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How do I come out after I know my gender?

Updated: Mar 13

Q: I've been considering my gender identity for two years. I have no idea where to go. I don't know how to tell people, or how to take that first step. I feel like I want to keep it to myself, so that people can't judge me or question me, but I also just want to be myself. What do I do? How do you just come out to people? It feels so lonely and overwhelming, and it seems so much easier to just stay silent. Advice? K: This is a great question. The question of how to come out to people is tough, because I think the answer changes a lot depending on your circumstances. A universal bit of advice, I think, is to understand that there isn't an Out/Not Out binary. You don't have to do it all at once, and in all areas of your life at the same time. You can be out to some people, and in some contexts (e.g. your friend group, your family, your work) and not in others. Breaking this down into smaller steps will probably make it easier.

Next, reflect on your fear about people judging and questioning you. Where is that coming from, have they given you evidence this is likely to happen, or is this an internal fear? Either way, how can you set boundaries to protect yourself (e.g. saying you don't want to be interrogated about it and will end the conversation or leave if they do that)? My general advice is that I recommend starting with friends or family who you know to be good about trans issues. If you're not sure, then test the waters. Bring up some legislation that's been happening, or talk about a trans character in a show, or something. See how they respond and how supportive they are. If they prove themselves safe, then it might feel easier to come out to them. I know there's probably tips about how to come out online, personally, I find a lot of ways that coming out is portrayed to be a little odd (weirdly, the person they're coming out to is usually centered and reassured), and it tends to get built up into something huge, which makes it seem scarier.

If you're not sure about coming out to people in your personal life, are there new friends you can make through online communities, local LGBT centers, etc. where you can start off the friendship already out? This might help make the prospect of coming out feel less scary, and you'd also have the added bonus of already having people who support you in case things don't go as well with some other people in your life. Personally, I came out pretty gradually and didn't have a lot of coming out conversations. For me, it was mostly telling individual people close to me "I go by X, I'm non-binary and use they/them pronouns now, please correct other people if they use my old name or pronouns" and then changing my pronouns on social media (I had been already using my new name for years there) and relying on everyone else to update each other. It was a lot easier for me than for others, because all of my friends already had at least one trans friend or coworker, and had proven themselves safe over the years. I know that's not the case for everyone though. I don't recall who told my siblings, but it took me a few years to come out to my parents. I had a lot of trans friends by that point, so I already knew my parents wouldn't say something unsupportive or offensive even if I didn't have high hopes they'd adjust to using the right pronouns. I also started grad school and a new job after I came out to friends, so I was upfront about my gender and the name I used right away and didn't have to have conversations about how people need to change how they refer to me.

My general way of doing things, besides a few conversations I listed above, is to just assume everyone already knows and act accordingly (correcting people if they use the wrong pronouns, casually referring to myself as trans and non-binary in conversation when appropriate, but not having conversations with people ahead of time about these things). Your way of doing things might look nothing like mine, and that's okay! Our personal preferences and individual contexts make coming out very different experiences. The important thing is to figure out what feels safe for you, gather some allies who can help, and don't force yourself to do anything you're uncomfortable with. For example, I know a lot of people who aren't out at work and never intend to be out at work, or never plan on being out to their parents, and that's okay.

My response is getting very long at this point, but the last thing I want to say is that the feelings of loneliness and being overwhelmed prior to coming out are very familiar to me. For me, it got easier after I came out. I did lose some friends, and my parents still struggle to gender me correctly, but coming out gave me the opportunity to find community and a lot more happiness than I had in my life beforehand.

S: Yes to all this! I can't think of much to say that doesn't just repeat what K said. The fictionalized concept of Coming Out can definitely be alarming, but in reality it's often much more like a (never-ending) series of small interactions. It's completely up to you when, how, and to whom you want to come out. One thing to keep in mind is that you don't owe anybody any information; it's completely fine to stick with sharing what you want them to call you and nothing else. It's also possible that your name and pronouns haven't changed, in which case coming out might involve more discussion of your gender. In case practical examples help, here are some potential scenarios:

  • Join a new group (can be identity-focused, but can also be a knitting meet-up or something else completely unrelated) where you go by the name and pronouns you want to from the beginning. This can be a way to experience navigating the world without having to go through a coming out process. If you have a friend who you are out to or choose to come out to first, you could ask them to join you for support.

  • Make a social media coming out post with whatever information you feel like sharing. Example: "Hey friends, from now on I will be going by [name]. My pronouns are [pronouns]; here's a guide to how to use those correctly. Thanks!" Alternately: "Hi all, I wanted to let you know that I'm trans; I'm a woman. Please call me [name] and use [pronouns] for me in future." Another: "Announcement: I'm agender! No changes to my name and pronouns." If you want a more in-depth option: "So I've got some news to share about my gender. [write about your thoughts/link to a blog post/whatever makes sense for you.]"

  • Share similar information in a more targeted way, like an email to multiple people or a private social media post, so you know exactly who sees it (if you do this in a way that shows everyone who else is on the list, that can be a way of letting them know who else knows, so they don't worry about outing you).

  • Talk to friends/family individually, in person or not (I came out to the person who had the most difficulty with my gender in a handwritten letter, so I could say what I needed to and he could process on his own and with other family before talking to me. I also know someone who came out to their family in a text announcing their name and pronouns and that was it). If you've got someone who you know is supportive, you can have them be present for conversations if that makes you more comfortable.

  • Ask someone to tell others for you, or to be available to answer questions for you after you've talked to people so you don't have to do all of it.

  • Write an email to coworkers, or ask your manager to do it, with however much or little information you want to share. Alternately, if you're using new pronouns and want to share those, put them in your email signature (this is something that a lot of people won't notice or will ignore, so don't expect this to result in everyone using your pronouns correctly, but it can be a way to take a step towards coming out so it feels less overwhelming).

These are certainly not the only options, and you can do any combination of them at any order and pace. It's totally normal to be out in some contexts or to a few individual people and not others. (I came out to most of my family only after my medical transition meant I couldn't avoid it, but I was out at school and to friends long before that.) Don't hesitate to ask supportive people in your life to help by telling others, correcting people who make mistakes when talking about you, or being present in various ways.

Also, take advantage of resources that are readily available. Due to the prevalent ignorance about gender, there will probably be people who are confused, and you don't need to take on the task of educating them. I suggest the Trans Language Primer for definitions of terms, for information about pronouns, Pronoun Island for how to use pronouns in a sentence (you can link directly to yours if they're available), the Trans Allyship Workbook for practical guidance on supporting trans and gender diverse people, and A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities for basic information in an easily readable format (plus A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns if those happen to be yours). And there's always this blog, which you're welcome to suggest for specific questions.

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