While being a transgender person in society is an intimate experience with hardships only truly known by those living as trans, it may sometimes put families, friends, and loved ones of someone living or transitioning in uncomfortable and uncharted territory.
Atticus Ranck of SunServe, a nonprofit dedicated to social justice and equality in Wilton Manors, hopes that the organization’s Friends, Family, Significant Others, and Allies, or SOFFA, support group for trans people will bridge the gap of miscommunication and misunderstanding families so often have in Trans relationships and society.
“There’s a lot of stigma and discrimination that people who love someone trans faces, and they don’t always know the best way to help them, the best things to say, who to go to, who to talk to about how to support them,” said Ranck, who notes that in addition to all the struggles and rights battles trans individuals face there needs to be support for the families coming to terms with or fighting for them too.
“We kind of forgot about all the hardships that it means to love someone who’s trans. It’s a revolutionary act,” said Ranck.
While SOFFA has existed in other cities and states, it is the first support group like this in the area.
“Sometimes clients who are transgender would ask a therapist, ‘you think I could bring my mom in or my girlfriend in and we could have a session together?’ And so it kind of started like that,” said Ranck, “and so all the mental health therapists at SunServe were like, ‘well maybe we need something for the parents.’”
SOFFA’s support for parents and ensuing community outreach is particularly prominent when parents of trans children, some ages 5 and 6, come to the group. Gender identity is realized in early childhood, so the support system created when group leaders consensually exchange information has helped answer questions as more and more underage trans individuals begin living true to identity with the progression of trans visibility.
“You see these relationships start to form because they’re in the same boat and it’s not something a lot of people will understand,” Ranck said. “There’s a lot of judgement from other parents to these parents. Especially the young ones.”
So that’s why SOFFA needed – to focus on a trans person’s significant others.
The group will have meetings in which the members break up into groups of parents and groups of partners. Ranck notes the differences faced by each relationship as those with trans children face hormonal questions and distinguishing youth and teenage behavior between the set of issues specific to trans youth.
Those members that are loved ones of someone who’s trans will speak out about dating and sex, sharing what it’s like to date a trans person in light of society and in coming out to their own loved ones about their relationship.
Besides a network of emotional strength, SOFFA provides direction for logistics of trans support as well. If clients are in need of legal services, need recommendation for hormone replacement therapy and World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) issues, gender marker changes, and focusing on the housing and employment violations faced by trans individuals.
SOFFA also focuses on the educational aspect of transgender rights and eliminating some of the misconceptions and stereotypes the community faces as national discussions about trans existence begin to happen and the nation wakes up to the intersectionality of gender identity, sexual orientation, and gender expression. Although South Florida is described as accepting of unconventional lifestyles, with Human Rights Campaign’s documented deaths from Transgender violence as nearby as Miami, it’s a discussion SOFFA is starting at home.
“We meet anyone where they are, so it’s not like you come to SOFFA and you have to be completely accepting in order to come to SOFFA,” Ranck said. ”You can come to SOFFA and if you are really struggling with loving your kid because they’re trans and you don’t understand and you hate it or you really like someone who’s Trans but you don’t know if you can get over that, you can be in any stage of acceptance in order to come to SOFFA. It’s not like you’re gonna be shunned because you’re not 100 percent loving right away.”
SOFFA meets every second and fourth Saturday of every month from 10 a.m. to noon at SunServe North 2312 Wilton Drive in Wilton Manors.