Picture this: your guy friend says that he wants to talk to you, so you invite him over. He’s noticeably nervous, and you know that something must be on his mind. You ask him to sit down on your plush comforter, as he struggles to get every word out, refusing to make eye contact with you. Between every sentence is a silence that hangs in the air, saturating your room until your ears ring and all you can focus on are the fairy lights frosting the walls near the ceiling. He plays with the hem on his shirt, hands clammy with his stare pointed directly at the shag carpet on the floor. When you extend your hand to place it on his shoulder, he almost jerks away, but lets you rest it there gingerly. You can’t see clearly, but it seems like he’s on the verge of tears, stammering as he finally says quietly:
“I- I think I might not be a boy… I think I’m... a girl.”
For some, this may be a predictable response. Maybe you always saw that her eyes would light up when her girl friends suggested that they “put him in drag.” And then, the twinkle in her eyes would vanish when all her friends just said it was funny because of how manly she looked (I used this method as my outlet for femininity for some time). Or, maybe this was a complete shock, and you never noticed the signs, and you were one of the people that told her she’d never understand what it means to be a girl. What matters more is the now and how you help her during this period regardless of what you did in the past.
It takes a ton of strength and vulnerability as a transfeminine person to come out to their friends. It’s already difficult enough to be traditionally feminine or at least perceived as a cisgender girl, but for a transgender girl or transfeminine person, the discrimination can be twofold, especially if they don’t pass as female. At this point in her life, a trans girl needs a feminine bond the most. A strong support system can mean the world to someone who’s basically starting their life over. Lucky for her, she has you!
Here are a couple ways that you can be a great ally to your transfeminine friend (binary or not!), and help them blossom into the person they were always meant to be.
Don’t fret over mistakes
When someone first explores their gender, they could change names and/or pronouns tons of times, since the process can be confusing (trust me- I second guess my pronouns every day). It can be confusing for friends as well, and at some point you’re bound to make a mistake. That’s okay. It’s just important not to make a fuss about it. Don’t apologize a thousand times or highlight the mistake because that will draw more attention to it. Instead, just correct yourself quickly, apologize, and then be sure to be more conscious of your language. It’s as simple as “he- I mean, she…”
Advocate for them, whether or not they’re there
This tip depends on how out your friend is. If they only ask you specifically to use pronouns besides he/him, and ask you to keep it a secret, don’t correct anyone else if they use he/him pronouns, as that may put them in a dangerous situation later. However, if your friend is out and people use transphobic rhetoric or the wrong pronouns, you could/should call them out! It doesn’t have to be rudely (unless they’re being blatantly transphobic, then by all means, go off), but just drawing attention to the language others use may make them more aware of using the correct pronouns. If your friend tells you how much they want you to correct others, be their advocate and back them up as much as possible!
Remember that you don’t need to understand
As someone who is cisgender, you might not understand your friend’s journey. That’s also okay! You don’t need to understand to give them the help they need. What’s most important is that you try to be receptive and listen to their experiences and worries. If you feel that you need to know more, try reading online resources from international, national, and local LGBTQ+ organizations (like this list from GLAAD!) and the stories of other trans people on platforms like Twitter and Instagram. Encourage them to meet other trans people online or in real life to have support that understands what they’re going through.
Be an outlet for expression
Unfortunately, many trans people do not receive any support from their families. If your friend hasn’t come out to their family, it can be really hard to be able to experiment with clothes and makeup at home. One of the best things you can offer is a sanctuary where they can experiment with makeup, clothes, and anything else they can’t try at home. If you are not the same clothing size, you can take them thrifting and keep all of their great finds at your house. Make it fun and comfortable- do what you would with any other girl. If you think they’d appreciate being gassed up (I know I would!), make a bigger deal out of it!! If you wear makeup, you can also try out different looks on each other to help them with their makeup skills, or just be their canvas.
Be flexible with pronouns
When someone first starts their transition, figuring out their gender can be like the ground disappearing from under them. Gender implicitly defines a lot of aspects of your life, like what you label your sexuality, how you’re treated by different people, and more. This can lead to a lot of confusion and a lot of pronoun-switching. One of the most discouraging things for a trans person is when you don’t use their correct pronouns. It’s like when someone calls you your birth name after you explicitly tell them to call you a different nickname, but 1000 times worse (coming from a trans person who also uses a nickname, both are not fun). When the majority of people don’t use their correct pronouns, you can make a world of a difference by using them. These might change- sometimes from week to week or day to day. While it may be confusing and you may make mistakes, putting your best effort into getting them right gives your friend the respect they deserve.
Donate to trans people/organizations
If your friend encourages you to donate to an organization, that’s great! It might do just as good to give them the money directly, too. Transitioning can include costs like a new wardrobe, housing costs (if evicted forcibly or if they feel unsafe at home), hormones (with or without insurance), and a whole slew of surgeries and procedures. You could donate to healthcare organizations like Planned Parenthood, other family planning organizations, or transgender housing organizations.You can also, as many trans people seem to prefer, send money directly via their Cash App or Venmo. Share any GoFundMes or other campaigns they create, and share other trans people’s as well (especially trans POC!) to show your support for the community at large.
Know your limits
Transitioning can be an extremely hard process, and it can seriously take a mental toll. You’ll want to be there for your friend, whether it be to supply a quick pick-me-up text or to answer the late night teary FaceTimes. However, there are just some things that you can’t do, and that’s ok. Unless you’re a licensed therapist or counselor, there are some issues that you’re not equipped to solve. A good ally knows their strengths and weaknesses and when a professional should be involved. Encourage them to find a gender therapist that makes them feel comfortable- someone who does not try to pigeonhole their identity or gate keep their healthcare, like hormone replacement therapy. Find resources online for the things that you aren’t able to give your friend. If you can’t donate, that’s ok as well- just bringing as much emotional support to the table as you can is great. Whatever you can do to ease the burden will help immensely.
To sum it all up…
Overall, just be there for your friend! Transitioning can be scary as hell, especially when you’re transfeminine. People will stare, people will laugh, and you can feel like there’s nobody in your corner. Especially with the rise of a more restrictive and ass-backwards regime, LGBTQ+ rights are in jeopardy. Trans people have already done the majority of the fighting; those such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera advocated tirelessly for trans acceptance and rights, as well as others who have paved the way for anti-discrimination laws. As an ally, you can make your friend’s life so much easier by just being there and fighting with them. It’s a hard, long road to transition, whether it be socially, physically, or both, and having someone who’s just willing to listen and help out can be one of the most important things for someone going through those monumental changes. Without my friends, I probably would not have gotten the courage to do half the things I’ve done. Whether you have a transfeminine friend, family member, peer, classmate, or coworker (or even if you personally do not), advocate for trans people and listen to their experiences!