by Melanie Yarborough

It's funny how the most important thing support groups are supposed to do is hardly ever done: making new sisters welcome. For a new sister, coming out is like being naked in a roomful of strangers. Anyone in this vulnerable state seriously needs warmth and support. Sadly, all too often they don't receive it.

Why is this? Because in spite of all of our pretenses at being women, we still behave very much like men. We prefer to shop-talk with the people we already know about sports or computers or cars. We want to be the active center of attention, not the passive listener. And we want to be among the winners (the experienced elite) instead of with the nervous first-timer in the corner. Simply put, we lack the skills to be good hostesses. As men, we're not expected to be sensitive or caring.

Approaching new sisters is much easier than anyone realizes. The wonderful thing is that anything can be said to start a conversation. Unlike in straight gatherings, the listener won't judge or condemn you on your brilliance. They'll be grateful for anything you say: it's an acknowledgement, a validation.

You can comment on an outfit or jewelry or shoes, "Where did you get it?" From there you can discuss the best places to buy things. Or you can talk about the community-the other groups and the kinds of events that go on. Or short and funny personal transgender stories to bring a laugh or smile. Or a recent transgender book or movie or television show.

It's probably best to NOT ask deep personal questions like "Why do you do this?" or "What were some of your experiences growing up?" And many newcomers still carry with them a sense of shame. One of the most dramatic things we can do is show them through our own example someone who is Transgendered and Proud.

It's also helpful to use endearment words like "Honey" and "Dear". As men, we're not used to giving them. But as men, we love to hear them said to us. It puts us at ease, makes us feel welcome. Just don't overdo it!

Perhaps the most important thing is being able to LISTEN. Men are used to having other people listen to them, and it's crucial to cast aside this subconscious macho tendency. It takes skill to listen sympathetically. A new sister wants to feel special and taken seriously, and anything they say is a way of baring their soul. Brusque changes of subject, or cold unconcern are not only rude, but damaging.

It's been suggested that transgender groups should each have an official hostess to greet newcomers. But shouldn't we all be that hostess?

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