3 Impactful Ways to Support a Transgender Loved One
May 14, 2018

There might not be a more difficult path in life than that of a transgender person. Often ostracized in mainstream society, many endure a lifetime of abuse (mental, physical, and sexual), not because the gender they have been assigned at birth does not match who they are, but because our society lacks understanding and education about gender and gender identity.

There might not be a more difficult path in life than that of a transgender person. Often ostracized in mainstream society, many endure a lifetime of abuse (mental, physical, and sexual), not because the gender they have been assigned at birth does not match who they are, but because our society lacks understanding and education about gender and gender identity.  For some who are cis-gender, it can cause discrepancies in their own belief system of how someone’s gender expression should match their assigned gender at birth.  This stems from our society’s stereotypical gender norms. 

In a lot of ways, the transgender population has the deck stacked against them from the start when their family does not accept them.  As children, their personal insights are often discounted and dismissed as ‘a phase’ and more times than not, they are regularly assaulted both verbally and physically by peers and adults.  As they grow up, they are prone to emotional illness like depression and anxiety; and they’re more likely to make dangerous, desperate decisions like running away from home, alcoholism, drug abuse, and sometimes prostitution.  Transgender people are more likely to be legally discriminated against in the workplace, in public spaces, and denied housing.  Suicidal ideation is ranked among the highest, within the transgender community. A 2016 USA Today online article* states “41% try to kill themselves at some point in their lives, compared with 4.6% of the general public”. Additionally, evidence suggests many (trans) suicide attempts go unrecorded so the actual percentage is likely even higher.

It doesn’t have to be all bad news. To some degree, societal taboos associated with being transgender seem to have (slightly) lessened in the last few years. Despite their polarity, mainstream athletes and celebrities like Chaz Bono, Kaitlyn Jenner, and Laverne Cox have come out as trans and received considerable attention in the process. Few would argue the recent inclusion of trans men and women in mainstream media isn’t helping to change minds and increase knowledge and awareness of this underrepresented demographic. In fact, this increased awareness is supported by a 2016 HRC online article** on the topic that states “… 35 percent of likely voters in the United States “personally know or work with someone who is transgender.” That's more than double the 17 percent who answered yes when asked the same question in 2014”.

The social stigmas associated with being transgender might be lessening broadly, but for those who are cis-gender, or people who identify as the gender assigned at birth, it can still be difficult to understand and navigate how to accept and love a transgender family member or friend. Regardless of the difficulty, it’s their responsibility to support and advocate for their transgender loved one, so they can feel included and accepted as the person they truly are. Below are 3 impactful ways a cis-gender family member or friend can support a transgender loved one:

  1. Accept them for who they are. Not who you wish they were.
    It might be difficult to accept the fact that transgender people are born this way, but that doesn’t mean people should pass judgment. Given the instances of violence, abuse, and discrimination trans people endure on the regular, cis-gender family and friends should commit to accepting their transgender loved one for who they are. 
  2. Refer to them as their identified gender.
    This one is so simple and means so much to a trans person. Train yourself to use their self-identified name and pronouns when speaking to, about, or interacting with that person and while talking about them to others. This is an opportunity to demonstrate your acceptance of who they are. At a glance, it might seem inconsequential but for a trans person, it can be incredibly validating.
  3. Establish yourself as an unwavering source of support. 
    Given the day-to-day challenges the trans population faces, it’s common for trans people to feel alone and isolated. To combat this, cis-gender family and friends should resolve to serve as an exclusively positive source of support for trans loved ones; demonstrate a vested interest in their life; spend time with them and make yourself available to listen when they are struggling and need help.

If you are struggling to understand and accept a trans loved one for who they are or have any questions about gender and gender identity, contact me directly at the contact information provided below. 

Nick Zielke, LLMSW
The Center for Relationship & Sexual Health
Phone 248-399-7447

* https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/08/16/transgender-individuals-face-high-rates--suicide-attempts/31626633/

**https://www.hrc.org/resources/understanding-the-transgender-community

*** https://www.glaad.org/vote/topics/transgender-people

Download this blog: 3 Impactful Ways to Support a Transgender Loved One

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