there for them, however they might need.”

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