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LGBT Mental Health

7 Ways To Support A Loved One Who Is Transitioning (From Male To Female Or Female To Male)

Gender transitioning is the process in which a person begins to live according to their gender identity instead of the gender they were assigned at birth. Possible steps in a gender transition may or may not include changing one’s clothing, appearance, name, or the pronoun used to refer to them (see below). In countries where it is legal to do so, some are able to change their identification documents, like their driver’s license or passport, to reflect their gender. Finally, some people undergo hormone replacement therapy or other medical procedures to change their physical characteristics and make their body better reflect the gender they know themselves to be.

Transitioning can take at least several months or even longer. “Transitioning is for life if you want to go all out — meaning you transition not just socially but also legally and medically,” says magazine editor Jebby Fronda. “Once you start taking hormone replacement therapy pills, for example, you can never stop doing so.”

There is no specific set of steps necessary to “complete” a transition—it’s a matter of what is right for each person. In Jebby’s case, her transition started back in in high school when she first came out to her parents as a homosexual boy. “Back then, I did not know yet that there was such a thing as transgenderism,” she explains. “I only knew that I was attracted to boys, so I told my family that I was gay.” 

But as time went by, she still felt there was something missing with her identity. “I realized I was not attracted to gay men; what I wanted was a relationship with a man who saw me as a woman,” she points out. 

Jebby’s epiphany came in 2014 when she watched the TED Talk entitled “Why I Must Come Out” by Geena Rocero, a Filipino-born American model and transgender advocate. “My mind was blown,” she relates. “I forgot the details of how I came out to my family the second time around, but I just knew that being a transwoman was what was right for me.”

“I respected their decision and told them we would discuss it again after a year, because one thing that I realized during my transition was that I have to give other people a chance to transition as well, that it’s also a process for them.”

Jebby Fronda, Magazine Editor

Today, Jebby is in her sixth year of transitioning but she describes her process as incremental. “Early on, I wanted to get top surgery so I could have breasts. But my parents told me they were not yet ready for me to do that because they felt the procedure was too invasive,” she explains. “I respected their decision and told them we would discuss it again after a year, because one thing that I realized during my transition was that I have to give other people a chance to transition as well, that it’s also a process for them.”

One of the milestones in her transition came in November 2020 when she was finally able to wear a swimsuit in front of her family. “Prior to that trip, my family always insisted that I wear shirts and trunks. Because I knew they were still adjusting to my gender identity, I didn’t press the issue, I just told them that I wouldn’t go swimming anymore.”

So it was a pleasant surprise when Jebby’s family finally allowed her to wear a swimsuit in November. “Of course I was happy, but at the same time, I also felt scared because I knew it was going to be awkward,” she confesses. “But when no one even batted an eye after that first day, I became more at ease and wore a swimsuit throughout the whole trip.” 

Another turning point also occurred last year when Jebby asked her father if he could buy her hormone replacement therapy pills during one of his trips to the drugstore. From then on, her father would constantly ask if he needed to replenish her supply. “It’s such a small gesture but it means the world to me because it shows progress in my family’s acceptance of me,” Jebby shares.  

Jebby’s story shows that regardless of what steps are involved or how long it takes, transitioning is a process that is filled with  a roller coaster of emotions, so the importance of a support system through this process cannot be overstated. “It is very important to support someone transitioning because it is a scary time for us,” she shares. “We feel very alone because at the end of the day, society does not accept us and when we first come out there is always the fear that we will not be accepted by our family or friends. This is why I am very thankful that my family transitioned with me.” 

Jebby shares some ways family members and friends can be a rock for a transitioning family member or friend’s life:

  1. When they first come out to you, congratulate them. “Transitioning is really a cause for celebration because it means the person has finally broken free from feeling trapped and confident enough to tell someone else who they really are,” Jebby explains.
  2. Ask what name or pronouns they would want to be called. Possible pronoun choices may include he/him, she/her, ze/hir, and they/them. Ze/hir and they/them (used to refer to an individual, not a group) are gender-neutral pronouns and are being used by more and more people who don’t feel like he/him or she/her adequately describe them. 
  1. Assure them that you will be there for them. “What we really need during this daunting time is a hand to hold and a listening ear,” Jebby says.
  1. Feel free to ask questions. Ask your loved one to explain to you how he/she/they found out they were transgender. “Let them tell you their story, so you can understand them better and it will not feel as if they are going through their journey alone,” Jebby says. “Also ask what else you can do for them to show your support.”
  2. Respect their privacy. Just because your transgender loved one has told you something about their experiences doesn’t mean they want everyone else to know. It is up to them to decide how much information is being shared, so ask permission first if you need to tell other people.
  3. Educate yourself. Show your loved one that you care by educating yourself on everything from the challenges the transgender community face, such as harassment, to the latest LGBTQ+ vocabulary. Jebby recommends that loved ones also watch Geena Rocero’s TED Talk (available on YouTube) and even read young adult books about being transgender (just search “Transgender” on Goodreads). 
  1. Advise them to see a doctor if they want to transition medically. “This is to make sure everything is done safely and flawlessly,” Jebby explains. 

“Being a good ally to someone transitioning is all about opening your communication lines,” Jebby summarizes. “Even if you read a lot about transitioning and transgenderism, the experience is different for each person so at some point you really have to ask your loved one what he, she, or they need. Be open to that conversation, even if it’s awkward or scary.” 

Transitioning is an emotional experience for all parties involved. If your loved one is transitioning and you find yourself struggling, MindNation’s psychologists are available for 24/7 teletherapy sessions to help you process what you’re feeling. Book a session now through FB Messenger http://mn-chat or email [email protected].

Categories
LGBT Mental Health

10 Ways To Support A Loved Who Is Questioning Their Sexual Orientation Or Gender Identity

Last time, we gave tips on what to do if a loved one explicitly comes out to you. But what should you do if your child, close friend, or sibling “sort of” comes out to you? By this, we mean they are not really sure if they are gay, straight, or something else entirely, and they don’t know what to do about it. Chances are they are feeling scared, confused, and afraid of losing your love or friendship, but at the same time are in need of a sounding board. 

“Being queer is a struggle,” says Venue Aves, Punong Babaylan (Head Shaman) of the U.P. Babaylan, the longest-existing LGBTQI student organization in the Philippines and in Asia. “This is why it’s important to be a safe space for queer people, especially if they are questioning, because research shows that members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community are more vulnerable to developing mental health problems — including suicidal ideation — because of the problems that arise from society’s prejudice and non-acceptance of them.”

Here are some ways you can support a loved one who is questioning their sexuality or identity: 

“How they arrive at or express their sexuality is a journey; their identity does not have to be pinned down or labelled right away.”

Venue Aves, Punong Babaylan (Head Shaman) of the U.P. Babaylan
  1. Explicitly assure them that your relationship will not change. This is the most basic way that you can support your loved one. Say you love them, that they’re still your BFF, that you think nothing less of them. “The support and reassurance has to be explicit because more often than not, the one who is questioning will be afraid that your relationship will change or become complicated by their confession,” Venus says. “By being clear and affirming with support and encouragement that is unconditional, you allow your questioning loved one to express what they really feel.”
  2. Thank them for their trust. Even if your loved one knows that you’re an ally, verbalizing their fears can still be a really intense experience that takes strength and courage. Thanking your sibling, friend, or child shows that you honor this courage as well as the trust that they have for you.
  3. Don’t force them to come to a decision. Pushing them into a “gayer” or “straighter” direction — even if your advice is well-intended — puts undue pressure on the one who is questioning. Instead give them room to figure things out on their own. “How they arrive at or express their sexuality is a journey; their identity does not have to be pinned down or labelled right away,” they point out. 
  1. Listen more than you talk. Even if you are curious, questions like “Are you sure?” or “What if you’re just confused?” only adds to the pressure and complicates an already sensitive issue. If you must ask, ask what help or support your loved one needs from you. Otherwise, just listen, nod along, or be a shoulder to lean on. 
  1. Accept the fact that you cannot do everything. “Even if you are a safe space, the rest of society may not be,” they explain. “So if you can, ensure that your questioning loved one has access to support groups outside of your trusted circle.”
  2. Educate yourself. Do your best to understand the reality of being a member of the LGBTQ+ community. “Learn about Sexual Orientation, Gender Equality, Expression, and Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC),” they say. “Read books, listen to podcasts, or watch shows that show the experiences of LGBTQ+ people. These are all readily available online.”
  3. Educate others. If you follow social media accounts that promote LGBTQ+ equality, repost their content. “If your partner or parents are struggling with your child or sibling coming out or questioning, make the effort to talk to them and remind them that their loved one is still the same person and your love should not change,” they advise.
  4. If a close co-worker is the one who is questioning, strive to make the company more inclusive and accepting of diversity. “Petition your manager or HR department to invite organizations like U.P. Babaylan to give talks on SOGIESC, which can lead to the formulation of diverse and inclusive policies and make your workplace a safe space for queers and questioning individuals,” they suggest.
  5. Check-in on them regularly. “It’s really scary not to be straight, so communicate with your loved one often to make sure they are okay and to assure them that you are there if they need anything,” they explain. 

Refer them to a mental health professional if — and only if — your loved one has a history of mental health concerns or is displaying signs of depression, anxiety, or suicidal ideation. “But do not tell them to talk to a psychologist solely because they are questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity because homosexuality and transgenderism are not medical illnesses that need to be treated,” they add.  

  1.  Respect their privacy. Just because your loved one is processing their sexuality with you does not mean they want to be out to the rest of your family or friends, or even plan to be. Even though your intentions may be good (i.e. you want to be the one to tell your parents to spare your sibling the fear and anxiety), always ask your loved one first if that is what they want you to do. Outing someone who is LGBTQ+ without their permission can damage relationships or put them in awkward situations that they are not prepared for. 

It is important to create an inclusive environment for everyone. By simply affirming, supporting, and respecting your loved one’s questioning thoughts and feelings, you can already make a difference in their lives. 

If you are a queer person or know someone who is questioning, Balur Kanlungan (https://www.facebook.com/balur.kanlungan) is an online wellness community for LGBTQI+ youth in the Philippines and provide avenues for members of the community to be exposed to the LGBTQI rights movement.


For those who want to talk to mental health professionals, MindNation offers 24/7 teletherapy sessions with licensed psychologists and WellBeing Coaches. Rest assured that all conversations will be kept secure and confidential. Book a session now through FB Messenger http://bit.ly/mn-chat or email [email protected].