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How to Love Your Transgender Neighbor

• Honest About Their Struggles: Additionally, most of the trans-identified folks I have spent considerable time with over the years are not shy about sharing their deep hurts and struggles with you. This fact creates what I call a “me-alongside-you” rather than a “me-above-or-against-you” relationship, lending itself to developing a greater sense of compassion. This is a good way to develop a meaningful, mutually fulfilling friendship. It makes your love for them easier to express.

• Ask About Their Story: The first transgender-identified person I ever met was a co-panelist at a conference at UCLA in 2003. After the conference, I introduced myself and asked for a favor. I just laid it out saying, “I have never met a transgender individual. Can you help me understand what being transgender is about?” Seldom will someone be offended or refuse to answer such an honest question, especially when they get to help someone understand them better. I didn’t take it as an opportunity to challenge or question his thinking. I just wanted to learn about the nature of the thing from someone who was dealing with it. What did it mean for him? What were the struggles? Was it easy or difficult? Such questions—and quietly listening to their responses—show both a humility and interest in the person and allow you to learn something deeper about your new friend and the struggles they are going through.

• Put Your Differences on the Table: After you have developed a foundation of trust in your relationship, the topic of gender and your different beliefs will naturally come up. It is not something that requires addressing from the start. Be honest about what you believe and invite them to do the same. In fact, this will often develop from doing #4. Communicate your interest in maintaining your relationship despite your differences, even if not because of them. Many good friends have substantial disagreements. This relationship should not be any different.

• Remember That Friendship Is an End in Itself: Many Christians will justify developing such relationships with the objective of sharing the Gospel. However, as noted earlier, Jesus said love your neighbor as yourself and it’s worth noting he didn’t add a condition like “…so that you might gain the opportunity to share my Gospel.” This is certainly not because He didn’t think salvation was critically important, but He is telling us true love needs no justification. Seek to be genuine friends for friendship’s sake and the important spiritual conversations will come naturally and in fact, more powerfully.

• Share Your Own Needs With Your New Friend: Friends want to be of help to one another. It is a sign of appreciation and trust. As your relationship develops, like any other relationship, don’t be reluctant to make yourself appropriately vulnerable, ask for their help, advice or just for an ear to listen. These can be simple things. Do they have suggestions for getting rid of the weeds in your yard? Do they have a reliable mechanic they go to? Can you give me the recipe of that bean dip you brought over last week? How have they dealt with a particularly difficult work situation? Admit when you are feeling down or overwhelmed. Trust your friend with some of your needs and weaknesses. This is what real friends do, even if they have real hang-ups in their lives and you don’t always take their advice. It is a sign of humility, trust and appreciation.

These few basic things will go a long way in navigating the rocky road that exists in such a relationship between two very different people. You will step on their toes and they will step on yours, but working through these with apologies and forgiveness are what the best relationships are built upon. But seeking such relationships are worth the effort, as are all relationships with folks who are very different than we are. This effort and difficulty will make your faith and life experience richer and more interesting. They certainly have for me.

Glenn T. Stanton is the director of global family formation studies at Focus on the Family and the author of eight books on various aspects of the family, most recently Loving My LGBT Neighbor: Being Friends in Grace and Truth, (Moody, 2014).