Written by Teri Westerby from the Chilliwack Gender Support Network
1. There is no blueprint.
No two people are exactly the same. We all have different histories, experiences, abilities, dreams, goals, and needs. There is no blueprint for the best way to support any single individual, and, naturally, that applies to trans folks as well. Sometimes, the only thing that people in a trans support group have in common with each other is that they are all trans. People of all ages come, often just to connect with each other and let their guard down so they can completely be themselves. Some folks want to be around others who can lead them through their period of self-doubt. Some need advice and guidance, and some people want to pass their wisdom on to others. Some people transitioned younger, decades ago, and some people transitioned at an older age, in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. Some folks know more recent terminology, and some folk use outdated terminology that they identify with and wear proudly. But truly, what’s important is that everyone has an open mind, an open heart, and enough patience to interact with each other.
“Some folk transitioned younger, back in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, and some folk transition older, in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s.”
2. Ask. and then actually listen.
No two people are exactly the same. Every community brings an entirely different mixture of people from a variety of backgrounds, needs, goals, and experiences.
Here are 3 easy steps to follow to ensure that you are listening to your local trans community:
Step 1 – it is absolutely crucial that before starting a support group you reach out to the community and ask what they need and want from a support group. You should look into different areas of your city and community, for example, in health care. Is there adequate medical care for your local trans community? Is there bullying in local schools? Is there a need for education for the staff and students? There are many things trans folk need from their community in addition to mental health support.
Step 2 – It is also an equally crucial step that the responses are collected, reviewed and that the people running the group create services that reflect the feedback that was provided.
Step 3 – REPEAT – a surprise step in this process is to repeat it. Otherwise, how can you know if your community feels their needs are being met? How could you know if you don’t ask? And if you don’t know, what was the point at all?
3. Lean into the strengths of your community.
Everyone has an entirely different set of strengths in which to draw from and build a beautiful and rich community. You never know what your community can do for each other. Creating a space in which they all can connect and discuss their needs, strengths, and abilities will bring out the best in people. Often, all you need to do is create a space for people to shine and the rest will fall into place naturally.
4. Set Boundaries. Use Tools. Make a real difference.
No two people are exactly the same. Some folks come with additional challenges and have a lot of really intense needs, which can draw a lot of time and energy out of others. It is critical that everyone involved in facilitating the program is given the tools needed to establish and maintain boundaries, even in what may seem like an emergency. These situations can negatively affect the lives and mental health of the facilitators and can be avoided with proper tools and training.
“It is critical that everyone involved in facilitating the program is given the tools needed to establish and maintain boundaries, even in what may seem like an emergency”
5. Advocacy matters
Without activism, the LGBTQ2IA+ community and Trans people as you know them today, would not exist. Activism often means stepping out and being visible, in order to fight the status quo. However, being visibly trans or being “out” is an act of bravery for many. Asking trans folk who come for support to be visible/out in order to further pursue equal rights and protections for themselves can be overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. There are many ways to advocate for trans folks in their community without outing them. For example, asking questions to healthcare professionals, writing letters to your local MPs, or school boards, or even newspapers, calling out bullying and fighting laws or regulations or policies that may affect the folk in your area, there are many ways you can advocate for trans folk without bringing them potential harm.
6. No two people are exactly the same.
It is abundantly clear that everyone in the world is entirely different from each other and has different needs, abilities, experiences, goals, desires, and histories, and should be treated with respect and dignity.
If your goal is to support people, starting there is a good first step.