How can I support my friend who just came out as trans?

Q:My boyfriend just came out as trans! While I am super excited for him, I don't think his family or school will be very accepting.  How can I support him though this?


A:I love this question.  It is so uplifting and sweet that you are both supportive and excited for your boyfriend!  To me, this shows that you have seen how important this transition is for him, and are willing to dive into the complexities of this transition.


The first thing you can do is educate yourself on trans issues, even if you feel like you already know a lot.  Read blogs, articles written by trans people or partners of trans people, connect with PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians, Gays, and Transgender People), and find resources to help you understand the big wide world of gender identity.  Yet remember, no matter how much research you do, your boyfriend's experience and identity is his own, and might not match anything you read! He is still the expert on his own identity, and all your research is to help YOU understand the bigger picture of gender, language around gender, ways you can support him if he wants, and ways to educate others.


The biggest thing you can do is ask your boyfriend how you can support him! This will change over time and in different situations, so it should be an ongoing conversation. Always take his lead, and never assume anything without his consent.  The process of coming out as trans evolves over time, so be patient, be compassionate, and be ready to follow his lead - even if what he wants changes.  Talk to him on a regular basis about the role he wants you to play, and be in touch with yourself about what feels right for you to be doing.  Does he want you to correct people if they mis-pronoun him?  How does he want you to do that? Is that something you are comfortable with?  Does he want you to call him by different pronouns around different people?  For example, if he is not out to his parents yet, maybe he still might want to use his previous pronouns around them?  Are you able to switch pronouns in different situations like that?  It is important to never “out” him without his permission, so be in communication with him about how you can help find the balance between his safety, his identity, and your ability to be a support.


Another thing you can do is think about how you can help make the environments he is in safer for him and other trans people.  You probably do not have much control over his home life, but you might be able to have some positive influence over school, work, social environments, and even the streets he walks on.  Call out transphobic language or jokes when you hear them.  Explain to people why that language is hurtful, but do not talk about your boyfriend without his permission.  Educate yourself on the rights of trans students at your school, and see if your school is abiding by those policies.  Can you help find bathrooms in school or around town that are gender-neutral or single-stalled?  Ask your boyfriend if he feels safe walking outside by himself, if he would like a buddy more often, or to call you when he gets places.  However, if at any point your extra visibility is making him feel unsafe, be prepared to step back.


Make sure you have the support you need in this process! Does your school have a Gay Straight Alliance or Questioning Straight Alliance? Do you know anyone else who is dating a trans person you could talk with?  Come talk with us at OUT, allies are always welcome, and we have lots of experience supporting trans people!  


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