During June, we honor the LGBTQIA+ community. And while the annual celebration of Pride is a positive tradition that brings awareness and promotes change, as allies, we should work tirelessly every day to create equality. Over the past year, there has been a heightened awareness regarding the use of pronouns. While it may be simple to those who align with the sex they were born with, for those who identify as transgender, it can be an emotionally triggering experience. In addition to making a conscious effort to use the correct pronouns, there are many ways to support transgender men and women.
We spoke with Xavier King, a clinical hypnotherapist, reiki master teacher, and a therapeutic NLP coach. As a trans man, he is currently six months into his medical transition. Here, he shares his experience, as well as impactful ways we can all support this underserved and misunderstood community.
Xavier knew that being an assigned female at birth (AFAB) was not the most comfortable option for him from a very early age. His first memory was around two or three years old when he was scolded for running around with his brothers shirtless.
“I was very quickly introduced to the expectations put on me from that moment forward about what it meant to be AFAB, and I still could not bring myself to conform to the rules,” he said. “I spent the rest of my childhood defying all the obstacles that were placed in front of me as I navigated the world as a growing human body.”
His mother, in particular, truly had a strong desire for him to be the little girl she had always dreamed of parenting, and he just could not ever live up to those requests, standards, or expectations. “I felt at every turn, I had this innate and certain knowing of resistance to all things that were being modeled for what being a girl, woman, or AFAB meant,” he added.
Once puberty hit, Xavier was met with what he described as a “world of shame and confusion” that he never could properly articulate to anyone else. To cope, he went through the motions and toed a line of ambiguity and androgyny that eventually developed into finding as many ways as possible to channel the inner man inside of his female body. “My mother tells me stories of how I used to express to her the dreams I had of the ‘little boy who lived inside of me,’” he said. “I distinctly remember countless conversations where I was told ‘no’ because ‘girls don’t do those things.’
Xavier lived in North Carolina, where his surrounding family and environment were not exactly encouraging about education, knowledge, or worldly views regarding LGBTQIA identities. So the knowledge that what was happening to him was something that also happens to many others, was not accessible. “I first understood fully what was happening to me in my early 20s, as I had finally had an introduction into a world of trans people, drag, and a large LGBTQIA community,” he explained. “And for the first time, I felt peaceful and like I was not alone or crazy.”
Though Xavier tried to tell others that he was a trans man—and even set up some appointments to start his medical transition—family pressure caused him to back out. “Many years went by, and I dealt with my emotions and desires by hiding myself in baggy clothing, performing as a drag king, and drowning myself in drugs and alcohol,” he shared.
Then, at the age of 30, he made a huge change: he moved to Australia in search of the freedom to be himself, without having to live up to any expectations of others. For the next several years, he developed a true sense of self and individuality he never experienced before. When he turned 33, he married whom he affectionately calls “the most beautiful and supportive human who wanted nothing more than for me to be me.”
Fast forward to now, Xavier is 34 years old and six months into his medical transition. “My mental health and wellness are thriving. I am more connected to my emotions, and I feel like the person I am on the outside matches the person I am on the inside,” he explains. “I feel privileged to be able to experience this in my life, especially when I consider that it is still illegal in 13 countries. And there are people out there in the world who may never feel safe enough or loved enough to be who they really are.”
How can you support others like Xavier? Here, he shares a few ideas:
Always ask how someone wants to be referred to
“Transgender or not, please always ask someone their preferences as far as their name, pronouns, or how they would like to be addressed or spoken about, in front of or without them present. The world we currently live in is becoming more supportive of embracing and honoring who we all are at our core. And more often than not, that means someone’s name, their gender, and/or the way they identify or want to be addressed will not be what you assume it to be. So it is important to get this clarity from the start. Not only does that make it less awkward for them to speak their truth, but it also makes it more comfortable when others hear you making an effort to be inclusive and understanding.”
Be careful about ‘outing’ someone
“Not all trans people are publicly or socially ‘out.’ It is important to note that even when someone who is transgender shares with you that they are, it is not then your right to share that information with others. Transgender people may feel that they can trust you or have a need to share with you that they are trans but keep that trust and don’t share it with others. Even if the person is out socially or publicly, they have a right to share their story when they choose to, not when you do.”
Trans people are human first
“Our identity does not circle around the fact that we are transgender. We are still human first, a person who maybe prefers coffee over tea. Being transgender doesn’t mean that all conversations, every introduction, every part of our lives revolves around that journey or decision. It will not be the focus of our life, so you mustn’t make it the focus. Get to know someone for all the other fun and quirky things that make them, themselves and understand that being transgender is simply just a part of that person, not the whole.”
Use the correct name
“Even if you have known John as Sally for 30 years, it does not mean that you then refer to John as ‘When he was Sally’ or ‘Back before he became John’ or ‘When John was a little girl.’ This is just like with pronouns; it can mean life or death for some transgender individuals. Get clear on people’s preferences as to how they would like their past addressed. You may run into some people who do not mind being called their birth name when referring to their past, but you might also find that they do. It is always important to find out what they prefer.”
At the heart of being an ally is coming from a place of understanding and humanity. As Xavier reminds us, people are people—and the more we challenge ourselves to treat them with dignity and respect, the better, more unified world we will create.