top of page

So, someone you know has come out as transgender.

Updated: Nov 2, 2021

By Heather Branham

Lots of young people found themselves in a period of self reflection over quarantine, and with kids these days just getting queerer and queerer, it's best to understand how to treat them when they come out. This goes for anyone who has come to the decision to come out, no matter their age. As a new wave of transgender people has arisen through the deep, contemplative moments of quarantine, it might be hard for the average person who is unfamiliar with trans issues. This isn’t simply a quarantine issue, since 2018, more and more teens have been coming out as transgender. The ideas behind what it means to be trans has varied greatly over the years, the main discourse within the genderqueer community within this decade is the arguments for and against transmedicalism; the belief that a person needs to have gender dysphoria to be trans. For all intents and purposes of this essay, transmedicalist beliefs will not be supported, as it invalidates anyone who isn’t on the binary trans spectrum, and fails to include non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals. Transmedicalist arguments have greatly fueled a conservative shift in the trans community and the othering of gender non-conforming members of the community. So, this is the ultimate guide to coming out on the other end of the spectrum: how to be a supportive and professional ally.

To begin, some ground rules for greeting someone who has come out to you- no matter their gender identity. These rules are generally set for every member of the trans community. The goal for this essay is to effectively and contritely communicate how to treat transgendered individuals after they come out to you, a difficult and highly important decision. It consists of general information and a look into some more complex societal issues that trans people face in pursuit of a better understanding of trans issues from cisgendered people’s perspectives. Yes, preferences may vary, but as a general rule, unless the person in question says otherwise, follow this advice to make them feel comfortable and respected. In coming out to you, they are displaying a tremendous amount of trust in you as a peer.

Basic Rules and Procedures

Firstly, use their correct name and pronouns no matter the circumstance. The name a trans person had used before, or the name they were given at birth, is someone’s deadname. It doesn’t matter the context, you never refer to a trans person as their deadname. Same thing goes for their former pronouns. Using someone’s proper name and pronouns has been proven to aid in lowering suicide rates in teenagers. It is not only a sign of respect, but a signal that you as an individual care about your trans friend’s or family member’s health. Mental health is still a kind of health, emotional support is essential in a tumultuous time. One cannot stress this rule enough, nothing says “I don’t believe you” like refusing to use the name and pronouns that your loved one has fought so hard to give to themselves. Comments such as “he was [deadname] and now he’s Brian” are also rude, as they not only out the person you are talking about, but you refer to them by their deadname. Extended by this rule, outing people as trans is considered a bad move- it is not your job to let other people know your loved one is trans, that’s their job. Make sure to ask about boundaries involving outing with your peer, and how you may refer to them when speaking to people who may not be aware of their identity.

Secondly, don’t second guess them. No comments about whether or not “your sure,” no alleging that their coming out is a publicity stunt, or if their gender identity is an outcome of body dysmorphia or “stereotypical” insecurities. These kinds of beliefs are more common online these days. Terms like “transtrender” popularized by Kalvin Garrah, a prominent transmedicalist Youtuber, are used to negate trans people’s feelings and dismiss them as a cry for attention as being transgender has turned into a “trend.”

Finally, as a precautionary measure and if they’re comfortable with it, ask them as many questions as you need. This point is mainly about personal preference, because every trans person is different when it comes to the specifics of their identity. Asking questions is a great way to show your compassion towards their preferences and boundaries. As a general rule, don’t ask a transgender person a question you wouldn’t ask a cancer patient. “What kinds of surgery are you getting?” Would you ask that question to someone who has been diagnosed with prostate cancer? “Do they have to cut it off?” Why would you ask anyone that question when it’s incredibly invasive? “What treatments will you be seeking?” Unless you plan on aiding them in their treatments and require that information, it’s none of your business.

The Specifics

In this portion, the discussion of gender-based specifics will be discussed. Some people under the umbrella term of “transgender” have varied experiences in conjunction with the societal expectations and standards they face. The experiences of a trans woman will be very different from a non-binary person, trans man, or genderfluid person. This section is about more nuanced perspectives of the trans experience.

Transgender Women

Brayla Stone

2020 was the worst year in recorded history in terms of hate crimes against trans people. 44 transgender people were killed in a hate crime or hate-related violence that year. Out of the 44 victims, 38 were trans women. Topics like violence may be touchy as this astonishing murder rate contributes to a large stigma against trans women. Trans women are frequently subject to violence due to an idea perpetuated by toxic masculinity. These individuals view trans women as men in disguise and threats to their sexuality. This stigma against trans women extends past personal prejudice and into our laws. As of March of 2021, only 13 states in the U.S have banned the use of “gay” or “trans panic” defenses . “Trans panic” defenses are used in a court of law as a way to levy homicide charges against perpetrators of hate crimes that take place after sexual encounters with trans or gay individuals- usually trans women. These defenses reach outside of American jurisdiction as the same defense was used to lessen the sentence given to American marine, Joseph Scott Pemberton, for killing a trans women he had an encounter with in the Philippines. To understand the many struggles trans women face, understanding their vulnerability is essential.

Non-Binary and Gender Nonconforming Individuals

Zapotec 3rd Gender Muxe

Gender nonconforming people are subject to the most discourse in the trans community. Whether or not they should be included under the transgender umbrella is widely debated, but as people who fall outside of gender conformity are often grouped in with trans folks, they will be included in this section. Non-binary trans people are often seen as invalid or deemed as fake. This is because failing outside of the gender binary is considered a fairly new idea, but it might be surprising to know that third or separate genders aren’t a new concept in anthropology. From Mexico to Oman to Japan, third genders were quite common in pre colonial cultures. Second guessing their gender identities because they are fairly new in American culture will naturally makes non-binary and gender non-conforming people feel unwelcome and demeaned. Referring to a gender nonconforming person as an “it” is considered highly rude unless specified otherwise. Non-binary people do not need to present androgynously to be considered non-binary. Being non-binary isn’t a “third gender,” it’s simply existing outside of the gender spectrum. They are not male or female, not the middle, not towards one or another side of the gender spectrum, non-binary people are separate from it entirely.