As the mother of a transgender daughter, I wanted to share seven things I have learned. (With the caveat that I'm no expert and am still learning everyday)
1) Gender identity is separate from sexual orientation. If someone is transgender, for example, many people automatically assume that they must also be gay. That, however, is not the case. Gender identity is the personal sense of one's own gender. Gender can correlate with assigned sex at birth or can differ from it. Sexual orientation is who you feel attracted to.
2) Being transgender (an adjective, not a noun or a verb) is not a mental illness. Unfortunately this idea is often used in a dismissive, oppressive way towards the trans community. It is considered a “health condition,” only so trans individuals are able to access medical treatments they may seek, such as hormone replacement therapy, so their body can align more closely with their identity. Also unfortunate is the fact that many trans people experience higher levels of anxiety and depression than the general public due to family, peer, and the public's rejection of them. The public is grossly undereducated on this topic which results in stressful social situations, which can certainly contribute to emotional distress. We have to do better about educating one another. And stop the stigmas.
3) There's no one "right" way to be transgender. Some people choose to socially transition meaning their outward expression matches the gender they identify with. But not always. When our daughter is home with us, she will often wear comfy sweats and t-shirts with no makeup. She is still transgender regardless of her outward appearance. Some people choose to medically transition and that isn't anyone's business but their own. Just as you wouldn't ask about your neighbor's genitalia, the same applies to transgender people.
4) Names and pronouns are important. Some trans people choose to change their name if they feel that it no longer matches them or if they experience dysphoria around it. Others choose to keep the name they were assigned at birth. Our daughter chose to keep her name. No matter what, it's important that the name they choose is used. Their name aligns closely with their identity.
Respecting and using preferred pronouns is also important. You would be irritated if someone kept using the wrong pronouns when referring to you. The same is true for trans folks. If you aren't sure which pronouns to use, simply ask. "What are your pronouns? Mine are she/her." If EVERYONE included their pronouns when introducing or representing themselves, trans people would be safer and feel more comfortable.
5) Transgender people who have families who are rejecting of their identity are more than 8 times more likely to attempt suicide than their cis-gender peers. Rejecting behaviors include not respecting or using preferred pronouns, trying to change them, not allowing them to express themselves as the gender they identify with, speaking negatively about trans people, limiting their interaction with their trans peers, and punishing them for their identity in any way. I feel fortunate to have a family that supports our daughter by making a concerted effort to use her pronouns, doesn't treat her any differently than before she came out as trans, and who's proud of having a trans sister/cousin/niece/daughter.
6) Changing your body to match how you feel inside happens within the cis-gender community all the time. People do it everyday when they alter their appearance with plastic surgery, at the hair salon, at the tattoo parlor, at the tanning salon, at the gym, and through clothing. Imagine if society told you "you were born with brown hair, a flat chest, a fuzzy upper lip, and a stutter, and you aren't allowed to change any of it." That may be a poor analogy but it makes you think. Why is there such a stigma around gender?
7) Our daughter is still the person she was before she came out as transgender. She's still motivated and intelligent studying Communications at a private university in Los Angeles. She bakes a ridiculously delicious cake. She's a fantastic writer, writing the satirical section for her student paper. Laundry remains low on the list of priorities. She and the dogs are still fans of one another. I still have to ask for her help when I attempt fake lashes - for the 25th time. Or when I need to reach something on the top shelf. She remains a thoughtful and loyal friend to those lucky enough to be a part of her circle. In fact, she happier now that her physical appearance more closely matches her gender identity.
If you happen to see her, or other trans people, out and about, please be kind, smile, and let her know you see her. It can be a very scary thing to present yourself authentically in public when you appear at all different than what people expect. Please leave a comment if you have questions. I may not have the answers but we can learn together.