Transgendered Friend
June 16, 2005 8:01 AM   Subscribe

What's the best way to support a person going through the process of going from a man to a woman?

A very close friend of mine told me three years ago that they were transgendered. Aside from occassionally dressing up, they didn't start doing anything about it until this past year when they started taking hormones and getting hair removal (in anticipation of going through the entire process). She has started asking us to call her by her girl name, which I try to do but sometimes forget.

She can get quite moody about the entire thing. I rarely have free time to hang out with people, and she's accused me and others of not hanging out with her because of the transgendered process.

The one thing that I've found I can't quite deal with (and this may be harsh of me), is that they seem to think they will be 100% girl when the process is finished. Personally, I think that's an unrealistic belief, but I haven't said anything.
posted by drezdn to Human Relations (18 answers total)
This person has a lot to deal with, and I think it's asking a bit much of you to immediately be totally understanding. I don't think it's harsh of you at all to not be able to quickly change your perception of this friend. I can remember the first time someone "outed" to me (which isn't quite the same thing obviously), and to be honest, it didn't change my perception of him much. He was still my friend. Maybe you need to just both be open with each other- confess that you cannot immediately change your perception, and ask for some understanding from her. Concentrate on why you are friends, and not as much on the recent changes.
If that doesn't work, why don't you ask her out?
posted by Doohickie at 8:15 AM on June 16, 2005

I wonder if your friend is generally a moody person, or could the moodiness be due to the impact of the hormones? If the latter, she might level off as her body gets more used to them.
posted by matildaben at 8:27 AM on June 16, 2005

Drezdn, one of my best friends began this process several years ago. Though it's been difficult for us, her friends, it's obviously much more difficult for her.

She hates her penis. (She hasn't yet had the surgery, though that's now looming on the horizon.) She hates any remnant of masculinity she possesses. She's struggling to find an identity. She has no support from her family. Her friends, including myself, have trouble understanding where she's coming from, and often argue with her about her decision.

As a friend, it's rough for me because I'm watching this person I thought I knew quite well change into somebody else. "I'm the same," she says, but she's really not. She acts completely different, she has different interests, she's somebody new. I want to hang out with the person I knew (in male or female form, I don't care), not necessarily with this new person.

From my experience over the past five years, the thing that I do that seems to help the most, though, is to listen. When my friend is having a rough time, I'm here to listen to her, even if what she's doing is completely foreign to me. It's not about me, it's about her. Also, I'm completely honest about my feelings. I've explained that I'm worried that what she's doing isn't about gender identity, but about deeper psychological issues. We engage in friendly discussion about the process, and about our perceptions of it.

The best thing you can do is to be honest about your feelings, and to keep open lines of communication.

As for your last point: I, too, am concerned that my friend thinks she will be 100% girl when the transition is completed. It bothers me that as soon as she came out about being transgendered, she began to act and dress in a stereo-typical 1950s housewife fashion. It's freaky. No woman I know acts like that. I wonder if my friend is being true to herself. Our book group just finished reading The World According to Garp, and we thought Roberta — who was, perhaps, and idealized transgendered person — had the right idea: she retained her core self through the transition.

Good luck to you and your friend. It's an interesting and challenging process for everyone involved.
posted by jdroth at 8:32 AM on June 16, 2005

I've known a couple of folks who've transitioned to various degrees (one a new employee I was training who, after showing up as a male the first day, started coming to work as a woman every day after that), and can tell you there's nothing wrong with feeling uncomfortable at first. It's new and unusual to most folks, and there's definitely a process of acceptance to go through.

A thoughtful person shouldn't have too much trouble with that process, though. I've found it surprisingly easy to work through the initial surprise and awkwardness and focus on accepting the person as they want to be. Understanding that gender dysphoria is a real thing that some folks experience far more strongly than others helps a lot.

I would try to remember to use the new name, would be understanding of "moodiness" in someone taking hormones, would defend her if I heard folks insulting her behind her back, and would offer to help if she needed help with anything. Beyond that, it's just normal friendship stuff, I guess. If she annoys you or accuses you wrongly, be honest the way you would with any pal. *shrug* It's ok to get mad at transgendered friends sometimes.
posted by mediareport at 8:34 AM on June 16, 2005

For completely different reasons, I was just looking up information on Jamison Green, an activist and author who went from being female to male. I haven't read it, but the reviews for his book, Becoming a Visible Man, look good, and it (and perhaps exploring other transgender literature) might help you have a better understanding of what your friend is going through.
posted by frykitty at 8:38 AM on June 16, 2005

Check your gmail, drezdn.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:39 AM on June 16, 2005

The one thing that I've found I can't quite deal with (and this may be harsh of me), is that they seem to think they will be 100% girl when the process is finished. Personally, I think that's an unrealistic belief, but I haven't said anything.

Yeah, that's a touchy, kind of esoteric issue for a lot of folks, but I don't think it's an important point to make sure your opinion is heard on. Not at this point, anyway, and I don't see how it would matter to you or cause a problem later, unless she asks, "Do you think I'm a 100% woman now?" or something.
posted by mediareport at 8:41 AM on June 16, 2005

The best thing to do is just to be there, and be as non-judgmental as you can (given that it sounds like you're already doing both these things, I can't see what more anyone could ask). Early on, hormones tend to cause a bit of over-emotionality and can lead to people being moodier/grumpier than they usually are, so you might need to cut her a bit more slack than you normally would for a while, but that should ease off with time. Hopefully. I'd also say being down-to-earth about the whole process and demystifying it as much as you can might help, although mileage could vary on that one.

If she ends up looking transvestitey or awful (not likely and no insult intended to your friend, but a surprising number of TS women have some remarkable ideas about femaleness and femininity), you'd be doing her a huge favour in the long-run by gently letting her know - the sooner she's passing in public, the happier she'll hopefully be.

As far as being 100% girl goes, there are a million factors involved - age being the biggest one (the older you start, the less passable you generally end up and the smaller the boobs you grow will be), although height, build, facial structure and so on also come into it. In genital terms, a TS woman's bits (assuming they're rearranged by a competent surgeon) look practically indistinguishable from those of someone born female. The most important thing involved in appearing 100% female is to be natural, of course, rather than following any stupid 'walk, sit and run like a woman' manuals. If your friend has her head screwed on in the first place, she stands a better chance than most of ending up indistinguishable from a born woman.
posted by terpsichoria at 8:45 AM on June 16, 2005

There's a thread on Table Talk for Gender Issues, which actually focuses just on transgendered issues. You can read it without paying (though you'd have to pay to post).

The thread's died down a bit, but it's interesting to see the interactions between a couple F-to-M's on the board and a couple posters without much knowledge on the subject -- for the most part, it was a pretty educational, open thread. Most of the posters just wanted to know a lot of the same things you have in your original post. You might want to check it out.

(Also, for what it's worth, I'm a biological woman, and half the time *I* don't feel "100% female." I'm not even sure what that means.)
posted by occhiblu at 8:47 AM on June 16, 2005

(Actually, I probably do feel 100% female. 100% girl? Not so much.)
posted by occhiblu at 8:48 AM on June 16, 2005

In a technical sense, I suppose, your friend won't be "100% girl" after hormone therapy et cetera. But it sounds like she wants to be perceived and considered female--or perhaps genderless. For some of the transgendering people I've known, the idea is that though they were born with one kind of equipment, their brains and hearts and bodies have always identified with the other gender. Or neither gender. Or sometimes it's about expressing one gender more than another.

To make a huge generalization, sometimes the process of transgendering is a formality--finally "righting the equipment" when the rest of the person has been miles ahead for a long time. It's different for every individual, of course. It's an incredibly tough process--as you know from your friend's experience, it takes an unbelievable amount of courage--and the gray areas can be tricky to navigate.

I have a few transgendering friends who prefer that I not use gendered terms--and so I've become used to saying "Sam is coming for dinner. Sam will help set the table, and Sam's bringing a bottle of wine." It's an adjustment, yeah, and it can be frustrating to not really know what your friend is going through, and to not always understand why. You'll get used to calling your friend by her female name in time. Remind your friend that while they've been using this female name for some time, it's new to you and you need some patience and practice.

Be open with your friend, ask lots and lots of questions and help your friend to understand that because you care, the process is tough for you in different ways. You might argue, and you might not agree with one another. You're still more supportive than anyone else could be. Let them know that you're busy but thinking of them--even sending quick hello emails or voicemails can go a long way toward letting your friend know you care.

Hang in there--this can be a long and sometimes painful road for both of you. Focus on how proud you must be that your friend is making this transition, and how strong your friendship must be that you're a trusted ally. Good luck!
posted by hamster at 8:58 AM on June 16, 2005

Check out this Transsexualism and Gender Transition FAQ for significant others,
friends, family, employers, coworkers

Here are the titles of some sections you may find relevant:
"The person I thought I knew is becoming a stranger"
"I can't imagine the person ever seeming to me like the sex they want to be"
"How can I support this person in their transition?"

(Disclosure: I am one of the authors of this site.)
posted by SomePerlGeek at 10:58 AM on June 16, 2005

Depends on the size of the implants.

(sorry, but the real suggestion is that a little humour goes a long, long way)
posted by Kickstart70 at 12:20 PM on June 16, 2005

Coming late to the thread, I'm also confused by the term "100% girl." I don't think any of my transgendered friends or acquaintances would feel the need to be June Cleaver just to express their femaleness-- these are people who were born biologically male, and live as women, but they prefer pants to skirts, don't bother with makeup, play video games... you know; they're people. I'd be suspicious of anybody who feels like he or she has to correspond to society's stereotypes of gender, regardless of their anatomy.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:47 PM on June 16, 2005

M-F transgenders are frequently encouraged to stick with a more "formal" femininity, this is frequently reinforced in therapy. The thinking goes like this:
a) They lack the luxury of being able to wear overalls and a trucker hat and still be instantly recognizable as female.
b) They're having to build their feminine identity as an adult, without everyone around them constantly guiding them into "intuitively" feminine behavior.
c) They can feel as girl as they want, but other people's perceptions will be important on some level, like it or not. It would be great if we all walked around completely unaffected by the judgements of strangers, but that's pretty difficult. You can reconcile it with yourself in your head afterwards, but hey, everyone knows when someone's noticing the fat or pretty or ugly or big nose or arm-in-a-cast or weird hair or eyepatch or whatever when they walk by.

It's obviously a big, emotional, scary process, and those unrealistic expectations can be a type of relgious-esque faith to help get through the process. And yes, those expecations will sometimes let her down.

(If it helps, a close analogy is having that friend who is a super-hopeless romantic who expects Prince Charming to ride up on the white horse. You know that you're going to be drying some tears over this, but you wouldn't want that sort of person to be a cold-hearted cynic, either, eh?)

Having been the "friend of" several times, I'd advise to make a real effort to use her female name and "she." Yes, it's normal to have to do it consciously. This is probably the single biggest thing you can do to reinforce that you want your friend to be happy and that you're trying to be comfortable with the gender change.
posted by desuetude at 2:06 PM on June 16, 2005

The one thing that I've found I can't quite deal with (and this may be harsh of me), is that they seem to think they will be 100% girl when the process is finished.

I think the key is that she feels that she is already female and is just correcting the anatomical bits. Wait and see how you feel as the prcess progresses. I think it would be kindest to accept her as a woman, and not as a woman-who-used-to-be-a-man.

I recommend She's Not There, by Jennifer Boylan. It has a great description of her relationship with her best friend as she transitioned.
posted by theora55 at 2:10 PM on June 16, 2005

Two things jump out at me here.

1. The one thing that I've found I can't quite deal with (and this may be harsh of me), is that they seem to think they will be 100% girl when the process is finished. It really doesn't matter what you think. She's not doing this to be accepted by you or anyone else. She's doing this because she feels like she's a woman trapped in a mans body. In the end, if she feels like a woman, sees herself as a woman when she looks in the mirror and wakes up thinking she's s a woman - well, then it's been successful.

2. It sounds like you haven't really allowed this to sink in, but you've had three years to get used to the notion. Do your best to understand that it's about her and what she needs. Give it your best shot to call her by her chosen name. It doesn't make you a bad person or a bad friend tha tyou are having a hard time with it. But be honest with your self and with her. If you can't handle it but care about her, tell her and ask her to help you - together you can find a way to continue the friendship with greater understanding OR you can allow the friendship to 'end' with the understanding that you gave it your best shot and but you're just not in the space where you are able to be supportive of this right now.
posted by FlamingBore at 2:28 PM on June 16, 2005

For what it's worth, my friend once turned up in bright red nails on her huge hands, huge red lipstick, buffant blonde hair, a huge amount of cleavage (she was a larger lady to be fair), and then asked me while we were driving along how she could be more female. Perhaps thinking too quickly, I said "well you could tone it all down."

And she has since. It's an adjustment process - if she asks you how she looks, tell her. Don't bother otherwise, and keep up the old threads. If you want to.
posted by badlydubbedboy at 6:41 AM on June 20, 2005

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