Coming out can seem like a very daunting and sometimes even frightening thing to do for many transgender and gender non-conforming (GNC) people. For a long time, the only way LGBTQIA+ people were brought up in conversation was with regards to their coming out (or people saying that they should, that it was “obvious”). It’s frequently viewed as a single momentous event, as though anyone who has been closeted suddenly reveals with grandeur the truth of their identities, and from that point on they are free.
But in reality, that isn’t always exactly how coming out works—most of these examples are the cases of celebrities or other well-known public figures. While there are times when these big reveals happen in an orchestrated way, such as working up the courage to talk to your family members or other loved ones about your identity, more often people come out slowly, carefully, and on a much more regular basis than a one-off announcement.
Trans and GNC people often end up being the ones who educate the people they come out to. Not necessarily by choice, but for the reason that there is so much misinformation about queer people spread to the general public that it feels more reassuring to convey information as someone who experiences the things their audience(s) do not understand.
Coming out is a liberating feeling, but it is also natural to feel overwhelmed, panicked, and worried in this process. You aren’t a mind reader! Nobody is, and that is why having these conversations can be difficult and sometimes hurtful, especially if the audience you’re coming out to isn’t well educated about your identity/identities. Here are some suggestions for trans and GNC youth who feel like they need to come out but aren’t sure how:
- Write a letter expressing your feelings and desire to present in a way that aligns with your identity.
- It is easy to get overwhelmed trying to talk to people in real time about such serious topics. Writing out your thoughts beforehand can help you collect your words the way you want to share them, and offers you the chance to re-read, reflect, and revise as your thoughts and feelings change.
- Additionally, if you’re concerned your audience will react poorly to your coming-out, a letter allows them to read through everything and process it on their own time to be discussed later. There is no need for you to try to get through everything in one conversation.
- Come out to one person at a time.
- As we said before, there is no need to make your coming out a huge deal. You can start by talking with one trusted person in your life, and then gradually come out to others. Even having one person who understands who you truly are can bolster your confidence and strength to talk to others!
- It’s okay to not have all the answers to questions you may be asked.
- Trans and GNC people of all ages are often grilled with intense scrutiny following coming out. Know that you do not need to explain anything you do. Your experience is your own, and that is what you should speak to them about. Reinforce the fact that no queer person experiences queerness in the same way, and that there is no “guidebook” for how to be trans or GNC.
- If they are persistent with questions, send them to us! 😊
On the other end of these conversations are parents, family, friends, teachers, and other allies: these next tips are for you! These examples are common missteps that allies make when attempting to understand/counsel trans and GNC folx in their lives, so we’re going to show you why they’re not appropriate and how you can be more supportive:
- “Oh, we already knew about this.”
- This minimizes the experience of the trans or GNC person you’re talking to. Even if things may have seemed “obvious” to you, they have likely been struggling with their identity for a long time! Don’t brush aside something they have worked up the courage to share with you. Instead, try…
- “I’m glad you felt comfortable sharing this with us. What can we do to support you?”
- “Is this because your friends are trans/GNC?”
- Many trans and GNC youth get asked this. It is, once again, minimizing and devalues their experiences with their identity; additionally, it is important to note that the surge in LGBTQIA+ people coming out in recent years is NOT because of a trend. Rather, the social climate is healthier and more supportive for them to explore and express those feelings, which is why we see more people (especially youth) coming out.
- “Well, I just don’t understand it…”
- You don’t have to understand it! Trans and GNC people do not need to argue why their identities should be respected. If you are interested in learning about trans and GNC identities and other community information, you can use Google or one of many useful trans and GNC positive websites (ours is pretty cool—just saying). There’s plenty of vetted sources out there, people. If you want to express your confusion, here’s a better way:
- “I don’t fully understand, but I want to support you and learn more so I can do that.”
Most importantly, if you’re an ally to a trans or GNC person, let THEM decide what support they want and need. Not everyone wants the same things for their transition. And at the time they’re speaking to you about this, coming out might be the only thing they want to do at the moment because it takes a lot of emotional energy to do. Let them explore on their own time and don’t try to fit them into already-existing experiences of others you know of.
“Stop the explaining. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. Your child is beautiful, you love him, and that’s all that matters. Save your energy for the important stuff, save it for HER. The people who love you and love them will continue, and the ones that don’t, they don’t matter. Just stop explaining . . . say yes, he’s transgender. He’s doing great. Thanks for asking.”