Tuesday, December 12, 2017

How to react when your friend or loved one comes out as transgender: A PSA

On behalf of all my trans friends, and the global trans community, I am making a PSA on how to react when your friend or loved one comes out as transgender. Because I have heard stories, and it's clear ya'll cisgender have no clue what you're doing.

There is a world if difference between how cisgender and transgender people react to the news that someone is coming out as trans.

Transgender people say stuff like:

"That's so exciting!"
"I'm so happy for you!"
"Oh my god, finally. Kidding, that's awesome!"

Cisgender people say stuff like:

"I'm so proud of you."
"I accept you."
"I support you."
"That's okay."
"I still love you."
"You're still the same person to me."

Now, its clear that cisgender people 1) mean well and 2) are surprised. However, these responses are a bit grim. Despite their intended positivity, they reek of negative overtones. Mostly because they are statements that SHOULD be a given.

If you say you support someone who is trans, it implies there was a chance you wouldn't. If you say you still love someone who is trans, it implies there was a chance you wouldn't. And, quite frankly, if there was a chance you weren't going to love said trans person after they had come out, they probably wouldn't have come out to you at all. They would have held you a 'fuck off' party, with banners telling you where to shove your opinion.

'I'm so proud of you' is, well, its as patronising as shit. Same with 'That's okay." Trust me, no one was asking your permission.

'You're the same person to me' is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, its saying 'I'm not going to be a raging sexist and treat you differently'. And on the other, your trans friend is thinking: "But you're going to use my correct pronouns, right? Cause I'm not afraid to slap you."

When someone is coming out as trans, they are not asking your permission or looking for praise. They may not even want your support. Primarily, they are telling you for one specific reason: So you can address them by the correct gender pronouns in the future.

Coming out as transgender is exactly like winning the lottery. It’s the best thing that has EVER happened. Its freeing, it's exciting, it’s a bone-deep relief. However, there is also a niggling fear that everyone is going to turn on you and demand money, that this lottery win is going to turn into a fight and reduce any previous harmony into a squabbling mess.

Treat someone refusing to use someone else's correct pronouns like someone who is refusing to deal with people unless they give them money. Imagine if you won the lottery and suddenly your friends and family refused to talk to you unless you paid them? Yeah. Exactly. If you see someone else refusing to use correct pronouns, treat them with the same distain. Tell them its not cool, its petty and cowardly and lazy and they need to grow the fuck up.

It doesn't matter if you don't believe in playing the lotto. Just don't play. It doesn't entitle you to other people's money. Likewise, you aren't entitled to have an opinion on other people's gender. If you can't use correct pronouns, its reasonable for them to cut you out of your life, because you are being a complete sociopath.

So, assuming you aren't an asshole, you might be wondering how you SHOULD react. Take all your direction from trans people. This is exciting, it is a joyful thing to be celebrated. (Also, try for ten damn seconds not to make it about you and your feelings.) Practise the following:

"That's so exciting!"
"I'm so happy for you!"
"Oh my god, finally. Kidding, that's awesome!"

Next, of course, come the questions. You are going to have questions and that is natural. Some are okay, and some are not okay. DO NOT ask about surgery, its none of your business. If you are close to someone, you might be able to ask IF they are going to start hormones, you may not ask WHEN, since thy may not plan, or be able to, take any.

You can ask when someone realised they were trans, however it does sound like you're about to start a debate, so tread carefully and don't be surprised if you see wariness. It might be worth asking their pronouns, as if they are gender queer, they may be using alternatives to he/she.

Also, its not your transgender friend's job to educate you on all things trans. You have a phone or a laptop. Google that shit.

So, what can you talk about? Well, I've yet to meet a transgender person who doesn't like talking about their new clothes. Transgender girls might be excited to talk about makeup with you if you are also a girl. It might be nice for you to offer to take them shopping, or to do things that are gender coded (eg: girls sleep over, coming over to watch 'the game' with the boys).

The biggest, kindest, most important thing you must do is think before you speak. Using your friend's correct gender will become second nature eventually, but for a little while its going to be like a chipped tooth: weird and frustrating.

Also, when you get it wrong, just say: "Sorry, I mean X." and continue. Don't make a big fuss. Don't apologise profusely. Don't make excuses. You made a small mistake, you corrected it. Move on. Please do the same if you are corrected by someone. Say: "Sorry, yes, X." and continue talking as normal.

So, there it is, people. Your guide to other people coming out trans. You have no excuse not to get this right from here on out.

Honestly, the most important thing to remember is that your friend is happier now. They were suffering before, in silence and solitude, and now they are beginning to strip that pain away. Treat it as the good news it is.