Cis people, we apparently need a guide for how to introduce our trans friends/relatives/acquaintances. I’m going to do my best here to put some guidelines together. I welcome suggestions, too.
The first thing to know: this guide comes in two parts. One part deals with people who knew/knew of the person before transition began and is either meeting them again or meeting them for the first time. The other part deals with people who meet the trans person after transition has begun/after they have come out as transgender to you.
Part I: How to introduce your trans friend to people who knew them/knew of them pre-transition
Do make sure you know your friend’s preferred identifiers (name, pronouns) before introductions begin.
Do not wait until everyone is standing in the ‘introduction circle’ to bring up the topic of transition.
Do check with your trans friend for comfort level pre-introductions: does your friend want to be introduced as a brand-new person (and is this possible)? How would your friend like to be introduced? What kinds of things is your friend comfortable with other people knowing about them/her/him?
When appropriate (after ascertaining your friend’s comfort level), do tell your relatives, non-trans friends (the people to whom you’re introducing your trans friend) ahead of time that your friend is transgender. Say something like, “Aaron is transgender and uses the name Abigail now,” or “The person you have known as Eva has transitioned and has changed his name to Jim.”
Do make sure your trans friend knows if you are not comfortable doing this sort of introduction. It is much better to know what kind of situation we’re walking into than to go in unaware and be met with potentially unsafe/unkind reactions.
This is the crux of the matter. Those who know someone as one gender and are either re-meeting them as another gender or are meeting them for the first time as a gender other than the one they expected may have unexpected and unsafe, volatile reactions to the trans person in the moment. This is not the fault of the trans person. It is the fault of many things, including poor education (biology, sexual health, religion), poor indoctrination, and systematic issues such as transphobia and misogyny. Not everyone will react volatilely, but the risk is high enough that if there is the option to curb that risk for our trans friends, then we should. This is one way we can put our cisgender privilege in service of our transgender siblings.
Also, those for whom this friend is their first trans person may have many questions about transgender issues. That’s perfectly normal. If you don’t feel equipped or comfortable answering them, you can refer them to various resources (That Transgender Chick on Facebook, Laverne Cox on Tumblr, the transgender FAQ on GLAAD‘s website, the transgender search tag on BelieveOutLoud , etc.).
Part II: How to introduce your trans friend to people who’ve never met them before/haven’t known of them pre-transition
Just introduce them by their chosen/preferred name. No one in this scenario needs to know that your friend is transgender unless your friend chooses for anyone else to know.