How to Respond When Someone Tells You They Are Transgender


Some transgender people will take steps to make their body match their gender identity. This may include changing their name and pronouns, having hormone therapy or surgery, and using different clothing.

This has opened up new spaces for critical trans politics that move beyond recognition and inclusion into transformative changes in the logics of state, civil society and social equality.

What is transgender?

Transgender is a broad term that encompasses people who identify as male, female, nonbinary, transsexual, and other genders outside the binary system. Some transgender people choose to use other terms, such as queer, gender-fluid, third gender, or pangender.

Gender identity is a person’s innate sense of self, which may or not match the sex assigned at birth. A trans man is a person who was assigned the sex of male at birth but who now identifies as a man; a trans woman is a person who was assigned the

Some transgender people decide to affirm their gender in social ways, such as coming out to family and friends, changing their name and sex on legal documents, and taking hormone therapy. Others medically transition through surgery. Transgender people often experience gender dysphoria, a feeling of distress that results from incongruence between their sex assigned at birth and their gender identity. The onset of gender dysphoria can be caused by a variety of factors, and people who undergo transition can have varying degrees of dysphoria.

How do I know if someone is transgender?

Transgender people often present as male or female in alignment with societal norms. Some choose to present fluidly or gender non-conformingly, which means they can change their presentation from day to day or from setting to setting. They may also use terms in the LGBTQIA+ community to describe themselves, including but not limited to: he/him/his, she/her/hers, they/them/theirs, pansexual, and hermaphrodite.

Growing shares of adults in all age groups say they know someone who goes by he/him or she/hers or gender-neutral pronouns. Many of these people also report that their gender is just one part of their identity and not the most important or central piece.

In fact, many focus group participants said that it took them years to realize they were transgender or nonbinary and even longer to find the right words to describe their experience. It is important to note that sexual orientation describes a person’s enduring preference for romantic or sexual attraction to men, women, or both, but gender identity is the internal sense of being male, female, or something else.

How do I support someone who is transgender?

When someone close to you tells you that they are transgender, it can be hard to know how to respond. The first step is to listen and believe them. The next is to respect their chosen name and pronouns. It can be hard to remember which gender they identify as, especially if they are medically transitioning, so just ask them what they would like you to call them and use those words consistently.

It’s also important to avoid comparing their transition or their journey to your own, as this can be very hurtful. Educating yourself about the issues facing trans people can help, too. There are lots of articles, blogs, vloggers, instagramers, and events that can provide valuable information.

Finally, remember that transgender people are often victims of discrimination and hatred based on their identity. When you see them being abused, be sure to stand up for them and defend them. This will show that you care and are an ally.

How do I support someone who is medically transitioning?

Oftentimes, people have a difficult time responding well when they find out someone is transgender or nonbinary. It can be scary and confusing, and may bring up old hurts or prejudices. It is important to take the time to think about how you will respond and try to be understanding. Taking a class or talking to a therapist can also be helpful.

When your friend or loved one is undergoing medical transition, be supportive and respect their decisions. Make sure to use their new name and pronouns, and always ask — don’t assume. It is also important to remember that gender transition is a process, and it takes time.

While you are supporting your transgender friends and family, it is important to take care of yourself. Make sure to talk to your therapist, or seek support from Apicha CHC’s Trans Health Program. We offer short-term behavioral health services, care management resources, and referrals to specialists.