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Supporting Transgender Loved Ones: Creating Rites of Passage

For Declan's 59th birthday (his first after coming out as transgender) I staged an "it's a boy!" party, with blue decorations and male hygiene products as gifts. I also typed up 59 characteristics which described him, then cut them into slips, and placed them in this little bag. The celebration provided a new memory for what birthdays mean to him.


The entry below is an excerpt from my upcoming book Holding on to Hope: Help for friends and family of transgender people. It's a similar title to Reaching for Hope: Strategies and support for the partners of transgender people and re-presents some of the content, but has a wider scope.

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Bar mitzvahs, quinceañeras, getting a driver’s permit, and graduating from school are major milestones and celebrations of significant shifts in a person’s life. Transgender individuals often miss out on the rituals corresponding with their identity, even things as prosaic as menstruating for the first time, or learning how to shave. Some of these milestones simply can’t be replicated, but others can, and new experiences can be created to help mark the process of transitioning.

Rites of passage could include:

  • Going through closets and dressers to get rid of clothing which doesn’t reflect your loved one’s reality.

  • Shopping for new clothes. Undergarments have particular poignance and significance.

  • Replacing jewelry.

  • Purchasing razors marketed toward your loved one’s gender.

  • Having makeup applied by someone who’s really good at it.

  • Practicing signing their chosen name.

  • Booking an appointment with a voice training coach, or downloading a voice training app.

  • Receiving appropriately gendered cards for Valentine's Day, birthdays, or Mother’s/Father’s Day.

You might find some of these things painful, but undertaking them doesn’t just help your loved one; they also provide a way for you to acknowledge and honor what came before, and to release it. There will be new memories in the years to come, and the rites of passage you celebrate together now will be part of them.

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.

Ralph Waldo Emerson


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