I think about gender a lot. Duh. When you’re one of the few people in the world who get to experience living and being treated as both male and female, it’s certainly going to colour the way you see the world, and what you think about.
It’s been particularly intense lately. Next month I’ll have my first anniversary of having come out to the world at large and going full-time, and my brain keeps wandering back to the subject. It really doesn’t seem like it’s been a year, but the calendar does not lie.
Today I’ll be writing about something gender-related, in the hopes writing it out will give my brain a respite from thinking about it constantly.
So, here are my thoughts on things you can do for a friend of yours who recently came out as transgender, provided you want to support them and not shame them for wanting to be happy, of course.
Some of these will apply specifically to people coming out as transgender women (that is MtF, or male-to-female people,) but you can reverse it easily to find stuff to do for trans men. In any case, the most helpful advice will apply for both trangender men and women.
What’s in a Name?
Well, quite a lot, in fact.
f you’ve read my post on how I came to choose the name ‘Liliana’ for myself you’ll have seen just how much thought, time, and effort can go into a trans person choosing their name. What I don’t think I reflected well in that post is how much of your heart and spirit go into it. I always thought the way fantasy stories described heroes pouring themselves into a blade they created was cheesy and ridiculous, but not anymore. My name isn’t just a couple of syllables, it represents who I am, who I really am, and it signifies my pain, struggle, and the strength of my spirit.
Liliana Amanda. Every syllable feels a part of me, and it’s not “just a name.” It IS me, more than my dead name ever was, and more than, I suspect, many cis (that means non-transgender) people’s names mean to them.
Using a transgender person’s name, their true name, shows more love and respect to them than people tend to think. It also makes us happier than you realise. It’s been about two years since the first time someone called me “Lily,” and about 11 months since every new person I meet calls me that, but I still get a little tingle of joy rush through, and I often can’t help but smile.
Hearing my name from the lips of someone I care for feels similar to hugging a friend I haven’t seen in forever. It makes me feel closer to them, and leaves me almost helpless to do anything but love them a little more.
It means a lot to us. It really, really does. Same with pronouns. Sadly, I can count on one hand the number of times my friends have used my real name, or the right pronouns. However, thinking back on those times, even months after, still leaves me smiling.
If you want to be a good friend to someone who came out as trangender, ask them what name they want you to call them by (they might not want their real name to be used, if they’re not out to everyone,) and which pronouns they prefer. It will take time to get used to it and start using them without thinking, but please try.
If you slip, don’t make a big deal. Mutter a quick sorry, then be sure to use the right name.
This might also vary from person to person, but particularly my first few months after coming out, I LOVED hearing my name regardless of context, and I really liked it when a friend found an excuse to call me “Lily.” Instead of “hey,” it’s “hey, Lily.” I could tell it was purposeful, because she didn’t use to call me by my dead name so often before, but it still made me really happy.
Ask your friend if they’d like that, or if they’d rather only hear it naturally.
Finally, make sure to include them in a group of people of their gender. Back in August, some friends invited me to a game night at their house. It was tons of fun, though it was also a bit terrifying, since it was the second time since going full-time that I’d meet in person with people I had known for years.
As enjoyable as the games, food, and company were, the clear highlight of the evening was the final game we played, in which we split off into guys and girls. There were about 6 girls and 7 guys without me, and it felt cosmically right that when I joined the girls team, we made 7-and-7.
We won, of course, and I still feel great thinking back to it, and how it was the first time I felt part of a group of girls.
Be a Bit Sexist
When I say be a bit sexist, I don’t mean dismiss the opinions of your MtF friend as soon as she comes out, or anything like that.
What I do mean is that you can help your friend indulge in vaguely sexist, heteronormative behaviour.
About half a year ago, my best friend and I had a girl’s night, in which we watched Pride and Prejudice together and swooned over Mr. Darcy. It was silly, and I felt a little ridiculous at first, but by the end of the night I had relaxed and was enjoying myself thoroughly. I also felt a lot more comfortable in my femininity after.
See, men are generally raised to avoid femininity like a contagious disease. Everyone, from teachers at school, to parents, to classmates hunts after it in men and makes them feel shame for it. Ridicule, lectures, and abuse conspire to make men, by the time they’re adults, often become allergic to femininity, leading to acute embarrassment whenever they’re exposed to it.
Being able to watch a girly movie with my friend, going shopping with a cousin, going out and getting a mani-pedi for the first time… It all helped to knock down those walls of shame, and give me pride and confidence in my femininity.
I’ve discovered I’m pretty girly so I still do most of those things, but even if I’d been less feminine, I’m sure I would have been grateful for the opportunity to explore what I felt comfortable with, and experience everything for myself.
I’m not sure how it’d translate to FtM (female-to-female) people, but I’d imagine inviting your friend to guy’s night out drinking, or something like that, would be a good start.
Allowing us space and time to explore gender, and coming along with us, encouraging us with friendly support, can mean a lot, and goes a long way towards getting rid of that awful shame.
Gender is a big part of my life.
I’m constantly adjusting to the new reality of my life. After nearly a year now, I’m only just starting to get used to the vastly different way men treat me now. Little things like being excited about braiding my hair for the first time are part of my day-to-day. I still think often about things like how weird it is to have a different face than I did a year ago.
But… I don’t really have people to talk about it with. I’ve never outright talked about being transgender with any of the people I’ve met since going full-time, because I want them to see me as a woman, not as a transgender woman. As for the people I knew before transition… sigh.
Aside from the prominence of my gender transition in my life, regular gender and sexuality is still a normal part of it, like with everyone else. I wear makeup most days, deal with obnoxious men hitting on me, and sometimes get crushes on guys. It’s not a big deal, just part of my life, as it is for plenty of other women.
This kind of thing I’m able to chat with the people I’ve met in the last year, but with people I was friends with before coming out, I really can’t. They get all uncomfortable and make me feel really self-conscious, and I can feel the shame over femininity that I’ve knocked down start to build back up.
I’m sick of talking with friends normally until the second I bring something up that vaguely reminds them I am a woman, when they either hurriedly change the subject, or just disappear. I’ve lost count of how many conversations end the second I mention anything of the sort. It’s awful.
Of every single person I know in the world, there are just two people I feel able to talk to about any of this. There’s my best friend, and someone else who doesn’t mind for whatever reason. That’s all. It’s horrible to have to censor myself with nearly everyone I talk, afraid of feeling like I’ve ruined a pleasant interaction by daring to bring up my life, or the single most important part of my identity to me.
It’s part of why I started this blog. I needed someplace to finally feel free to open my heart and talk without shame and fear haunting me.
Please be there for your friends. Don’t be one of the people who hide the second their identity comes up. Don’t bring it up all the time, but please give them space to talk to you about whatever they need to talk about. Whether it’s curiosity about how their boobs will grow out, excitement when their first beard hair sprouts, or just letting them talk about general girl or guy stuff, be there for them.
Trust me when I say they will love you for it, and it will make a huge, huge difference in their life.
Most of all, just love them. Any transgender friends you have will be starting out on an exciting and terrifying journey. They’ll find reasons for joy but also plenty of pain, and the value of a good friend in both of those times will be immeasurable.
Give them patience as they grow into themselves, a shoulder to cry on when things get tough, and meet them with a smile as they slowly leave the charred ruins of a fake life and start to become who they really are.
Be there. That’s the most important thing.