Congratulations! Realizing who you really are is a huge step forward in anyone’s life. Let me bring you to our little community. As I’m fond of saying,
Now, not everyone wants to or can come out. Being out as trans, gender-nonconforming, or nonbinary can be dangerous. But it can be a huge relief, and it can help you find a lot of support. This is a guide for those that want, and are able to, come out.
Come out to yourself
Say it out loud. Write it down. Tell it to yourself in the mirror. Doodle a comic about it. Feel the shape of the words in your mouth and the resonance in your head.
All journeys start somewhere. In this case, that somewhere is you. Learn to embrace yourself and the new role you will play in your own life: doing what makes you happy. I’m going to tell you right now that you deserve that, even if you don’t believe me. I believe in you enough for both of us. Now take a deep breath and move on when you’re ready.
Make a game plan
Everyone comes out in their own way. Some will come out to everyone all at once. Others individually tell each person in their lives. I’m offering one strategy here, but adapt it in whatever way makes you most comfortable. The important thing is that you have an idea of how you want to approach this.
Think of who you want to tell. I split mine into three levels: my VIPs, my one-on-ones, and everybody else I knew. VIPs are the people you feel most comfortable telling. They’ll be your test audience and your point people in Operation Coming Out. One-on-ones are the folks you want to hear directly from you in person. The rest are people you are content with finding out from a form letter, online post, or email.
You may also have a fourth group: the Keep-Aways. There may be people you don’t want to find out about your gender. Maybe that’s temporary, maybe it’s indefinite. It could be for safety reasons, fear of losing financial support or housing, or sheer discomfort. If there are people you need to keep this from, be sure that the people you tell are trustworthy enough to keep you and your secret safe.
Prep for questions
- What does transgender/gender-noncomforming/nonbinary mean?
- What should I call you? What pronouns do you use?
- So when did you decide you were trans?
- Are you sure about this? Are you sure you aren’t just gay? Wait, are you gay?
- So are you gonna start hormones? Are you gonna get surgery?
- I have a friend who’s trans! Do you know them?
- What bathrooms do you use? What do you think of those bathroom bills?
- Are you worried that you won’t get a job or a house now? Or find someone to settle down with?
- How did your family take it?
- Is there anything I can do to help?
I can almost guarantee you that you’ll get all of these questions at some point. Take it from me, these questions are easier to handle when you’re expecting them and have responses ready. Keep in mind those answers can be “I don’t know yet,” “None of your business,” or “Fuck off.” Seriously, that’s fine.
As for the more technical questions, it can be nice to have some resources ready to give them. Lucky for you, I happen to know someone who wrote about gender and what allies can do to help. I’ve also made little cards that you can print out and hand to people.
Recruit your VIPs
Decide on a few people you can trust to keep a secret and help you work out the kinks. You may even experiment with new clothes, names, pronouns, etc with them. You’ll end up relying on these people when things get rough.
Time to tell them. The first few times aren’t going to be smooth. I don’t care how much you rehearse it, coming out is like anything else: it takes practice. That’s why you’re testing things out on your VIPs. Learn how to say what you need to say and how to field questions. You’ll get better at this, I promise.
Learn how to handle responses
People will surprise you. For better and for worse. Some folks will be unexpectedly difficult. And many of the people you’ll worry about will be wonderful. It’s impossible to know, so try to avoid concrete expectations. It’s easier said than done, but worrying won’t help either way.
Learn to balance empathy and self-care. Your allies will have one relationship change; that will happen to all of your relationships. It’s not your responsibility to be everyone’s venting partner. Still, recognize that many people, especially parents, will need to grieve the person they once knew to embrace the one you are now. After all, it took time for you to get used to the new you, remember? Try your best to be patient. People can come around with time.
This stuff isn’t easy. Go easy on yourself if things go wrong. You may lose people, but they aren’t your fault. You have to be honest with yourself and do what makes you happy. You have to move at your own pace. I give you permission to do so, no matter what anyone else says. Fall back on your friends, especially your VIPs. Believe that the people who stand by you know that you’re worth their love. They’re right, you know.
Reach out to the online community. Our forum is open to anyone, and you can email me at email@example.com. We’re here for you, so hang in there. This doesn’t always get easier to do, but you get way better at doing it.
Tell your one-on-ones
Time to branch out. Your one-on-ones are people you want (or need) to tell in private. For me, this included my family, coworkers, boss, and friends. Face-to-face is often the best way to do this, but work with what you have. You may choose to do it in somewhere private or in a safe, neutral public space. Whichever one makes you feel safer.
There are many reasons to make someone a one-on-one. You may need them to help you with logistics (like changing your name in payroll). Or you may be concerned about emotional fallout. This is why it’s nice to have two prepared speeches: a formal explanation and an one that addresses what both of you are feeling and experiencing. Personally, I recommend writing them down. Here are mine if they are helpful to anyone.
Hi, I needed to speak to you about something private. Do you have a moment? I recently came out as transgender, which means that I identify as a woman. I am still in the process of coming out, so please ask for my permission before telling anyone else. I just wanted you to be aware. Also, I would like to ask that you use my new name, Sarah, and the pronouns “she” and “her” when referring to me. Could you also help me fill out any paperwork to formally change my name in the system? Thank you for your support. Do you have any questions for me? If you would like more information, I have resources I can give you.
Hey, can I talk to you? So, I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching and figuring out who I am. I’ve thought about it a lot and I realized that I best identify as a woman, which means that I’m transgender. I feel happier and more honest since I figured that out. I wanted to tell you this because you matter to me, and I want you to be part of this new life I’m making for myself. Part of that includes that I’m changing my name to Sarah and using pronouns like she and her. Also, I’m still in the process of coming out, so I need you not tell anyone else without asking me first, okay? I also have some things that I’d appreciate your help with, but do you have any questions first? I know it’s a lot to take in. I have some websites I can give you if you want more info on some of this stuff.
Come out to others publicly
Not everybody reaches this stage, especially if there are a large number of people in your Keep-Away group. However, if you do want to be publicly out, you probably want to get the information out through some form of mass communication. That might be through email, at a party or gathering, or over Facebook.
This can be a stressful time because you are telling so many people at once. I made sure my best friend was sitting next to me when I posted to Facebook. Again, you will likely be surprised by the responses—both good and bad. Thankfully, coming out posts online tend to have mostly positive feedback, with plenty of people that have your back if someone is being rude. If coming out publicly is something you want to do, then it will bring you huge relief. Get it over with and move on. You’ll be thankful you did.
Here’s an example post if you’re unsure where to start.
I have some news. After a lot of self-reflection, thought, and time, I have come to understand and identify myself as a transgender woman. That means that I see myself as a woman, will start presenting myself as a woman, and would like to be treated as one. I’m changing my name to Sarah and am going to use the pronouns she, her, and hers. I ask that you use that name and those pronouns as well.
If you want to know more about what transgender means, look at the gender identity section on howtotrans.com/gender. If you would like to know how you can help me, you can visit howtotrans.com/ally.
Thank you all for your support, and if you have any questions, feel free to ask. I might take a while because there are a lot of people reading this, but I’ll try to get back to you when I can.
Just keep going
The sucky thing about coming out is that it’s a constant process. I run into friends from my home town that are more than a little curious why I suddenly have breasts. I had to change my resume and call up my references to ask them to, you know, not talk about a different person’s name. Legally changing names is a whole other story.
For those that transition and are able to “pass” as non-trans, you’re given a whole new set of problems. When do you come out to someone that you’re dating? A background check may turn up information about past names while looking for employment. Then menstruation and urological questions are fun to answer in doctors appointments.
Do your best to take it all in stride. Humor goes a long way. Many people also take the news better the calmer you can be, even if you fake it. It helps to have go-to phrases like “Oh, hey, good to see you! But I actually go by Sarah now.” and “I just want to be upfront with you. I’m trans, and we can talk about what that means for us if you’d like.” Coming out may not ever be easy but you do get way better at it. You’ll be a total pro in no time.