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I had a family friend/classmate/neighbor who I have not been in touch with for more than a decade and we were never friends but on friendly terms in childhood. Two years back I got to know that she had a transition from male to female and it didn't go well with her family, relatives, etc. Even within my family, the discussion got ugly when I learned that my family was transphobic. I really was concerned about her but my own family drama kept me busy and kind of scared about to see their transphobia.

I arranged to get her mobile number sometime back and want to talk to her. I know her new name from the Truecaller app and her social network profiles.

Now I want to talk to her to show my support and also concern with her state as I know her family reacted pretty badly (not sure how badly). But I don't know how to initiate the conversation and how to refer to her?

I know her new name but she never gave her new name to me so referring to it might sound like a stalker (I didn't really stalk just got her number in concern and checked in Truecaller to see if it's right or not).

I don't want to hurt her and not sure how to initiate the conversation at the start. Of course, I can ask her choice of pronouns, etc later but that can't be the first message. We live in different cities so we can't talk in person so it will be a mobile chat.

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Now I want to talk to her to show my support => does she want that too?

That's the point. When in doubt, I usually just let people know who I am, and what I'm looking for. I don't put pressure on them, they have an easy way out; to do that, they only need to (just) don't answer and go back to you. It's not even rude to you, because you "tell" them to do so.

How does it work? A little background: 20 years later, when I was looking for old sportsmates and high school classmates (long before the internet era...), I had to send letters. I was writing, roughly, something like that:

Hi there,

I'm "SoAndSo". I attended classes in "MyHighSchool" back in "myYears". I lived at "myOldAddress" (and giving more input from my childhood, enough for them to have a chance to recall who I might be (like sports, music...), but not enough to be more/too much personal.)

I think you might be an old classmate, and I'd like to hear back from old folks.

If you remember who I was and want to know more about who I am now, and if you're willing to get back in touch, I'll be really glad to hear back from you, and know how you're doing, and what happened through all those years. If I was wrong, and addressed the wrong person, please forgive me for bothering you.

...some pleasantries...

I had some people who answered, some who I never heard from again. One (a TV news host) even politely answered, saying that, despite having the same name as my old pal, he never attended that school. I didn't even acknowledge his letter, as he was the wrong person, I didn't want to bother more.

My advice: replace "letter" with "text" or "social media private/direct message". Don't talk about her (or how she use to be called "he"1). Initiate a possible dialog by "knocking on the door". If she doesn't open, you'll have your answer. It has to be her choice to answer and go back to you. Just offer that.


1. To be clear: to keep respect going all the way up, it's much more than important to NOT mention anything about her before she transitioned, including dead name.

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    One caveat to this. If she knew OP pre-transition, not acknowledging the transition may make her afraid respond lest she alienate yet another person in her life. Thus, I think it would be prudent in this case to mention it somehow. – bvoyelr Oct 22 at 15:10
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    Of course it'll probably be a point they'll discuss sooner or later, but OP has no need to mention that they know (and all of the family drama!) at the first "virtual" meeting. – OldPadawan Oct 23 at 5:08
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    Here's my reasoning: a TON of people in her life made things awful as a result of her transitioning, so she's going to be wary of people who knew her as a man. If the only thing she knows about you is that you knew her as a man -- and that you probably still think she's a man -- she's very unlikely to respond. You don't have to overtly say you know she's trans now or anything, but I'd at least make sure I drop a pronoun or something to make it clear I know she's, well, a she. Not sure how to go about it, but if you don't do it I think she's very likely to ignore you. – bvoyelr Oct 23 at 19:47
  • @bvoyelr : agree with you too. I think we are both (you and I) right (AND possibly wrong) on this one. It has to be OP's choice to share their knowledge (or not!) from the beginning. I might just give her a hint that I know, but not sure at all what's best here... – OldPadawan Oct 23 at 19:54
  • I'd think something to the effect of "I've heard you had some changes in your life which didn't go over well with your family, and I'd like to be supportive" might be a good addition. It's after all OP's stated desire to "to talk to her to show my support". – Rob K Nov 7 at 18:30
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This answer is informed mostly by personal experience and a little by conversations with transgender peers.

I'm trans (Female to Male, pre-transition). I would prefer, in this circumstance, by a significant margin, being referred to by my preferred name and pronouns.

It would be a lot easier for me to understand that someone did not try to stalk me, or even to learn someone did stalk me beyond a socially acceptable level than to engage with someone referring to me by my dead name.

If the method by which you obtained her contact details inevitably resulted in you finding out she transitioned, I would especially advocate against using her dead name, as this would imply disrespect of her choices, in addition to causing gender dysphoria and reminding her of a life she is trying to distance herself from.

If communication becomes on-going, I would use a preferred name by default. I would not mention dead name unless she requests it or mentions it first, as it could potentially be triggering for her.


Regarding stalker concerns

It sounds entirely reasonable that you know her preferred pronouns and name. The level of effort you invested signals to me that you have a socially acceptable level of consideration and interest in her well-being. If I were in her position, mentioning how you acquired my information would make this clear to me.

For example:

Hi, [preferred name]. I found your profile on [wherever/however you found it] and wanted to contact you to tell you I'm aware of [bad things that happened during transition] and think you were in the right / you were treated unfairly, for what it's worth. Happy to be an ally or source of support to you if ever you want that. If I remind you of a time you want to distance yourself from, I understand. No hard feelings at all if you ignore me. Best wishes for your future! [sign-off]

If really concerned about stalker vibes, just address this explicitly. It's a forgivable concern to have and your intentions are good, and transparency will probably make this clear.

'Is it okay that I use [preferred name] as your name? I found it by [method] alongside your number; I didn't stalk you or anything.'


Further personal reflection, in case it could be insightful

  • If I know you know I transitioned: being referred to by my dead-name would feel insulting, disrespectful, and painful, as I will assume you are aware of my preferences and the hardships I've faced and agree with those who do not accept me. I will assume you believe my dead name is my proper name, invalidating my identity, and that your motive is either to directly derogate me or to engage with me in a way you think is 'supportive' in order to convince me my choices were wrong and that I should return to behaving in a way (using the old name, behaving as my natal gender) that used to make me suicidal.

  • If I don't know you know I transitioned: being referred to by my dead name will hurt (cause gender dysphoria and bring back painful memories), but I will forgive you, as you didn't know. I will be hopeful that once you know, you will treat me as I want to be treated.

Personally, I would appreciate what you are doing. When encountering bigotry and intentional insults or threats regularly, even small shows of support can have great positive impact. I've never been negatively impacted by a show of support I believed was genuine. In some situations, memories of shows of support have had a protective effect against depression and escalation beyond suicidal ideation for me.

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    Saying I didn't stalk you says to me that you feel you need to say it and leave me wondering as to why. – Pavel Oct 22 at 9:28
  • Hi, pretty good answer all around and thank you for being open about yourself. I just have one question. If someone from your past popped up just as you were transitioning and said they found you through some stuff that clearly required them to dig, even if just a little, and said they just wanted to be supportive, you wouldn't be worried that they were a chaser/fetishist? It would be at least a little concerning, but I don't know how I would alleviate that. – AGirlHasNoName Oct 22 at 11:00
  • "If the method by which you obtained her contact details inevitably resulted in you finding out she transitioned..." Well, it resulted in finding out she now has a female name instead of a male name. So if OP finds out that this is definitely the same person, then the female name should be used, whether transitioned or not. – gnasher729 Oct 22 at 15:42
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    @gnasher729 Personally (different trans person here), I'd definitely prefer if you said something like "Hi Matthew, I think we knew each other in school" and then saying something identifying either about yourself or about your relationship that doesn't involve the name. I wouldn't particularly be offended if you said the old name in that context, but I definitely wouldn't like it – and also it only helps you remember the interaction, it gives nothing extra to the person you're talking to. – anon Oct 22 at 21:13
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    @gnasher729 speaking as a trans person, if that wasn't asked in person, it's extremely unlikely that i'd bother to respond at all. anon makes some good suggestions for a much better approach – Leliel Oct 23 at 3:03
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+200

I'll try answering this question (my first attempt at this site). I transitioned years ago, and received messages from unexpected people reaching out.

To use her correct name, or not?

Surely it's clear that deliberate deadnaming is not a good idea.

From my point of view, if someone uses my name and pronouns, I automatically feel significantly more at ease (especially when I know they know about my past, and they're choosing to address me correctly despite being capable of doing otherwise), so I encourage that. There's probably 20 different non-stalker ways of accessing this information. If it comes up, just say:

I thought it was better to use your correct name, so I looked it up.

But really, transgender people are aware that word gets around. Spreading around someone's correct name to prevent deadnaming is perhaps a benevolent kind of gossip. I don't ask how people know my name.

The most important thing is to interact with her basically as you would any other woman in the same circumstances, with some allowances.

Some possible pitfalls...

What made me feel uncomfortable, which hasn't been addressed by the previous answers, are people reaching out to score transgender brownie points. I got the feeling they only wanted to know me so they can subsequently argue that "I have a transgender friend" or "I'm a transgender ally". (Either that or to gather dirt.)

Also, don't be too surprised if they're not that interested in being long-distance friends with some random person from the past. There's a huge number of reasons for this: anxiety, being introverted, being satisfied (or feeling safe) with their current group of friends, busy doing something else with their life, ten other people have done the same thing you're doing and they're sick of it, and so on.

I also wouldn't bring up uncomfortable discussion points, like sensitive family issues. For me people would bring up these topics, and didn't understand that I already have other people to discuss them with, and that I don't want to spend my entire time reliving painful memories, I want to have fun with my friends. In fact, many transgender people don't like being transgender, possibly considering it the worst aspect of their existence. I don't want random people from the past contacting me out of the blue:

Hey you're transgender, and therefore your family hates you! Want to discuss it?

No. No I don't. Others might. I don't.

I strongly recommend avoid proposing "solutions", especially the quick-fix, rewrite-your-whole-life kind of solutions. This interference is highly unwanted and massively stressful. I've had people propose that I spend thousands of dollars on lawyers, move to another country, quit my job, take various medications, and other things involving I won't even mention. They don't understand that poor mental health entails I cannot even do the things they're proposing. Then they get grumpy at me for not listening to them.

Of the random people who reached out to me, most (maybe all?) subsequently forgot me immediately after. It leaves me feeling that they contacted me as a perceived "social requirement", not because they actually care. This in turn feels degrading: it feels like they assume I am so desperate, that I'm willing to accept a fake or manufactured friendship.

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Social Media is your best bet here.

It sounds like you weren't very close before so a phone call or even a text may be a bit too intrusive as most people only give out their numbers to friends, family and maybe some colleagues. Social media is a better route as it's usually much easier to find someone on something like Facebook through existing connections so an old classmate reaching out wouldn't be as surprising. This helps reduce the "stalker vibe".

A private message telling her that you heard from your family about her situation and wanted to reach out and offer support or a friendly ear should be sufficient. It doesn't force a discussion as she can simply ignore your message if she wants to but provides a route to continue the conversation. At the very least it lets you show your support without requiring anything back from her and gives her control of the conversation. Anything after that is up to her.

Finally, do not use her dead name and pronoun. You have no reason to hide the fact that you know her name or how you found out, be honest about that, but addressing her by her dead name will do nothing but more harm.

Good luck reaching out OP.

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Intent can matter more than words.

If you message her with the intent of being friendly and getting reacquainted and making sure she's doing alright the exact wording of your message won't be as important as the feeling your message carries. Getting too bogged down with making your message 100% percent politically correct and distant enough to avoid appearing like a stalker and you risk your message coming across unfeeling and, well, distant.

That all said, if you have her number call her, text can be misinterpreted or poorly worded but by calling her your voice can also help to convey your intentions and gives you some room for poor word choices if you're as worried about that as your question makes it seem. That aside think of the conversation the same as with anyone else, you're not calling for a status update on her situation, you're calling to talk to an old family friend.

As the last bit of advice for approaching someone for reasons they haven't talked to you about, make sure not to go into the conversation with any assumptions. Specific to this question you don't know how her family is with her decision now, you don't seem to know her preferred pronoun or the name she would like you to call her, so ask!

EDIT

I've used this sort of approach when addressing a friend of a friend about their mental health and depression. As I describe by entering the conversation without assuming anything and focusing more on the intent to support their situation than saying exactly the right thing I was able to learn much more about their situation and let them know I was here to support them. We've since met and hung out several times.

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