Assuming that you’re the kind of person who considers themself to be generally open-minded and you want to accept your friend for who they are, there are some things you should be aware of concerning nonbinary identities to help you avoid rude or inappropriate comments and behaviors.
“Does this mean my friend is under the trans* umbrella?”
First, there is no asterisk behind “trans.” While you may intend it to be inclusive or representative of the aforementioned “umbrella,” the asterisk is generally inappropriate and othering. Why? This is because the term “trans” (or “transgender”) is already inclusive. You need not add an asterisk to include those who haven’t transitioned, those who are nonbinary, etc. because those people are already included. The term “transgender” refers to anyone who identifies as a gender other than, or in addition to, whichever one they were assigned at birth. If someone does not fit that category, such as cis crossdressers or cis people who disregard gender norms, then they are not trans and do not need to be included with an asterisk either.
Therefore, the answer to the above question is technically “yes.” Though if your friend specifies that they feel they are not transgender, for any reason, and does not identify with the term, then the answer would be “no.”
In addition to this information, here are some other things to keep in mind:
- Your friend’s preferred pronouns are grammatically correct.
People often erroneously take issue with neopronouns or neutral pronouns with the reasoning that they are “grammatically incorrect.” For starters, this is technically untrue, as English has recognized the singular “they” since the late fourteenth century. Its use to refer to someone of unknown or unspecified gender is far from a new phenomenon. While its use as a specifically nonbinary term is relatively new, this makes little difference. In my personal experience, the vast majority of those who take issue with whether or not singular “they” is grammatically correct tend to do so hypocritically: They often make grammatically errors in casual writing, they use a regional dialect that may be considered (again, erroneously) by outsiders to be incorrect, etc. In other words, those that make these complaints are hardly holding themselves to the grammatical standards that they hold nb/trans people to. Not only this, but few of these people understand how a language forms and becomes officially recognized, and what makes certain grammar correct or incorrect. There’s a high probability that your own personal grammar 24/7 is not stellar, let alone entirely flawless, so don’t fret over the ‘correctness.’ So while it may sound strange and may be uncomfortable to use at first, you should always make an effort to learn and use your friend’s chosen pronouns.
- Their gender is not a matter of debate.
Yes, your friend’s gender is certainly “real.” If you’re only looking to accept them on the basis of “well, people can do whatever they want and call themselves what they want even if its technically not real,” then you need to take a step back and educate yourself further on gender and what it means to be a friend. Not only does your friend likely know themselves better than you do, but it you’re cis (unless you happen to hold a degree in gender studies and human biology), there’s a really good chance that your friend understands the concept of gender a bit better than you do. And that is perfectly fine! No one needs to know everything about everything, but it means that you should respect your friend’s knowledge of themself and gender. Unfortunately, gender is seldom ever discussed in-depth or actually accurately in lower levels of education. So it is important to remember that your eighth grade class on sexual reproduction by no means gives you the qualifications to invalidate your friend or critique anyone’s sense of gender. Not only do you probably not know what you’re talking about, but it is a very unnecessary, callous, and inappropriate debate topic.
- Support and Acceptance =/= Patronizing Comments and Being OTT
By all means, let your friend confide in you if they choose. Use their preferred name and pronouns. Reassure them. Defend and protect them. But realize that there is a difference between being a good friend and ally, and being…embarrassing. If your friend happens to be transfemme, for example, save the “YAAASSS gurl, slay hunny! omg” comments every time they wear makeup or something. Unless that is how you respond to all your friends wearing makeup every time they wear it, in which case I’m not sure how you still have friends. All jokes aside, casual compliments will suffice. Don’t try too hard in being supportive, just be genuinely accepting.
- Avoid Performative Allyship
On a related note, there is a difference between genuine support and the above. Performative allyship is basically anything that serves as a (whether or not you are conscious of it) “Look at how unproblematic I am!” And it doesn’t actually help at all. For example, consistently apologizing to trans/nb people for what cis society has done doesn’t really help anyone at all. All that tells us is that you, for some reason, feel the need to apologize for something you allegedly aren’t doing or partaking in. Don’t go around talking about how you’re so much unlike other cis people, don’t be a social media activist who spouts about how “good” you are, don’t conflate jokes about cis people to actual issues and oppression faced by trans/nb people, don’t demand any awards or good treatment for being a decent human being, don’t claim to be a flawless source of information on trans/nb topics just because you have trans/nb friends, etc. Truly being an ally doesn’t require just a media outlet or an audience. “Ally” isn’t part of your qualifications or identity, so don’t bother including that in every bio on every social media. If you’re an actual ally, we’ll know.
It is also important to remember that your friend is still who they have likely always been, and is just beginning to express themselves better- not actually changing overall as a person. You don’t have to change how you feel or change your relationship to/with your friend. Liked shopping before? Great, you can still do that together! Liked gaming? Yep, you both can still do that as well. Surfing? Go for it.
And while it may take some time to get used to a name change or using different pronouns, and it may be strange to get used to an overall different appearance/presentation if your friend chooses to start HRT, it shouldn’t be anything that makes you generally uncomfortable. It may seem weird at first, but the more you dwell on the transition of your friend rather than go about a normal friendship, the weirder it will seem. Things will only be awkward or uncomfortable if you let them be.
Furthermore, however difficult or strange things may feel for you at first, remember that it is far easier to support someone during transitioning or be the friend of a nonbinary person than it is to actually come out or begin transitioning yourself. Your friend may have already felt very uncomfortable and dysphoric before coming out or transitioning as well, so remember that it is best to keep their feelings in mind.