When my son came out as transgender more than a decade ago, I made plenty of mistakes.
But since then he’s helped me become a great advocator for him and other youth within the transgender community.
Here are thirteen responses any transgender teen would welcome after coming out to you.
1. “You are so brave.”
It’s not easy to announce your true self to the world especially if you think it will be a surprise or shock to everyone. It can be even more difficult when you’re unsure or afraid of the reaction of others.
It takes courage to live authentically. Let your transgender loved one know you realize this.
Having to hide the way you live because of fear of punishment isn’t a ‘right,’ nor is it ‘privacy.’ Being in the closet . . . is maintained by force, not choice. — Sarah Schulman
2. “Thank you for sharing that with me.”
Teens — like many adults — want to know that when they let their true self be seen, they won’t be criticized for it. They want to be accepted and loved and supported.
Thanking anyone for sharing their honesty is a simple way to let them know you’ve truly heard them.
Because you never know when a transgender person is going to come into your life, you need to be prepared, and you need to be ready to help them. — Nicole Maines
3. “I accept you for who you are.”
Respecting someone’s differences isn’t always as easy as respecting your similarities. But both are important if you want your relationship with that person to grow.
Telling someone you accept them in their entirety lets them understand that you value your relationship with them. Let them know you will not reject them for their differences.
When I realized I was transgender I was so afraid of what my transition would do to everyone else in my life, and how they would react to it, and would I be rejected? — Chaz Bono
4. “I’m listening. I’m interested in learning more.”
Opening up about ourselves isn’t always easy. But once you decide to share your thoughts, feelings, opinions, and perspectives with someone else, it’s encouraging to be told your words have value to them.
Telling a teenager — or anyone — you’re interested in knowing more about them and their journey is an effective way to continue building your relationship with them. Only through understanding can acceptance and empathy encourage us to love and support one another.
5. “How can I best support you?”
When it comes to our identities, we are the top experts of ourselves. If a trans teen has opened up to you, then they know they need someone to listen to them. They need someone to at least attempt to understand where they’re coming from. And they’ve chosen you for that.
Sometimes transgender teens just want to be real with someone. It takes so much energy to hide in plain sight all the time. If they’ve chosen you to come out to, you really should feel honored because it means they trust you.
Don’t disappoint them. Ask them how to best support them and ask often. Their needs may change as their identities grow.
6. “Seeing you happy makes me happy.”
Once my kid came out as transgender, I couldn’t believe the difference in his demeanor, attitude, and happiness. I got to see firsthand how feeling acceptance can influence a person’s outlook and behaviors.
He went from withdrawn, depressed loner to talkative, outgoing, happy kid.
Knowing someone sees you for who you are and accepts you for all that entails can be freeing. You’re suddenly free to say what’s on your mind without judgment. You get to act and dress in a way that bolsters your self-confidence, especially around others.
It’s easier to find joy in your life when you have such freedoms.
7. “I’m proud to be your ally/parent/friend.”
This one might not need to be spoken aloud. Good allies, parents, and friends support those they love and care about with their actions more often than just words.
Even young children can pick up cues that tell them whether or not a person likes them or if they can trust them.
So don’t just say these words, act the part. Do those things that make you a good ally, a supportive parent, and a phenomenal friend so you can honestly and emphatically tell the world how proud you are to know your transgender or nonbinary loved one.
7 Easy Ways To Be an Ally When You’re Cishet
Your voice matters for equality even if you’re cisgender and straight.
8. “You are beautiful inside and out.”
There is way too much pressure put on people to be viewed as perfect. And I think teenagers and young adults might have the hardest time with this because they’re still experimenting and exploring with their own identities.
True beauty has nothing to do with physical appearance and it’s about time we start acting on this fact. Inner beauty truly shines for the world to see when the individual lives boldly in authenticity without apology.
Recognizing true beauty in others can help them understand that you see them for who they are, not simply for how they dress or look.
The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths. — Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
9. “Watching you grow up is the best.”
As a parent, it’s been truly amazing to watch my transgender child grow into the responsible, happy, creative person he is today.
But even if you are not a parent, there is a joy to be found in others’ happiness especially knowing you’ve played a part in it.
I think being a teenager is a difficult journey in and of itself, but being transgender makes it that much harder. — Jazz Jennings
10. “What are your name and proper pronouns? I’d like to refer to you properly.”
Hearing another human being speak your name is arguably the most important thing in the world a person can hear. It’s a sign you’re recognized as yourself and a show of respect on behalf of the speaker. Pronouns are simply another version of this.
Even people in a vegetative state who are spoken to using their first names show signs of brain activation. This is proof that hearing our names is tied to our core identities.
Transgender and nonbinary youth who report having their pronouns respected by all or most of the people in their lives attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not have their pronouns respected. — The Trevor Project National Survey
11. “Would you like to talk about your journey?”
The lifesaving costs of hiding sometimes outweigh the life-threatening costs of coming out. If there’s a trans youth who chooses to come out to you, respectfully listen to what they have to say.
Understand that coming out can be scary and is never a one-and-done process. If they know they can repeatedly come to you because you’ll listen, you may just save their life.
Affirming gender identity among transgender and nonbinary youth is consistently associated with lower rates of suicide attempts. — The Trevor Project National Survey
12. “I love seeing the person you’re becoming.”
This statement takes gender identity out of the equation. Its emphasis is on loving someone because they are a human being, a person, an individual.
It’s no secret that kids excel with positivity and encouragement. Recognizing those youth who have bravely chosen to live authentically while still trying to understand themselves and the rest of the world will go a long way to helping them continue on their journey of exploration and becoming the best version of themselves they can be.
Being transgender, like being gay, tall, short, white, black, male, or female is another part of the human condition that makes each individual unique, and something over which we have no control. We are who we are in the deepest recesses of our minds, hearts, and identities. — Linda Thompson
13. “I love you.”
It lets us know we’re not alone. That someone cares about us. That we’re completely accepted for who we are.
Love doesn’t care how much money you have. It doesn’t care who your parents are. It doesn’t care if you’re gay, straight, or transgender. — Rumer Willis
If a transgender or nonbinary youth has come out to you, they’re trusting you to accept them without judgment. They might even be hoping you’ll help them understand themselves better in some way. Many of us need to bounce thoughts, feelings, and experiences off others in order to make sense of them for ourselves.
I hope these thirteen phrases help guide you in your conversations with your trans and nonbinary loved ones. Just remember that actively listening to them can be even more important.
Zada Kent is co-founder of LGBTQueer-ies and proud parent to her transgender son. Here are 10 Questions Every Parent Should Ask Their Transgender Teen.