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The Issue of “Passing” and The Transgender Community

Louise D.

There is no single specific right or wrong way to come out. There are also several stages involved in the process of coming out, so writing a ‘coming out as trans’ letter might only be one step in the process. However, in this article, we will strive to give you as much information to consider as possible.

We, unfortunately, cannot provide all the answers, but we hope to cover as much as possible to give you the best possible idea of what might come up during your coming-out journey.

Sometimes this can be an extremely positive journey, while other times, it can be extremely difficult and might even mean that you will experience discrimination, sadly, sometimes even from those closest to you. However, living authentically can still be better for your overall mental health; in the long run, it is just important that when you choose to come out that you are safe to do so.

The sad reality is that doing so might threaten your personal safety, even from your own flesh and blood, in rare cases. Nonetheless, you have a right to live your authentic life as a trans person if you choose, and if necessary, legal protections are on your side.

That being said, it is essential that you only embark on this journey once you are ready. You should not feel pressured to come out with your identity before you are ready, and this will vary significantly between different people.


Coming Out Journey

Your journey of coming out as transgender will often start through admitting to yourself that you identify as transgender. You will then go through stages and emotions until you, hopefully, reach a point where you can accept yourself as transgender and start to work on your new identity. This part of the journey can be made a little bit easier by reaching out to the online trans community, where you are most likely to receive a supportive response.

The next step of your journey will be to extend what you have learned about yourself to your loved ones. When you decide to do this, it is vital that you have some kind of support to turn to if it goes wrong. Reaching out to the LGBTQ+ community can be an excellent source of such support. Some individuals belonging to this community will likely have experience in this area and might be able to offer advice and share experiences from their own lives.

Where you begin is a personal decision, and the whole thing is a very personal process for trans people. Your journey will likely be completely different from anyone else’s, but that does not mean that you cannot get support from friends and other trans, lesbian, or gay people.

The majority of trans people, especially at an early age, will decide to come out to a close friend first. Friends are often more supportive than family members because a friend is not entirely as close to the information as your family might be. Your friend can then become a source of support as you navigate your way through the rest of the gradual process of coming out as transgender.

They can help you understand where under the trans umbrella you are, what your preferred pronouns might be, whether you want to undertake something like affirmation treatments, for example, hormone replacement therapy. They can help you to practice your new pronouns and see whether they work for you, and they can serve as your ally later down the line.

Coming out as Transgender to Family Members

Coming out as trans to family can be either easier or more complicated than it is to come out to friends. It all depends on your relationship with your family and how open they are to gender identity struggles and issues of sexual orientation.

First Reaction

Their initial reaction is often one of shock and disbelief. It is essential to try and stay calm, even if their responses hurt you. This is simply because their initial reaction will be one of shock and will not necessarily reflect how they really feel about it. People worry about your quality of life and your happiness, and they might not initially realize that living authentically is the best way for you to maintain a good quality of life.

If your friends and family genuinely carry biases against trans people, then it will likely be harder to get a supportive reaction out of them in any case. The initial reaction is most often not how they will feel forever, and during the time that they are adjusting to the idea of your trans identity, it is a good idea to get support for yourself as much as possible from wherever you can.

Many people decide to tell their parents before they tell the rest of the family, and it is essential to remember that all families will react differently. Telling people can be really stressful, especially when their reactions are not very positive, so try to maintain communication with support groups during this time.

Explaining Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation

There will likely be some concepts that you might need to explain to friends and family once you have told them about your gender identity and sexual orientation. You can provide them with sources that they can access for information on gender identity and what it means to be trans, and you can put them in touch with groups that can provide them with anonymous information and guidance.

An excellent place to start is to explain what it means to be transgender and how that is an umbrella term. You will also need to explain the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation.

The most basic way to do this is to clarify that sexual orientation is about what you are attracted to in another person, whereas gender identity is about how you feel within yourself about yourself. This will create the necessary split between the two concepts and will at least create an ‘inwards’ vs. ‘outwards’ concept.

You might also need to explain the concept of non-binary gender identity and how that fits in under the transgender umbrella. Once your family has calmed down after their initial shock reactions, they might have a number of questions.

Be prepared for this, try and keep the conversation civil and respectable, and try not to lash out, even if they are frustrating or unreasonable, but at the same time, you need to stand up for your feelings. It might take people a while to get on the same page with you about your trans identity, and you might find that people do not always react the way that you expect them to.

What is important is that once you decide to embark on this journey, you have groups where support can be extended to you and that ultimately you are safe in as many ways as possible.

Maintaining a Support System

Around the time that you make the decision to come out, it is good to become part of a support group for gender identities so that you are in contact with people who have experienced this before and can help you and support you through the process of coming out as trans.

You might need to be prepared that not everyone you tell will take it well, and some might fall out of your life entirely. This is another reason why it is a good idea to establish support from the LGBTQ+ community.

When coming out as trans to your family, it is essential to be as sure as possible that doing so will not jeopardize your safety or your living situation (especially if you are still a minor).

Ideally, of course, you will have a calm conversation with your family, and sense and reason will pass between you, and everyone will respect each other’s right to live their lives as an authentic and free person. But, more likely than not, this is not always possible, and your family might never adjust to you being a transgender person.

You might need to resort to removing an unsupportive or abrasive person from your life in exchange for a person who is there to support and accept you. Your mental health is of paramount importance, and it is an unfortunate reality that not everyone in your family will support you in certain parts of your life.


Things to Include in your Coming Out Letter

You will need to start such a letter off by stating the purpose very early on.

Make use of clear and specific terminology (this will also make it easier if a person wants to go research terminology by themselves before they speak to you about it). State things like: “I do not identify with the assigned female gender that my physical body shows.”

If you use terms like bisexual or gay, make sure to clarify.

“I am bisexual, meaning that I am not attracted to only one gender.” or “I am gay, and the one gender that I am attracted to is the same as my own.”

Make it clear that a conversation about this will follow where people can check their understanding and where you will answer questions that they might have and try to address how they are feeling. State your personal feeling about your gender, your pronouns, your identity as a transgender person, etc.

Encourage them to talk to someone if they find themselves very distressed.

They can talk to you, a friend, or a professional who might be able to offer support. Remember that this might be hard for them to hear and reconcile. You are essentially telling them that you are not the person they are used to and that you identify as someone they might not understand and might not be familiar with at all. Acknowledge that this can be hard, but be firm in how you feel as well.

If you think it is appropriate and safe, you can also set boundaries.

For example, you will answer questions and address feelings if they are brought up respectfully and not vindictively.

Provide resources

It might also be helpful to provide some resources where people can access resources to get a sense of what to expect going forward.

Try to preempt some questions they might have.
Address the basics of transition.

For example, the fact that social transition often comes long before medical transition. Explain the difference between gay, lesbian, and transgender. Mention some support options that you are using or plan to use before you decide on the entire course that your transition will take.

If you want to keep the news quiet from extended relatives and friends, you might need to state that explicitly and ask them not to talk to other friends or relatives about it just yet. Or provide them with a list of people who already know.

Tell them if you are feeling scared or lonely, tell them why you are feeling the way that you do. This might also impact how they choose to react when confronting you. Do not be afraid to ask them for support.

You can also encourage them to be comfortable using terms like lesbian or gay, or trans when speaking to you.


General Guidelines for Coming Out as Trans

I’m Ready!

If you are sure that you are ready, give yourself some time to plan out the best course of action to take your news further. Write it all down and make sure to tick steps off as you go along.

This will keep you grounded throughout the journey and will help you to see the progress that you are making. It might also be beneficial to keep a journal, should you want to look back on this journey later in life, but also so that you can keep track of your thoughts and feelings throughout the process.

Try to figure out who will be the most supportive, and try to come out to that person first.

This is usually a close friend, but it can also be a relative. If you feel that speaking to more than one person initially, then that is fine too. Whatever you feel would be best. The only advice we give here is not to come out to everyone you know at once. This is likely to be overwhelming.

Be ready to answer questions.

It is almost 100% guaranteed that you will encounter questions from relatives and your friend group. Try to be as prepared as possible.

In Person or on Paper?

It is best to do this in person, but if you are not comfortable with that or think that you will express yourself better in written format, then rather do that. It is crucial that you are understood.

Taking care of your emotions.

Find support and possibly try to join a support group.

Be ready to talk about social and medical transitions.

People, especially relatives, will likely have questions and concerns about this.

Be ready for people to make some mistakes with your pronouns or your name in the beginning.

They might be doing it willfully, and they will probably need an adjustment period just to get used to new expectations. Try to be patient with them, especially if they have known you for a very long time or if they are old or have memory problems.

Try not to approach the process from a negative point of view.

Some people might surprise you and be more positive than you thought they might be. Be sure to allow them the room to be positive without just expecting negativity for the hell of it.

Give a lot of thought to the logistics.

Where, when, and how are extremely important. Who will be present? What will work best for your individual circumstances in terms of your relatives.

Take comfort in knowing that even though the process of coming out might be uncomfortable, there are undeniable benefits to being out. You can gain so much freedom from living your life authentically and from being able to become the best possible version of yourself.

Live your best life and love yourself above all else!

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