Accessing transition-related healthcare in this country as a transgender and non-binary person (here-on-out referred to as “trans person”) can be an extremely stressful process. The current political climate and the resulting legislative hurdles compounds the stress and marginalization that trans people experience.
In my practice, I often see cisgender allies who are desperate to find ways to support their trans friends and family members. My recommendation is always the same: hold space for them.
What is holding space?
Holding space means to be there for someone and listen with compassion and empathy rather than judgment. It’s easy for us to think we know what’s best for someone and natural to believe that what works for us will work for them – but we’re often wrong!
What kind of space your trans friend or family member may need will depend on their own unique psychology and the circumstances of a given day.
Here are three ideas to get you started in holding space for your trans friend or family member:
1. Express care and concern
Let your trans friend or family member know that you saw something upsetting in the news (i.e. another trans person murdered, a new piece of anti-trans legislation in Alabama).
Tell them you really care about them, that you want to know how they’re doing, and ask and if they need space to talk about how the current events are impacting them.
- If they say no, don’t take it personally – they might need alone time or a light-hearted distraction, or they might have a different source of support.
- If they say yes, ask if they’d like to talk on the phone, text, or meet up in person.
Sometimes people crave connection but can only muster the energy for texting – and that’s perfectly okay!
Talking on the phone can often bring up feelings of dysphoria for a trans person if their voice does not align with their gender identity – reassure your friend or family member that you’re happy to be with them in whatever way feels good for them.
2. Give them permission to express whatever they are feeling, in whatever way they need to
It’s not uncommon for trans people to have their feelings invalidated and their needs dismissed, which means they are less likely to open up to a cisgender person who might not understand their experience. Let your trans friend or family member know that even though you may not fully understand, you care about how they’re feeling and you want to understand as best as you can.
Often people are hesitant to open up because they are afraid they will cry, they don’t want to be seen as an angry person, or they think they will be a burden.
Let them know that their feelings are welcome and that you’d hope they’d hold space for you, too, in a time of need.
Anything from mild annoyance to deep grief is a normal response to the injustices happening in the world against the trans community.
Tell them their feelings are normal and valid, it makes sense that they feel that way, and that you’re sad to see them hurting. Reassure them that they’re not alone, and if they need to scream into a pillow that you’d be happy to scream right along with them.
3. Let go of the need to fix things – and only offer solutions with consent
It’s natural to want to step in and fix things when we see someone in pain, but focusing on solutions before feelings can often leave people feeling unseen.
Ask your trans friend or family member if they want your support in finding solutions to whatever issue is causing them pain. If they consent, have a discussion with them about what might feel supportive.
For example – maybe you can accompany them to a protest against a new anti-trans bill. Maybe you can offer to sit with them as they come out to their family members, or maybe you can text them every day with a gender-specific affirmation, such as “you’re killing it, man!”
If you sense that your trans friend or family member might need more attention and support than you can give, especially if they mention wanting to harm themselves, offer to support them in finding a trans-friendly therapist. For those in crisis, the Trans Lifeline is staffed by trans people who are trained to respond to emergencies.
Your trans friends or family may not reach out to for support, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need it. It never hurts to check-in on a loved one, and doing so could even save lives.
Contact us for a free consultation today.
About the Author
Remi says, “My style is to show you unconditional kindness coupled with honest feedback so that you might develop self-awareness and achieve your full potential.”