Being transgender isn’t a mental health condition, but the trans community faces higher rates of mental health challenges than any other LGBTQ+ identity group. Supporting these individuals in being their authentic self is one of the best ways to protect their well-being. If someone you know is questioning, trans, and/or nonbinary, it is essential that you support and affirm their journey.
This article covers:
- What gender identity and exploration are.
- The basics of supporting someone who is exploring their gender identity and/or trans.
- How to affirm your loved one’s unique journey.
If some of this language is unfamiliar to you, you can find bolded words defined in the Human Rights Campaign's Glossary of Terms.
Gender can be hard to understand.
Most of us have grown up with the gender binary, which is the idea that there are only two genders (men and women) based on the sex that we were assigned at birth. This comes with very clear gender roles. Based on your gender, society has certain expectations of you – how you dress, your personality, your hobbies, the way you show emotion, and how you interact with others are expected to line up with your gender.
In reality, gender is a social construct, an idea our society has created to understand and explain the world we live in. There’s no reason that we should encourage boys to enjoy sports over art, or girls to dream of being teachers over construction workers. But because of these gendered labels, straying outside of the boxes we are put in can be difficult.
Because of society’s expectations, most people feel they are a man or a woman based on what was assigned at birth (cisgender). Others feel like “a boy in a girl’s body” (or vice versa) from a very young age, and as soon as they’re introduced to words like “transgender,” they realize - hey, that’s me! And some people aren’t sure yet.
As our society starts to unlearn the gender binary, more and more people – especially youth – are beginning to explore their gender identity. If this sounds like someone you care about, it is essential that you support and affirm their journey.
You may feel unprepared to support someone you love on their gender exploration journey, but it’s important that you learn how.
Questioning your gender is often incredibly confusing, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is trans or nonbinary. Figuring that out is the whole reason to explore. Gender plays a huge role in our lives, so it benefits anyone to look deeper at that piece of themselves – and is a really brave thing to do.
It isn’t safe for many trans people, especially those in the BIPOC community, to publicly explore and affirm their gender identity. Know that if your loved one has shared with you that they are questioning or trans\, they likely felt incredibly vulnerable. If they haven’t said anything and you think they might be trans, educate yourself in advance but let them tell you at their own pace.