Helping Others on Their Paths
When our family members and friends come out, it also gives us the freedom to come out as allies, and the opportunity to positively influence the opinions of others. By acknowledging their importance to us, and our support of them, we lead by example, showing those who have not had contact with the LGBT+ community that they are just like anyone else, with the same need to love and be loved and accepted.
My wonderful son Michael is gay, and has been out for several years, so I’m quite familiar with having ‘the conversation’ with friends and family. Mostly those chats have gone well, but I’ve also endured many judgmental comments such as “that just isn’t compatible with my values” and “I don’t agree with that lifestyle” and my favorite, “well, God says it’s a sin, but all of us are sinners,” which I believe was meant in good will and was truly supposed to make me feel ‘better’ about the situation. Over time, I’ve learned to respond to these types of insensitive comments by saying that I respect the equality and human rights of all people.
A couple of years ago, a close family member came out to me as a transgender woman in transition. Eveline was not yet ready to share with many others at that time, so I of course kept her status to myself and only discussed it with other close family members that she had also shared with.
Mostly, I think people really don’t know how to react, because it’s usually the first time they have had direct experience with knowing someone who has transitioned. I respond to their deep confusion and questions as best I can, suggesting they do their own transgender research and always encouraging them to talk to Eveline directly.
Eveline recently accomplished some major milestones in her transition, including a legal name change (first, middle, and last) and has come out to everyone: work, family, and friends. She has said that she is happy for me to discuss her situation with any mutual friends and family who approach me on the topic. Since then, several people have approached me, and those discussions are always interesting.
Many are not ready to do that, however; they first want the inside story of how this all came about: when she first decided to transition, whether she’s felt this way since childhood, how long I’ve known about it, etc. Since Eveline is in her late 50s, you can imagine their initial distress and confusion, some having known her as a man all of her life or possibly for many decades.
The experience of being transgender is still misunderstood among the general public. Shows such as “Orange is the New Black” and “Transparent” are helping to educate people, but many still don’t realize that—just like the others in the LGBT+ community—they encounter transgender people in their everyday lives: their banker, grocer, neighbor, co-worker, family they have known all of their life, and even long-time friends or acquaintances.
As allies, we have a wonderful opportunity if we are willing to accept the challenge: we can help our interested friends and family with their transitions to a better understanding of what transgender really means, and assist them on their path to acceptance.
Here are some links that have been recommended to me by transgender people and allies, for those who want to understand definitions and language, tap into multiple learning and support resources, clarify common misconceptions, and read transgender news stories:
- Transgender Support – PFLAG
- GLAAD Media Reference Guide – Transgender Issues
- Huffington Post Transgender News
No doubt you will encounter other useful information during your own research.
By partnering with the LGBT+ community, we each do our small part to make the world a safer place for our loved ones.