Jo Ivester says to listen and recognize the uniqueness of every journey.
Our son is transgender. We welcomed him into the world 26 years ago as a daughter, but he is now our son. What does that mean? Three years ago he had surgery to give himself a more masculine body.
Two years ago he began hormone treatment, which led to male puberty.
He changed his name from Emily to Jeremy and asked that we use male pronouns. We are proud of him and love him.
As the parent of a transgender man, I am sometimes asked for advice. I offer the following as a way to help others who have someone trans in their lives.
- Know that your transgender friend or family member is an individual, not just a representative of the transgender community. He or she is the same person as before transitioning. Whatever you talked about before will still interest him or her afterwards. They may or may not be politically active in the LGBT community. They may be open about being transgender or they may want to simply live their life as the gender as which they identify. Take your lead from your friend or loved one.
- Listen with an open mind and heart. You won’t know how to best support your child or friend or brother or sister or parent if you don’t listen, and do so in a non-judgmental manner. Someone transitioning is on a journey that requires tremendous courage. Respect that and believe that your friend or loved one is trying their best to guide you as to what they need from you. Know that this will get easier over time.
- Use whatever name and pronoun is requested. A transgender individual will have spent a lot of time and emotional energy deciding on a new name and the pronouns to use. Don’t worry if the pronouns aren’t familiar to you or if they don’t sound grammatically correct. Don’t worry if you make mistakes; my son only gets annoyed when someone calls him by his old name if he feels as if that person isn’t trying.
- Recognize that everyone’s journey is different. Many articles have been written about children who have known from the time they were toddlers that they were a different gender from how the one identified for them at birth. Some people don’t figure things out until much later and their journeys don’t follow a straight line. There is no one right way to be transgender.
- Educate yourself. Watch videos. Read books. Explore articles on the Internet. More resources appear every day and they can be a tremendous help. Ask your transgender friend or family member what websites they found to be most helpful and then visit those yourself. Likely you will find stories similar to your own.
- Become a part of an LGBTQ/ally community. You are not alone. There are some wonderful groups of people who have been fighting for LGBTQ rights for a long time and are extraordinarily welcoming of friends and family of transgender individuals. Not only will you find that they help you through what could be a difficult journey, you will also find that you make some new friends.
- Express support – strongly and frequently. Transgender children are among the most bullied in our schools. Trans teenagers often suffer from depression and over 40 percent have attempted suicide. Transgender adults are all too often the targets of hatred and violence. This is a difficult path. Nobody follows it lightly; they do so because it is who they are. Expressing your love and support can go a long way toward making things easier. And, if your trans friend or loved one has gone public, speak up openly to show your acceptance. Every time we share our stories about the transgender people we care about, we build awareness. Hopefully, with that awareness will come greater acceptance.
- Be joyful. The journey, although hard in some ways, will also be filled with joy. I will not pretend that there aren’t difficult moments, that in some ways, I grieved for the loss of my daughter. But the joyous times are many. The realization that I’d had a son all along. The pride when I recognized the courage my son demonstrates every single day. The love that I feel for him. The incredible happiness that my son’s transition has brought to him. When he looked over this article for me, his response was, “I’m glad that you ended with ‘Be joyful.’ Transitioning is the most affirming thing a person can do. While scary, allowing yourself to be one hundred percent yourself is joyful indeed.”
Jo Ivester is the author of the recently published, award-winning memoir, The Outskirts of Hope, the story of her family’s time living in an all-black town in Mississippi during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. She has recently completed a national book tour and was featured on NPR’s show, Author’s Corner. She is now working on a new book, focusing on her transgender son.