Gender is not as black and white as many people think. There is a growing acceptance that gender exists on a spectrum, not a binary, where people fall into one category or the other. However, people who are questioning their gender face adversity that cisgender people (those who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth) don’t consider or are aware of. If someone you love is considering their gender identity, there are lots of ways you can be there for them throughout the process. Read on to learn how to show gender identity support to a friend or family member who is questioning their gender.
Don’t put the responsibility of teaching you about gender on your loved one; take the initiative to educate yourself. There are plenty of online resources to help you learn more about gender identity and the challenges nonbinary and trans people face every day. Here are a few resources to help you get started:
- PFLAG, one of the largest organizations for LGBTQ+ individuals and their supporters, has an excellent glossary of terms related to gender and sexuality.
- The National Center for Transgender Equality has a lot of great information online about the issues trans and nonbinary people face and more.
- TransPulse provides a valuable database of trans-friendly businesses and medical professionals, as well as forums for trans people and their allies.
- GLAAD has an excellent guide for allies of transgender people.
- Gender Spectrum is not only home to myriad helpful online resources, but it also hosts support groups for teens questioning their gender and their family members.
- Transgender Map is one of the most expansive resources online for people who are trans and their supporters. You could spend hours browsing the site, learning more about all the steps of the transition process and ways you can support your loved one.
During conversations, your goal should be to make the other person feel safe and comfortable speaking openly about their gender. You don’t want to make them feel like they’re being interrogated or pressured to share more than they want to. Instead, listen and focus on showing your respect and appreciation that they chose you to talk to. One of the first things you should say is, “thank you for telling me.” Saying this shows how much you value their trust and may encourage them to be comfortable sharing more.
The journey of questioning gender is not always straightforward, and there’s no need to rush from one identity to another. Encourage your loved one to take as much time as they need to explore their gender identity and gender expression to learn as much about themselves as possible. And let them know that you’ll be there to support them no matter the outcome of their journey.
Remember, this is a fairly new experience for both of you; making mistakes and learning from them is all part of the process. Nobody knows all the right things to say. Your friend or family member doesn’t need you to be perfect; they just need you to be there for them. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, just be sure to do so respectfully. Ask if they have a different name or pronouns that they’d like you to use and whether they’d like you to correct others who misgender them.
It also helps to ask them directly how you can best support them. They may need someone to listen while they vent, a shopping buddy to help pick out gender-affirming clothes, or, if they’re thinking about gender reassignment surgery, assistance finding quality healthcare professionals. It all depends on their current situation. No matter what they need, though, make sure they know that they have your full support.
If you know someone who is questioning their gender identity, it’s key to be as open and respectful as possible. Try to learn as much about what they’re going through as you can so you can support them from a place of understanding. Listen to what they’re saying, be appreciative of their trust, and respect this new journey they’re embarking on. Ask them what they need to feel fully supported while they’re exploring their gender, and most importantly, let them know that you’ll love and be an advocate for them no matter what conclusion they reach.
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