You’re a Christian, follower of Christ, disciple of Jesus, whatever you call it. Then one day, a friend or family member talks to you one-on-one and throws your whole world upside down. They tell you that they identity as that word you’ve been hearing a lot these days: “transgender.”
Oh, no. Sunday School did not prepare you for this moment. What do you do now??
That’s why I’m writing this post. It’s for you.
I’ve been on both sides of this situation. It happened to me as a Christian before I realized I was transgender, and it happened many times after I found out. When I came out to my Christian family and friends it wasn’t difficult to start making a mental list of things I wish they had done, or not done.
I am writing this from personal experience – from mistakes I made, and mistakes others made.
1. Use their preferred name/pronouns.
I don’t care how uncomfortable you are with it. I don’t care about your stance on trans issues. I don’t care if you’re conservative or liberal or libertarian. If someone comes out to you as trans, do not use their name assigned at birth and do not use incorrect pronouns.
If it causes you unease to address your loved one by a new name and pronouns, trust me when I say your discomfort is nothing compared to the misery they’re already dealing with, much less when they have to endure being misgendered. And if you’re concerned that doing this would be making a ‘political statement,’ trust me when I say it’s really not. Doing it is a sign of respect and love for your trans friend. Which they need now more than ever.
If you forget everything else I’m about to tell you, remember this one. Use preferred name/pronouns.
Trust me on this. Just, trust me.
2. Tell them you love them no matter what.
Cheesy, maybe, but affective. Trans people already face a lot of negative stigma and treatment as it is, and the last place they need it from are loved ones. Do not hesitate to remind them how much you love them and that nothing will ever change that. That’s really all you have to say. Ideally, of course, as a Christian your unconditional love should be so obvious you don’t have to explain it, but it can’t hurt just in case.
Even if you already know in your heart that your love for them will not change, they might not know that. Reassure them of that. It could be just what they need to hear.
3. If needed, do your own research on the issue.
Do you consider yourself knowledgeable on trans issues? Do you know the definition of terms like “cisgender”, “dysphoria”, “trans panic”, “conversion therapy”, and “HRT”? If you answered “No” to the second question, then you need to do your homework.
Go home and Google all of these terms. Read about people like Marsha P. Johnson, Lili Elbe, Joseph Lobdell, Buck Angel, Leelah Alcorn, Aydian Dowling, Laverne Cox, and many more. Read their stories, and don’t skip the parts that make you uncomfortable. If you come across a term you don’t understand, look it up. And most of all, find resources written by trans people. Pay attention to recurring themes of what they’re saying and listen with an open heart.
And no, don’t count on your transgender loved one to answer all your questions…you need to do the work yourself. And if you do your homework without being asked to, it will mean a lot to them. They’ll appreciate it.
4. Put their safety before your own feelings.
I cannot stress this one enough. If anything that makes you more comfortable might hurt your trans loved one, do not do it. This includes how trans people dress, carry themselves, and who they are with, among other things. It can even be the sorts of movies you watch or jokes you laugh at.
You might not be aware of this, but trans people are already at high risk of discrimination, violence, and death as it is. Putting your comfort first isn’t helping. If you are not trans, you are in a very privileged place. Keep that in mind when your trans loved one expresses fear or dislike of something. Take note of what they need to be safer, and respect that.
I’ll use one personal example. When I came out to my younger sister, she gave me permission to take down old drawings she made of me before I realized I was a boy. Even though she loved making those for me, she understood the discomfort I felt about them and respected that. And then she started drawing me as the boy I really was. It was a small gesture, but it meant the world to me. I wished the rest of my family had been so loving.
Please do not take your trans loved one’s safety lightly.
1. Do not ask them to tell their story unless they’re okay with it.
I got this a lot when I first came out. All my Christian friends wanted to hear the whole tale of how I hated living as a girl, how I found out I was trans, and most of all, how being trans affected my relationship with God. I spent so many hours telling the same thing over and over. But no one wanted to know if I even felt okay about sharing it. And sometimes I was, but most of the time I really wasn’t.
Maybe your trans loved one does want to tell their story to you, and that’s okay. But ask them if they’re okay with it. And if they’re not, don’t pry for details. Leave them be. Don’t ask deeply personal questions about it unless they bring it up. You might be starving to hear every single thing about their transition, but that doesn’t give you the right to know. What’s more, they might not even be ready to tell their story, and that’s not a bad thing at all. Bottom line: curb your curiosity.
2. Do not out them to anyone unless they specifically say you can.
This isn’t just about respecting your loved one. It’s about their physical safety. Please, please, please do not out them without permission beforehand. I don’t care if you need to bring it up to your pastor or mentor because you need ‘spiritual advice.’ I don’t care if you feel like you might burst if you don’t tell your family or other friends. I don’t care if you like to gossip to coworkers or your small group asked how your week was.
Unless your trans loved one has specifically stated it’s okay for you to tell someone, do not do it.
Not only does outing them without permission violate their trust in you, you might be putting them in serious danger. Word can spread fast and especially if you’re not in an LGBT friendly community, the risk is even higher. Your trans loved one will lose their respect for you which is the most important thing they need from you. The wrong person may hear the news and cause severe harm. A lot of things can go wrong. Overall, outing without permission is a shitty thing to do on a number of levels.
If you’re not sure who they’re out to, ask. Just ask them. It’s not that hard.
3. Do not treat them like a pedestal on any/all LGBT+ issues.
“How do you feel about the North Carolina Bathroom Bill?” “What’s your opinion on Caitlyn Jenner?” “What about the anti-Christian sentiments of the LGBTABCD community?” Yeah, don’t do that shit.
While you should listen to your trans loved one’s opinions on matters, don’t force it on them. Especially when everyone in the Christian church seems to be talking about the LGBT community these days. Don’t come up to them whenever trans-related issues are brought up, and especially don’t expect them to have a solid view on every single thing. Shocker: just because someone is trans doesn’t mean they know all there is to know about other trans people. They are not your outlet for the LGBT community – they’re an individual person with their own individual voice. Let them speak for themselves.
So if you hear some Christian friends talking about trans people, don’t give your friend ‘the look’ and drag them into the conversation. If they want to say something, they’ll say it themselves. If they say nothing, that’s not your business.
The last two on this list are probably the most important, so bear with me…
4. Do not talk about your hurt feelings on the matter.
Your trans loved one does not need to hear about how ‘hard’ it is for you. They don’t need to hear about the difficult time you’re having with this. Don’t cry to them about how you miss the person they used to be – or worse, how they’re going to Hell for being trans (they aren’t, by the way. Stop worrying.)
Hearing things like that over and over after I came out is what pushed me to almost commit suicide more than once. Only when I met Christians who said the others were wrong about me did I begin to find hope and recover. So trust me when I say don’t do it.
Like I’ve said before, if you think you’re feeling uncomfortable, it’s nothing compared to what they feel. Being trans is hard enough as it is without everyone reminding us that our very identity is an inconvenience, or a tragedy, or a setback (it isn’t.) And they don’t need to hear you griping about the challenge it is to use the right name/pronouns, either.
If you do feel genuinely hurt by the news, take some advice I already gave and go home to do your research. But don’t go crying to your trans loved one. There is no easier way to push them deeper into believing they’re worthless and better off dead.
5. Do not throw Scripture at them.
Yes, I saved the best for last. Oh dear God, if someone comes out to you, do not start by pulling out your Bible and reading highlighted verses to them.
I hate to say it, but when it comes to being torn down by Scripture, there are plenty of other so-called Christians in the world who already have that covered. Enough Christians have hurt trans people in the name of Jesus. Your loved one doesn’t need that crap from you, too.
But what if you found a Scripture verse that might actually be anti-trans?? Then look it up on your own. Again, do the research. Don’t shove it in your loved one’s face. I’m too tired to explain how there is no such thing as an anti-trans Bible verse, but if you really think there is, I can guarantee that another Christian will beat you to it, that is, telling your trans loved one all about how they’re evil and going to Hell. You don’t need to be that voice. Be the one who listens to them, doesn’t start debates, and cares about their safety more than your own bias.
And finally, don’t say “I’ll be praying for you”, or worse, “I’ll be praying that God fixes you.” If anything, tell them you’ll be praying for their safety and wellbeing amidst anti-LGBT societies. That their family and friends will show them unconditional love. That their transition will go smoothly and God will help them cope with their dysphoria along the way.
Now that is a Christian prayer I’d like to hear for once.