Colin Gray

How Can I Help My Friend Through Their Transition? Tyler Ford Breaks It Down

Plus, how do I explain what it means to be asexual?

By Tyler Ford

My name is Tyler Ford, and I’m a queer, transgender writer and advocate. Ever since I came out as trans on national television on “The Glee Project” three years ago, I’ve received tons of questions and calls for advice about being LGBTQA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Asexual)-identified, and about life in general. I’ve carved out a space here to share my life experience with you, and to discuss any fears, feelings and curiosities you may not feel comfortable talking about with anyone else.

So let's get started with the questions!

How would you explain asexuality to friends and family who don’t understand what it means to not feel sexual attraction?

Your friends and family might not understand a lack of sexual attraction, but they definitely understand a lack of desire to partake in certain activities. Whatever these activities are (Do they hate basketball? Are they completely uninterested in accounting?), ask them why they don’t incorporate said activities into their lives on a regular basis. The conversation might go something like this:

You: Hey, mom, why don’t you knit?

Mom: I don’t know how. I’ve never wanted to learn. I would rather spend my time doing something I actually like.

You: Well, don’t you think you should be knitting? That’s an important skill to have. Why would you not learn to knit?

Mom: No. Knitting is boring. I don’t want to sit in the same spot for hours making some scarf I would never wear.

You: But why? Knitting is awesome! You should learn!

Mom: What is your deal?! Why are you suddenly so obsessed with knitting?

You: This is how I feel when people talk to me about having sex. I don’t have it because it doesn’t appeal to me, just like knitting doesn’t appeal to you. But because everyone else is so obsessed with sex, I get a lot of grief about it. To be honest, I would rather spend my time reading, and there’s nothing wrong with that -- just like there’s nothing wrong with having no desire to knit.

Your friends and family also have at least one person in their lives who they are not sexually attracted to at all, whether that’s a close friend, a former teacher or some stranger standing next to them in the supermarket. Ask your family/friends to imagine what it would be like if that lack of attraction extended to every person they’d ever met. Would they feel differently about having sex? Probably. Would sex still be a major component of their lives? Possibly.

Every asexual person is different. Some are sex-repulsed, some have neutral feelings about having sex and some enjoy sex. Some people fluctuate between these points. How you explain your asexuality will be unique to you, because your feelings and behaviors won’t necessarily match those of another asexual person simply because you share an identity.

Maybe you will tell your friends and family that you never want to have sex. Maybe you’ll tell them that you will only consider having sex in a particular kind of relationship with one specific person. Maybe you’ll tell them that you have sex with different people all the time, even though you aren’t sexually attracted to them.

Maybe you won’t tell them any details at all because whether or not you have sex and/or the conditions under which you have it is not any of their business. In conversations like these, remember that you should not have to sacrifice your own comfort in order to make other people comfortable.

In Solidarity,

Tyler

I have a very close friend who told me they are planning on transitioning. I love this person so much and I want to be there for them the best way I can. I've never known anyone personally who has transitioned. I was wondering if maybe you had advice for friends and family and the best ways to support/love someone through their transition. Is there anything you wish that people in your circles could understand more?

You seem like a wonderful friend. I think the best way to support anyone who is going through anything is to listen to their needs and desires, whether spoken or unspoken. You should never assume what anyone’s unspoken desires or needs are, but if you have a feeling that something is up, or that they’ve been hinting at something that is difficult to talk about, you should check in with them about what they might be dealing with. Transitioning can be scary, and can be a very lonely process. Some things are difficult or even embarrassing to talk about, but knowing that someone is willing to listen and provide support makes a world of difference.

When I was first coming out, I was incredibly hesitant and scared to change my pronouns. I had already changed my name, so my friends would check in with me every so often: “Hey, do you want us to use different pronouns for you now?” The first few times they asked, I’d nervously respond, “I don’t know.”

Finally, a few months later, one of my closest friends told me that he knew I was struggling with the decision, and that he would call me whatever I wanted him to call me, even if I changed my mind later, and that it “wasn’t a big deal.” After that conversation, I asked him to use new pronouns for me. Hearing him refer to me with different pronouns helped me figure out what felt right for me, and eventually helped me come out to more and more of my friends. In this case, it was nice to have a friend help me along with a process that I was too nervous to jumpstart on my own.

Honestly, I wish people would listen more, because listening precedes understanding. I have friends who still mess up my pronouns, because they don’t listen to me when I explain how to use them or how important they are. Anything people don’t understand about me is due to a lack of communication on both of our parts, as well as a lack of research on their part. When friends come to me and say, “Hey, I read this article about trans people online and was wondering if you could clarify this for me” or “I read this piece you wrote and was wondering if you could explain this further so I can better understand you and other trans people,” that facilitates dialogue and shows a willingness to support and understand me.

That being said, not all of your trans friends will want to talk about issues in the media -- luckily, there are some great resources, like GLAAD, out there for people such as yourself looking for better understanding.

You are ahead of the game by actively seeking ways to support your friend. Continue to let them know that you are here for them, and that you are willing to stand by them when they feel confused and lost, as well as when they feel elated and confident.

Wishing you and your friend the best,

Tyler

Thanks you for trusting me with your questions! If you have questions or need advice, send your concerns to me via Twitter and Instagram @tywrent. Tag your questions with #heytyler! For longer or more private questions and concerns, you can message me at facebook.com/heytylerford. Your questions will be posted anonymously.