1. Understand that being transgender isn’t a choice or a mental illness
There are so many myths and misunderstandings when it comes to transgenderism. Helping a loved one transition starts with understanding them.
Author Kristin Collier explains: “There is evidence across 22 scientific disciplines that there is a biological basis for being transgender. Gender dysphoria (the intense discomfort some transgender people feel about being in the wrong body) can be treated, making way for a happy, productive life.”
2. It’s also not about sexual orientation
It’s also important for people to understand that gender and sexual orientation are not the same thing. “Gender is a deep-seated sense of who we are that emerges when we are quite young, typically well before we are clear about our sexual orientation,” says Collier, whose memoir “Housewife: Home-remaking in a transgender marriage” offers a rare personal account of her family’s journey through the gender transition of her spouse.
In other words, gender identity has nothing to do with sexual orientation. As Collier shares, “people may experience gender on a spectrum (male, female, both, or neither) just like people experience their sexual orientation on a spectrum (homosexual to heterosexual and everything in between, above, and beyond).”
3. Take a deep breath and listen
As Collier advises: “if it’s your spouse, someone you depend on in many ways, the first bit of advice I have is to keep breathing.” If someone comes out to you as trans, listen to them.
“Take a break and get some space and/or empathy if you are overwhelmed with your own feelings about it. Return when you are ready to listen,” she says. It’s also important that you look after yourself and determine what your needs and concerns are.
“I encourage you not express yourself unless you are also willing to listen deeply and allow yourself to be moved by your partner’s words. This means letting go of judgment and instead believing the best in one another,” says Collier.
4. It’s not your fault, talk to someone
When your spouse reveals a difficult truth, it can be hard to process at first. As Collier shares, her first reaction when her spouse told her the news was, “You should have known!” She says, “I felt disappointed and shocked that I hadn’t understood myself and my husband better. I feared I had not seen other important things that would impact us as well. I didn’t trust myself to keep my eyes open and deal effectively with what came up in my world.”
However, once she was able to let go of the feelings of self-blame and judgement, things got easier. “This is why she says it’s important to find someone to talk to about all of the complicated feelings that are undoubtedly going to come up,” says Collier.
5. Work through your feelings first
Whether you’re grappling with a partner who has come out as transgender, a divorce or another kind of transition, it’s “it’s critical that parents work through their feelings and needs as much as possible away from their children so that the kids aren’t burdened with the temptation to take care of a parent or take sides in a conflict,” says Collier.
As she explains, “working through a major relationship transition is a process, and it does get easier if we meet ourselves and our partners with compassion.”