5 ways to support your trans friends when they come out.

After director Lilly Wachowski was forced to come out, it's a good time for a refresher course on how to be an ally to your trans friends.

Writer and director Lilly Wachowski — known as co-creator of "The Matrix" series of films, "Jupiter Ascending," and "Sense8" — recently came out publicly as transgender.

For many gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender people, one of the most personal (and sometimes scary) experiences they'll go through is the "coming out" process.

Coming out means telling others of your status as an LGBT person. As society is becoming more accepting of people's sexual orientation and gender identity, coming out is getting easier all the time. Even so, for many, it's still a carefully calculated process that involves planning who, how, and when to tell people in their lives.


It's so great that Lilly came to that realization about herself and started living more authentically. In 2012, her sister Lana also came out as trans. What's not cool about this is the fact that Lilly was forced to out herself, in a letter she chose to share with The Windy City Times, after a reporter from The Daily Mail threatened to do it without her permission.


A self-portrait of Lilly Wachowski, courtesy of Windy City Times.

If someone trusts you with news that they're trans, there are a few key do's and don'ts you should follow — and telling a journalist definitely falls under "don't."

As a transgender person, one of the most common questions I get from strangers is: "My friend or family member recently told me that they're transgender. How can I support them?"

Below are five tips I give people who are thoughtful enough to ask.

1. Let them know they have your support.

If you're asking this question (or taking the time to look up an article on the subject), you're already on the right path. It's important to make sure your friend knows you're in their corner, as they're probably afraid of how others in their lives will react. A simple "If you need anything, I'm here for you" can go a long way.

Director/writer/producer Lana Wachowski attends the premiere of Warner Bros.' "Jupiter Ascending" at TCL Chinese Theatre in 2015. Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images.

2. Respect their identity, name, and pronouns.

Ask questions like "What are your pronouns?" and "How would you like me to refer to you in private and when we're around people who may not know you're transitioning?"

If somebody is just starting to come out to others, odds are that there are still some people who don't know and might still use old names and pronouns. Asking how you should react in those situations will help you avoid outing your friend to others who don't yet know.

Trans man Chaz Bono. Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images.

3. Educate yourself — don't rely on your friend to educate you.

There are so many great resources on how to understand trans issues. While your friend may be happy to answer those initial personal questions about things like names and pronouns, they might become overwhelmed if you start treating them as a walking encyclopedia of all things trans.

I recommend PFLAG's amazing resource "Our Trans Loved Ones: Questions and Answers for Parents, Families, and Friends of People who are Transgender and Gender Expansive." The 102-page guide is a comprehensive piece of "Trans 101" literature that's bound to answer some of your questions (complete with some more thorough do's and don'ts).

Writer Janet Mock. Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images.

4. Don't gossip about them or "out" them to others.

The only people you should be discussing your friend's gender with are people they've given you explicit permission to do so with. Going behind their back and outing them to someone they may not yet be ready to tell is not only a huge betrayal of their trust, but it could even put them in physical danger.

On top of that, when someone is hearing this news from a secondhand source (that is, you), some of the important details may get lost in translation, which get further garbled if this person tells someone else — it eventually turns into a game of telephone, and no one wants that.

A vigil for slain transgender woman Islan Nettles at Jackie Robinson Park in Harlem in 2013. Nettles was severely beaten after being approached on the street by a group of men and later died of her injuries. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

5. Understand that this is not about you and your feelings.

It's OK to feel confused, and it's OK to not immediately "get it." Those feelings are completely valid, but demanding to know why your friend didn't tell you sooner (they were probably wrestling with this themselves for quite some time) or saying you feel betrayed will only hurt them during an extremely vulnerable time in their life.

Nothing you did "made" your friend trans, and it's probably less that they were hiding something from you and more that they were hiding this reality from themselves.

Laverne Cox at the GLAAD Media Awards in 2015. Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for GLAAD.

Whether someone is a Hollywood director or a friend from high school, we should all have the right to come out at our own pace and in our own way.

Maybe years from now the aspect that makes this seem like such juicy gossip will fade and trans people won't have to worry about being forcibly outed. Maybe years from now trans people won't need to fear that coming out will be met with job loss, homelessness, or physical harm. Until then, it's important that those of us who care for our trans friends and family members do what we can do show we're there for them.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

TikTok about '80s childhood is a total Gen X flashback.

As a Gen X parent, it's weird to try to describe my childhood to my kids. We're the generation that didn't grow up with the internet or cell phones, yet are raising kids who have never known a world without them. That difference alone is enough to make our 1980s childhoods feel like a completely different planet, but there are other differences too that often get overlooked.

How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

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