Every one of us is coming out in one way or another all the time. Every time we assert ourselves, we are coming out about whatever it is we are asserting ourselves about. However, if you are transgender, coming out is a bigger deal because you probably have been keeping your identity secret for a while, and the more you’ve kept it to yourself, the bigger a deal it has become in your mind. At a certain point, keeping your identity to yourself becomes so wearing that you may feel like you’re going to explode from all the things that the people you love and want to love you don’t know about you. Here’s some tips if you’re considering coming out to your parents or other important people in your life.
Think About Whether It’s The Right Time
For many people, staying in the closet isn’t an option anymore, and nobody should have to hide who they are. Unfortunately, the world is not always as accepting as it needs to be, and coming out can have negative consequences for some people. Young people especially have to think this decision through because they may be financially or otherwise dependent on parents and not have the resources to respond if their parents react with violence or throw them out of the house.
In general, before deciding to come out, you should:
- Come out to yourself and give yourself time to process your new knowledge of who you are. You need to be confident in your identity; otherwise, a parent or other loved one questioning whether this is “real” may leave you with doubts or anger.
- Work through anger or depression related to your identity. A lot of people in the LGBT community have hidden who they are from themselves and their parents for their entire lives. This can cause a lot of pain, anger and psychological trauma. It can be helpful to talk these issues through with a therapist or life coach. If the pain is still raw, it may be more difficult to assert your truth. While your assertion might lead to an argument (and sometimes that can clear the air), you don’t want to deliberately start one by coming from a place of anger or pain.
- Analyze realistically what the potential consequences are of coming out or not coming out. You may be afraid of disapproval, violence or other consequences. Be honest with yourself and determine which consequences are realistic.
- Have a plan to deal with potential fall-out. Although you don’t want to live your life by other people’s reactions, it’s important to have plans in place in case the worst happens. If you are financially independent, this probably isn’t as much of a concern, but everybody needs to have a plan of where to go and what to do if their parents disown them or otherwise seriously impact their lives.
Come Out To the Least Important People First
Sometimes it helps to choose someone whose opinion you don’t care about that much to come out to first. If that person rejects you, it won’t be as bad as being rejected by your parents, and if they accept you it will boost your self-confidence.
You need practice coming out, and you need to come out to the people who matter most to you. So don’t choose random strangers, but do choose acquaintances or distant family members–people who you feel neutral towards so that it won’t be as hard to tell them.
Be Open To Questions
Once you’re at the point where you’re ready to come out to your parents, be prepared for a lot of questions. Parents in particular sometimes find it difficult to accept that their children are transgender. The nature of the relationship makes it more difficult–your parents have known you since you were a tiny baby, and declaring that you are transgender often shatters their deepest held beliefs about who you are. Some parents may ask questions about what you “really” mean and whether you really feel the way you feel. Try not to take these questions personally. See them as the beginning of honest communication.
However, if you feel a parent’s questions are invasive or inappropriate, it’s okay to say that you don’t feel comfortable answering. It’s difficult to find the right balance between protecting your boundaries and sharing the things you have been keeping secret for too long. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. You can always reopen a conversation or end one that seems counterproductive.
Give It Time
The hardest part of the coming out process is giving your parents time to transition into accepting you as the son/daughter you really are. We’ve already been through the entire coming out process…. the questions and doubts and fears and hopes and trying to be someone we’re not and realising we just can’t anymore. Our parents are often at the very beginning of that journey when we come out to them.
It’s so hard to be patient because we’ve been patient for so many years, hoping that someone would notice who we really were, hoping as children that we would grow up to be the gender we are supposed to be, hoping whatever was “wrong” with us would go away. Now that we’re finally free and happy, it’s hard to remember all the pain, fear and doubt… and hard to wait any longer for our lives to be more the way we wanted them to be all along.
This is where trust comes in. If your parents are basically on your side–they don’t have any negative beliefs about you because you are transgender–it’s a safe bet that they will accept you once they have had time to come to terms with things. It may take several conversations and several months before things are where you want them, and they may never fully understand, but they will do their best.
If your parents are initially transphobic, things are more complicated–but all hope is not lost. For some of these parents, seeing that you are happier now can really help them overcome their initial fear and any prejudiced beliefs they have. They may not be able to see the broader picture, but they may begin to believe that their child has the right to be happy even if it goes against what their religion or anyone else has taught them.
Keep Being Yourself
No matter what happens when you come out, it’s important to keep being yourself. Your family will come around–or they won’t. Either way, your happiness is dependent on you being who you really are. It can hurt if your family is initially rejecting of you, but it’s important not to let their opinion dominate your life. You still have a life to live regardless of what your family thinks, and if your family is the rejecting type, there are many other people willing to unofficially adopt you.
So protect yourself and make sure you are acting in your best interest no matter what you decide to do, then go ahead and do it. Afterwards, keep living your life as best as you can and let those people in who do truly love and want to support you.
Jack Ori is a motivational coach for the transgender and Aspergers communities. He is also the author of a soon-to-be-published ebook about coming out as trans to your family. Please click here if you are interested in coaching.