Transitioning is a big deal. It’s the start of a new beginning, a beginning in which the person transitioning will hopefully feel more at home in their body. It’s exciting, and it’s also scary. And not just for the person transitioning, but also for the people close to them. You want them to be happy, of course, and want to support them, but maybe don’t know exactly what to do. I spoke to a friend whose sibling recently transitioned about what it was like, and what she felt the best way to support her brother was.
“It sounds obvious, but the most important thing, I think, is unwavering support. Especially in the early stages, just being someone who believes them and believes in them is so important.
Figuring out your gender identity can be such a hard and confusing process, and it’s not always as straightforward as just knowing you’re trans. In order to be able to figure these things out, having someone in your corner, someone who’s giving you that space to not be uncertain, and taking each part of the process at face value, not doubting any of it, even when it seems strange or doesn’t jive with the person you thought they were, is invaluable and can make the process so much easier.
It’s also a time when your sibling is keeping a lot from a lot of people, and being someone they can trust in and don’t feel like they need to weigh their words with or be careful with, is also just very important. So like, yes, obviously love them, support them — but also just believe them and respect their process and the time they need to spend doing this and what each step of the process means for them. If in doubt, ask – don’t assume.”
“Taking steps to educate yourself if you don’t know much on your own and not relying on your sibling to educate you, is important. Of course, ask questions on what their particular limits are and process is like, etc, but they have a lot on their plate, and having someone who is already fairly informed really helps, I think, and makes it easier on both of you.”
Know Who Knows and Who Doesn’t, and Respect That
“For a long time I was the only family member K was out to (like, multiple years), so what is blindingly obvious to me still isn’t to a lot of others in our family, especially people he’s not as close to. For me, I can’t imagine K as anything other than male now. Whenever I see documentation with his official sex and name, it literally surprises me and feels off. This did mean that I felt really uncomfortable using the wrong pronouns a lot of the time before he was out to everyone, but obviously, that’s not my decision to make.”
Understand How it Will Affect You and Your Family Dynamic
“We were very much raised as sisters, and this obviously gives us a very different relationship than your typical sister-brother relationship. We have two older half-brothers, so being the only girl in the family was a bigger adjustment than I thought it would be, in like a weird, small way.
I’m totally fine with it, but for a long time there was always this split of like the sons and the daughters which obviously doesn’t exist anymore (and hasn’t for some time). K’s process wasn’t super straightforward either, and there’s been a lot of twists and turns as he’s come into himself and really figured out his identity (and I’m sure this is a process that will never truly stop – as it doesn’t for most of us, whether it be about gender or otherwise), but by being a safe space for him, I’m so grateful to have been present for this process, for being a person he can turn to and test these things with, taste the various labels and names and pronouns – and to be on the front lines of him becoming happier.”
It’s Ok To Make a Mistake
“People obviously slip up and use the wrong name and/or pronouns sometimes (although pretty much everyone’s good on the name by now), but more and more are catching themselves. People calling him uncle when the first of the new generation came about a year and a half ago meant a lot to him – and especially so him not having to ask for it, and especially because this was before he started medically transitioning. As long as you’re trying though, and catch yourself, and listen and learn, it’s totally fine to make mistakes. Because you will. And that’s okay, that’s natural. Just take responsibility and learn from them.”
Fight For Them
“I’m personally someone who shies away from conflict and wants to keep the peace and not rock the boat, so speaking up for K has at times been hard for me – but if that’s what your sibling needs, it’s important you do that, too. Don’t make him fight all his own battles. It’s much harder for other family members to be transphobic if they have multiple people telling them they’re wrong – and sadly, especially if it’s someone other than the trans person themselves, who it becomes easy for them to dismiss. Don’t just call yourself an ally – be one, too.”
Give Yourself Time
“It’s become easier for me over time, though, as I’ve also gotten older, though I’m still uncertain sometimes how much to say and how vehemently to say things. I’m still afraid to mess up. I still probably do sometimes. I’m still learning loads, and I’m never gonna stop learning, and I’m okay with that.”
Understand that this is a huge step in your sibling or family member’s life, and if they have trusted you with this information about them, it’s an honor. When asked what he’d like to say to the family member of someone transitioning, K said this:
“It’s okay to mess up, just try your best and do as much of your own research as possible, they’re going through enough on their own, they don’t need to be your walking encyclopedia as well. Be sure to ask how they would like to be referred to in different situations. It’s always safest to not assume.”
Want to know more about transitioning and what you can do to support? Start here.