6 Signs That You Might Not Really Respect Your Transgender Loved One

Originally published on Everyday Feminism.

When I first came out as transgender, I was surprised to find that many people in my life wanted to support me. I received a lot of encouraging words, often from the folks I least expected.

It meant the world to me to be surrounded by people who just wanted me to be myself and be happy! In a society that can often be so hostile towards transgender people, having loved ones in our corner can make all the difference.

But I quickly realized that there’s a distinction between stating your support and actually respecting my identity. A lot of people talked the talk – but that didn’t always translate when it came to actions.

I wanted to be patient with my loved one because I knew it was a learning process for everyone. But as time went on, some problematic behaviors never seemed to go away.

These behaviors – some of which were so subtle I’m not even sure they realized it – told me they may know that I’m transgender, but they didn’t really validate, believe, or respect me.

Maybe they didn’t know how. Maybe they were still caught up in their own feelings about it. Or maybe they really believed that they weren’t being hurtful.

But as I so often write, someone’s intentions aren’t as important as the impact that they ultimately have. You may not have meant to step on someone’s toes – but that doesn’t make it hurt any less!

Oftentimes, as we try to support the people we love, we can make mistakes – and that’s a normal and expected part of the process. And the best way to make it right is to learn a little more, do some self-reflection, and not just apologize, but commit to changing our behaviors.

Because supporting the people we love isn’t just about saying that we support them – it’s about doing the work to be supportive!

If you aren’t sure how, that’s what I’m here for.

Let’s talk about six signs that you might be disrespecting a transgender person in your life – and some ideas for how to do better next time.

1. You Still Misgender Them Behind Their Back

Maybe this scene is familiar to you: You’re talking to someone about your loved one, and when it’s time to use a pronoun, you stumble for a moment. He? She? They? How do I gender them?

In a panic, you resort to the wrong pronouns, with just the slightest pang of guilt in the pit of your stomach.

Why We Do It: You might be thinking that you aren’t really ready to educate this person about your loved one, and about what it means to be transgender. It would be easier, you decide, if I just misgender them – so I don’t have to get “into it,” or answer any uncomfortable questions.

But misgendering someone after they’ve asked that their pronouns be respected – unless they say otherwise – is never okay (I’ve written a whole article on why, which is worth the read).

It’s like saying: “I’d rather harm my loved one – and teach someone else to harm them – than deal with the temporary discomfort of navigating this situation.”

Instead: There are so many great resources (you can start with this guide) that can help you better understand and educate others. Nothing says “I love you” quite like taking the time to be informed and help inform others, so that your loved one doesn’t have to shoulder that burden alone.

And if nothing else, remember you don’t have to answer questions – just affirm your loved one by saying, “These are the pronouns [Insert person’s name] uses now. I hope you’ll respect that.”

Your discomfort in that moment doesn’t compare to the real harm that misgendering can do!

2. You Don’t Respect the Boundaries They Set

I knew a transgender person who asked her parents to take down a photo from her childhood because it was painful to look at photos of herself prior to her transition and because every guest in their home would gawk at the picture of her “looking like a boy.”

Time and time again, they argued about it.

Her parents loved that photo so much they didn’t want to take it off the wall – it reminded them of happy times together, and they couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t be happy when she looked at it, too.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard about the families of transgender people not really respecting the needs of trans people.

Why We Do It: There can be a lot of reasons for this. Most often, I see this in loved ones who are having a difficult time letting go of the past. This is a normal part of coming to terms with someone’s transition – which is understandable, but still not acceptable.

Here’s the thing: When a transgender person says that something is triggering, we should respect those boundaries. If something is hurtful, the “why” isn’t what’s most important – what matters is we’re harming someone, whether it was purposeful or not, and now we have the chance to make it right.

In the case of my friend, she started to feel like her parents thought their happiness was the only thing that mattered – and that her pain wasn’t important or real.

Transgender people set boundaries because they’re trying to navigate very painful situations. They may ask to not talk about certain topics, not be called by certain names, or try not to revisit certain parts of the past.

This isn’t to offend you.

It’s because we’re trying to heal after struggling to accept who we are, and we need the space to be ourselves without being constantly reminded of that struggle.

Instead: When your loved one sets a boundary, respect it. It’s really as simple as that.

And a helpful hint: If you’re struggling with your feelings around their transition, that’s totally okay! But it’s important to process that on your own time – maybe with a therapist, in your journal, or in conversation with someone you trust – without burdening your trans loved one in the process.

3. You Try to ‘Bargain’ with Them

I see this all the time with loved ones who are having a tough time dealing with their transgender loved one’s transition. I’ve personally experienced it, too:

  • “You can start hormones, but please don’t get surgery.”
  • “I’ll call you by that name, but only at home.”
  • “You can wear a dress, but you can’t wear it to school.”

Why We Do It: Sometimes, this comes from a place of wanting to protect someone. Other times, it’s because you feel emotionally unprepared for the steps ahead. These are very understandable emotions – but that doesn’t mean acting on those feelings is okay.

Asking your loved one to accommodate you, rather than encouraging them to be the most authentic and happiest version of themselves, is harmful.

It’s a gesture that can be easily misunderstood – as if to say “My comfort matters more than yours” or “I’m not actually okay with this after all.”

And it’s a big red flag.

It tells me that rather than working on that discomfort and processing your fears, you’re asking your loved one to change for you and ultimately endure more suffering on your behalf.

It unfairly places the burden on them, instead of challenging you to work through your feelings about their transition.

Instead: When you feel the urge to bargain, ask yourself: “Is this about what my loved one needs to be well, or is this about what I need to feel comfortable or safe?”

At the end of the day, their transition isn’t about you.

Transitioning isn’t a negotiation between the two of you – it’s the sole decision of a transgender person and their right to their own body and autonomy.

4. You Make Excuses Instead of Apologizing

 If you have a transgender loved one, “sorry” will become a very familiar part of your vocabulary.

I say this because the learning curve can be very steep and because every trans person is uniquely different in what they need and expect.

Even as trans myself, I’ve stumbled many times over what to say or do for the other transgender people in my life, especially when they first came out to me.

Why We Do It: It can be really difficult to admit when you’ve messed up. It can make you feel like a bad person – and feeling guilty about this can be uncomfortable to sit with. This is why many people with transgender loved ones can wind up very defensive.

But being defensive about your mistakes serves no one.

It doesn’t push you to learn or do better, and it can lead your loved one to believe you don’t feel remorse or regret – which is often quite the opposite of what you’re actually feeling! This is what defensiveness can sound like:

  • “I can’t help that – I’m still learning! You should be more patient!”
  • “You expect way too much of me. You need to lower your expectations.”
  • “If you’d just teach me instead of getting angry, we wouldn’t have these problems.”

Have you ever said something like this before?

Notice how your mistake is suddenly the fault of your loved one – and how deflecting responsibility means you never actually take ownership of the harm you’ve caused.

Instead: Realize that making a mistake doesn’t make you a bad person. The real issue is when you’re unwilling to make it right. Take a deep breath, acknowledge the issue, and commit to doing better. It’s simple!

It helps to learn how to give a proper apology, and to know when a situation just calls for a quick correction (like misgendering in conversation), or when a situation requires deeper reflection (like the examples in this article!).

5. You Center Your Feelings and Disregard Theirs

This is far and away one of the most common mistakes I’ve seen loved ones make. If this sounds like you, trust me – you aren’t alone!

  • “This isn’t easy for me, either!”
  • “Hard on you? I feel like I’ve lost my daughter/son.”
  • “You aren’t the only one feeling hurt.”

Why We Do It: I think it’s a very human thing to want our pain to be acknowledged, and a gender transition can definitely come with a lot of grief and confusion for loved ones. The difference here is whether or not it’s an appropriate time to ask for our pain to be seen.

A lot of the time, we’re trying so hard to keep that pain to ourselves that it comes out at the wrong time. We wind up blurting it out at the most inopportune moment, most often when our loved one is trying to have their suffering acknowledged.

This also stems from a place of resentment – that if only they had stayed the same, we wouldn’t have to deal with all of the emotions coming up in this transition.

But remember: This isn’t about you. They aren’t transitioning to upset you – they’re transitioning because this is what they need to be a happy, whole person.

Instead: Get a therapist. Write in a journal. Find a friend or loved one to process with. Join a support group. Whatever you do, don’t blame your loved one for your struggle to come to terms with their transition.

When you decenter their needs and prioritize yours, you’re putting a wedge between you that’ll only hurt you both.

6. You Say That You Don’t ‘Get It’ – But You Also Don’t Try To

I hear so many loved ones talking about how they don’t “understand” the whole “transgender thing” – but when I’ve asked if they’ve done any reading or watched any videos, they tell me they haven’t.

On the surface, this seems like a funny little contradiction. They say they don’t understand, but they’re also not trying to.

Why We Do It: Most often, when loved ones don’t take the time to educate themselves, it’s because they’re avoiding reality. They don’t know how to deal with the feelings that come up when they think about their loved one’s transition – so they pretend, as often as possible, that this transition isn’t happening.

But that doesn’t help anyone. It means that loved ones remain in the dark, and transgender folks remain misunderstood.

That’s a divide that ultimately strains the relationship – and makes trans people feel unloved, uncared for, and unimportant.

Instead: Here’s the good news: You’re already doing the “instead” part (go you!).

You’re reading this article. That means you’ve decided it’s time to start processing your feelings, and you’re making an effort to connect with your loved one as they are – and not how you wish they could be.

Remaining grounded in the here and now – accepting and affirming them for who they really are – is how you can build a more respectful and healthy relationship based in unconditional love and trust.

The fact that you’re taking the time to reflect on the ways in which you might be doing harm tells me that you care – and is the first of many steps I know you’ll take to do right by your loved one.

And that, my friend, is not something to feel bad about. That’s something to celebrate.

 

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Starbucks, Please Don’t ‘Out’ Your Transgender Patrons

The image features a wooden table with coffee cups on it, with a large storefront window in the distance.

“Guess what, Starbucks? That isn’t my name.”

As a transgender person, I like to refer to my birth name – the name my parents bestowed upon me when I arrived on this planet – as my “dead name,” because it’s been dead to me for years now.

I’m in the process of legally changing it now for that exact reason.

My birth name represents the gender that was incorrectly imposed upon me. It’s a name that reminds me of all the struggles that I have faced as a trans person in a society that still struggles to affirm or recognize me. It’s a name that I never wanted and a name that makes my skin crawl.

So imagine my surprise when I heard this name flying out of the mouth of my barista and then scrawled on the cup of my beloved iced chai.

Ugh. Staaaaaarbucks! Why? We had such a good thing going.

Let me explain the full spectrum of emotions that I felt in that moment:

Embarrassed, because my birth name is private and not something I wanted to share with the entire café. Afraid, because I knew that folks might see my masculine presentation and hear my traditionally “feminine” name and figure out that I was transgender. Hurt, because this was a name that still caused me a great deal of pain.

And angry – like, ready to dump my iced chai on the barista’s head if I’m being honest – because guess what, Starbucks? That isn’t my name and, despite your usual policy, you didn’t ask me what my name actually was.

The barista looked at the name on my debit card and jumped to the conclusion that it must be the name that I prefer. In doing so, they assumed that all of us have the privilege of having legal names that align with our preferences or our gender identities.

That is simply not true.

There are countless trans folks who cannot legally change their names or don’t feel safe doing so. And should they walk into that Starbucks, they might have their birth name – a name that causes them distress and could potentially out them as transgender – called out in the café or written on a cup to broadcast an intimate piece of information to the rest of the world.

Not only could that make trans folks feel unsafe at Starbucks, but it might also make them feel completely unwelcome.

Respecting and affirming the identities of transgender people begins with calling us by our actual names, instead of assuming that what was written on our birth certificates or bank statements is an appropriate thing to call us.

Not long from now, the name your barista wrote on my cup will finally be buried in a sea of court records as my real name is finally legalized. But not every trans person has the privilege of being able to legally change their name. And they shouldn’t have to go through legal hoops and court dates just to be treated with respect.

Simply asking us for our name – every single time – can help us to feel safe in your café, knowing that we won’t be outed or humiliated just for ordering a drink.

I fought tirelessly to reclaim my identity from a society that tried, from the day that I was born, to force me into a role I did not want and give me a name that only obscured who I really was. And trans folks everywhere find empowerment in the names that we choose – names that help us capture the people that we were meant to become.

Starbucks, if you truly believe that transgender people are deserving of dignity in your café and beyond, here’s a place to start: Don’t call us by our “dead names” and out us to other patrons. Call us by our actual names and make sure that every barista understands how important this policy really is.

Help us in creating a culture in which we determine who we are and what we should be called. It’s one small step towards affirming the identities of transgender people everywhere.

And my name is Sam Dylan Finch, by the way. You can call me Sam. You didn’t ask, but I thought you should know.

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