Of the challenges we face being trans, coming out is one of the more stressful tasks. But there are ways to reduce the stress and fear that coming out brings. If done correctly, and in the right circumstances, coming out can be an easy and smooth process. Read on to find out how.
Research. Having the answers to the inevitable questions will allay any thoughts your friends and family may have that this is just a phase, or that you’re jumping into this. Find out how transition works, learn about what hormones can and can’t do, and some of the risks involved. The people you’re coming out to will likely be confused and possibly frightened, and the more prepared you are, the more confident they’ll be in your decision. This being said, try not to simply pour information on them. Make it a conversation, let them ask questions, and answer them as best as you can.
Plan. Some people have success just jumping into things head first, and will come out with little preparation. But I’ve found it’s easier on everyone if you know who, how, and when beforehand. You don’t have to make a big production of it, just find a time and a place to talk to the person quietly and calmly, and discuss what is going to happen. Have a loose script ready so you can start the conversation, and not find yourself at a loss for words. Do try to memorize the script, though, reading off a piece of paper or note card may be too impersonal.
Discern. Some people will take it very well, and some won’t. Knowing who is who and planning accordingly can make things much smoother. Use what you know about these people to figure out how they’re likely to react. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t come out to the people who won’t react well, unless your life may be in danger because of it, but certainly use a lighter touch with the less accepting ones so they don’t have a kneejerk reaction. It’s scary, and it may be tempting to try to hide your transition from these people, but them finding out from someone else will likely make things more difficult than hearing it from you.
Test. If you have friends or family who know already, try out your approach on them first. They might be able to point out things that you missed, and can provide constructive criticism. If you don’t have anyone, talking to yourself in the mirror can help, as hearing it out loud will make it easier to find rough spots. Or find an online transgender support group if you can, they’ll usually be more than happy to hear what you have to say and offer advice.
Wait. Don’t rush into it. Find a good time, when the person or people aren’t busy or distracted, to start the conversation. It may be tempting to come out to family all at once, during a large gathering, but this can backfire. If there’s a bad reaction, and someone causes a scene, you may be blamed for “ruining” the event. This is unfair, but it happens all too often. Better to talk to people one at a time or in small, casual groups.
Don’t wait. This may seem contradictory, but what I mean is, don’t feel like you have to tell absolutely everyone in your life before starting transition. Make a list of who you feel it’s important to come out to in person, and don’t feel bad about sending the rest an email, or even making a post on your social media platform of choice. Some people may be a little hurt that they didn’t make the cut, but the alternative is to find the time to tell everyone, and that could take months, or even years. You can always start HRT and other transition-related processes in the meantime, but there will come a point where you can’t, or won’t want to, hide it any more.
Listen. When you do come out, listen to the questions your friends and family have for you. Accept healthy criticism, though if they’re just being jerks you can always walk away. Remember, unless they have other trans people in their lives, they likely won’t have much information to go on, so it’ll be up to you to educate them. If you don’t have the time to answer all their questions, direct them to a few websites that have the answers they’re looking for.
Be patient. These will be some rough times for everyone concerned. Mostly for you, but the mental gymnastics required to undo what may be years or even decades of reinforced gender roles can be difficult for some. So if they screw up, say the wrong things, or make assumptions, gently correct them. Getting mad and scolding them can push them away, and thanks to the stubbornness inherent in most people, it can be counter to your goals.
Be firm. If someone tries to talk you out of transitioning, or refuses to call you by your preferred name and pronouns, don’t bend to their pressure. I have a friend who delayed transition indefinitely because her wife was worried about what her conservative father would think. But delaying will just make things worse for you down the line, and in the end, you have to live for you, not for the approval of others. Tell them why it’s important for you, and if they insist on opposing your transition, you may have to take a break from them if you can. Don’t try to hide it, or make compromises, that will just make things worse in the long run.
Be careful. This is in italics and underlined for a reason. While coming out is exciting and cathartic, it can also be dangerous. I mentioned earlier to be aware of who you’re coming out to, but this bears repeating. If you can, have a friend with you, and have an escape plan, if there’s a possibility of things going sour. If you can’t do that, meet somewhere public. Don’t be alone with the potentially dangerous person, and maybe consider coming out to them via text, or over the phone. Your safety is more important than their feelings.
Finally, be happy. If you want to go stealth, leave everyone who knew you pre-transition and start fresh, by all means, do that instead. Coming out isn’t for everyone, and sometimes you need to just start over. Just remember, the past has a way of sneaking up on you, and some things may follow you wherever you go. Or, if you want the big reveal, tell everyone, and make it into a celebration of your emergence into your new life, do that! Nobody can tell you how to live your life, and whatever path you want to take, happiness should be your ultimate goal. Love yourself, and live accordingly.