How to support someone with their gender affirmation

It can be hard to reach out and ask friends and family for help. If someone you care about is in the process of gender affirmation, let them know you’re there for them.

In the meantime, you can learn a little bit more about gender affirmation and ways to support someone through this experience.

Three friends standing shoulder to shoulder in colourful clothing on a sunny day looking supportive.

What does ‘gender affirmation’ mean?

Gender affirmation is an important part of how gender diverse people can live authentically in their identity. ‘Gender affirmation’ refers to the many ways a person can recognise and support their own or other people’s gender identity. 

There’s no ‘right’ way to go about gender affirmation and it can look different for each person. It’s also an ongoing process. The things that feel gender affirming for a person might continue to change over time.

What are some things gender diverse people do to find gender affirmation?

Some of the most common ways to affirm gender are through social, legal and medical approaches, including:

  • changing their names and pronouns in legal documents and/or socially (like updating their pronouns on social media)

  • changing their hairstyle and growing or removing hair on their body

  • updating their wardrobe to reflect their gender better

  • experimenting with modulating their voice so it sounds different

  • doing physical workouts to change their body shape

  • undergoing medical treatments. 

Someone may choose one, none, or a combination of these approaches. The amount or type of gender affirming care someone seeks doesn’t determine their gender diversity, transness or queerness.

Why is gender affirmation important?

When you support someone’s gender affirmation, it can help make their world feel more welcoming and accepting. Gender affirmation allows a gender diverse person to express themselves in a way that reflects their gender identity and to have it affirmed by others, which can have a huge impact on their sense of identity and self-esteem

'Gender identities are often really integral and important part of how people see themselves. Even accidentally misgendering or not using their preferred names or pronouns can feel distressing and invalidating. When it's done intentionally, that can create huge levels of distress as well.’ – Dr James Morandini

Learning how to feel safe in our bodies is a different journey for everyone. If your friend is struggling, it can be helpful for them to talk to a professional therapist with experience in the LGBTQIA+ community

Gender affirmation can also lead to improved mental health. When someone feels aligned with their true or chosen gender, it eases some of the gender dysphoria they may be experiencing and might even help them feel a sense of gender euphoria. 

How can I support someone with their gender affirmation?

There are lots of ways you can be a good friend and support someone with their gender affirmation. 

Listen actively, and engage with and validate their experience

It’s important to practise active listening. This can help you to engage with and accept the experiences of trans and non-binary people and can help them feel heard, seen, valued and supported. Someone’s experience of gender affirmation is unique to them, so don’t be afraid to ask how they’d like to be supported.

Be open-minded and non-judgemental

Try your best to support any changes or choices someone makes. If you’re genuinely curious about something, ask them about it respectfully and remember not to compare their experience with anyone else’s.

Educate yourself on gender diversity

Learning more about gender, as well as transgender and non-binary experiences, can take a load off your friend or family member needing to educate you. It can also show them that you’re serious and genuine in your support. 

Respect their pronouns and names 

Part of gender affirmation can be choosing pronouns and names, legally and/or socially, that align better with a person’s sense of identity. It's okay to slip up or forget every now and then. The important thing is that you respect and honour their choice and make a genuine effort. You can also ask them to correct you if you slip up, if they're comfortable doing so. 

Correcting other friends will also help you to remember your friend’s pronouns and name, and might ease the pressure on them to always be correcting others or having to address their gender identity.

Advocate for inclusive spaces

If you’re organising or attending parties or events, think about how you can make these environments inclusive and welcoming for transgender and non-binary friends. Ask them what would help them to show up authentically and take the initiative to action what you can.

Offer practical support

Practical ways to offer support gender affirmation include:

  • accompanying them to medical appointments

  • helping them to fill out or lodge paperwork

  • researching useful information like LGBTQIA+ support services

  • going shopping with them for new clothes

  • cooking them a meal or running errands for them if they’re recovering from medical treatments.

Everyone’s gender affirmation journey is different and can evolve over time. These tips can help you to get started on supporting the gender affirmation of someone you care about.

It’s also important to prioritise your self-care when you’re supporting someone else, so remember to book some time to fill your cup.

  • Read more about understanding gender here.