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Supporting your trans loved one through family gatherings Sticking together for the holidays (and always)

a drawing of two people sitting on a log by an outdoor fire. one person has their arm around the other.

Image by Sara Williamson @ inkmitts.wordpress.com

While family gatherings can present opportunities for connection, they can be quite challenging for trans people1 of all ages. Family histories, relationship dynamics, and where each person is in their understanding of gender diversity will all impact a trans person’s ability to be fully present (and fully themselves) at family gatherings. Having an ally can make a world of difference to your trans loved one.

Check in with your trans family member

Have a conversation with your trans family member before the holidays and ask if/how they’d like you to advocate for them over the holidays. You might have an idea about what will feel right for them, but it’s always a good idea to let them share their needs and hopes with you rather than making assumptions. Some things they may share with you are the following:

1) Use their name and pronouns

If your trans family member has said that they’d like you to use their current name and pronouns around family members, do that. You don’t necessarily need to explicitly correct your family members every time they slip up (unless your trans family member has asked you to make those corrections every time). Often, your actions will speak for themselves: the act of using your trans family member’s name and pronouns for them in a normalized way will set the example that these pronouns and the request to use them are no big deal.

2) Be willing to have challenging conversations

If your trans family member agrees, you can have conversations in advance with family members who don’t “get it” quite yet and remind them of your trans family member’s requests and needs. Be willing to answer questions relatives might have and consider sharing information and resources with them. Remind them they can ask you instead of bothering the trans relative with this. Having these conversations will help to set the tone of the gathering, and will let people know what is and isn’t acceptable.

3) Remind people about gift giving

Let others know in advance to be mindful that their gifts for the trans relative resonate with the trans relative’s gender identity. It can be very upsetting for a trans person to receive a gift that doesn’t honour their gender. Remember, gift giving can be an opportunity to show someone that you see, understand, and love them for who they are. Giving a gift that aligns with someone’s identity can be super validating and a great opportunity to build a meaningful connection with your loved one.

4. Create a distraction

Sometimes the best way to ensure that your relatives don’t say inappropriate things about gender or fixate on your loved one’s transition is to talk to them about literally anything else. This can create some space for your trans family member to just enjoy family gatherings without having to worry whether Uncle Jeff is going to start up a “debate” about gender neutral pronouns.

5. Attend to their needs

It may be that the best thing you can do for your trans family member is to bring them hot chocolate while they hide out in their blanket fort of safety while their anxiety runs its course. Or perhaps it might help them if you go outside with them for a stroll down the block. Ultimately, let your trans relative know that you will check in with them during the gathering to see how things are going and if there is anything they need.

Remember, the most important thing is to connect with each other on an ongoing basis and be willing to adapt your plan as needed. The holidays can be a challenging time, so finding ways to support each other can be an incredible gift.

a drawing of two people sitting on a log by an outdoor fire. one person has their arm around the other.

Image by Sara Williamson @ inkmitts.wordpress.com

  1. In this article, we’re going to say ‘trans’ to encompass transgender, non-binary, and Two-Spirit identities.

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