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How do I tell my best friend that I'm not cisgender?

Updated: Mar 13

Q: I'm a trans man and I've had an online friend that I've known for over a year now. When we first met, I thought she would assume that I'm trans, as most people do when they see/hear me and I tell them I'm a man. I generally don't pass very well, so people usually know that I'm trans without me having to tell them. This friend, though, didn't realize and I never clarified. After a year of friendship, she still thinks that I'm a cis man. I never said anything about it because I honestly really enjoyed being treated like any other guy for once. But I really want to tell her the truth because it feels like I'm not being my authentic self around her. I know she would accept me and love me the same, but I'm still scared about the way it might change the way she sees me/treats me. Plus, it's been a long time since the last time I came out to somebody, and I have no idea how to even tell her. What should I do?

S: Has your friend said things that demonstrate that she definitely thinks you're cis? If not, there's a possibility that she knows or guesses that you're trans, or just doesn't assume either way, but hasn't brought it up because you haven't (which is the polite thing to do). But that doesn't really change what you're asking, which is how to make sure that somebody you've known for a while knows that you're trans.

Regarding your concerns about her reaction, are there cues you can draw from how she responds to trans and gender diverse topics in general? Have you talked about gender issues at all? It's a pretty common tactic to try to gauge someone's awareness and opinions before coming out by talking about topics like trans and gender diverse characters or celebrities, social and political issues that affect trans and gender diverse folks, or people you both know who have come out.

To be clear, you aren't obligated to tell her anything at all--you're not "not being your authentic self" by not mentioning your gender. If you want to share this part of your identity with this person and you feel safe doing so, go for it! But if you decide not to for any reason, including "eh, I don't feel like it," that is completely your choice. There is no general expectation that cis people come out, and there should not be for trans and gender diverse people either. If there's awkwardness involved, it's due to some people assuming that everyone is cis unless told otherwise; you don't have any responsibility to make sure someone knows you're trans, especially if you're not sure how they would react.

But all that said, assuming you do in fact want to come out to your friend, there are any number of ways to do it. Some examples:

  • "Hey, I realized I wasn't sure whether you knew this--I'm trans." If you want to leave it at that, this is all you need to say. Depending on how you communicate, it might be easier to do by text or DM or some other format that's casual and doesn't mean either of you needs to respond in the moment in front of the other.

  • If you think she might already know: "You know I'm trans, right?"

  • Mention in passing (in direct conversation or, if you're comfortable with it in a way you know she'll probably see like a social media post) aspects of your life that relate to your gender. For me, that might be talking about a dress I wore as a kid or my T shots or a family member's reaction to my coming out or my legal name change. Obviously the specifics vary from one person to another, but are there topics you can briefly talk about that indicate that you are trans?

  • If there's a social media platform you share, you could put something indicating your identity in your profile text or image. Or you could do a general coming out post (for Trans Day of Visibility or some other event-type thing, or whenever just because) in whatever level of detail you like--wording like the first two suggestions works fine. Of course, do not do this if you're at all hesitant to be out in that context and to everyone who might see it; you're even less obligated to make your identity public than you are to share it with individuals.

K: Agreed with everything S said. I'll try to not repeat everything, but some of what I'm about to say echoes what was said above. I also want to reiterate that nobody is obligated to come out to anyone, and not correcting people's assumptions about you does not make you inauthentic. That being said, yes, if you want to share this aspect of your identity with your friend, you should go for it. I agree that testing the waters by seeing how someone responds to discussions about trans and gender diverse issues is a good starting place. Beyond that, I think there are sort of 3 main routes to coming out that you could take here. You could have a direct and intentional conversation with your friend, you could tell your friend about it in response to the next time they say something that clearly assumes you're cisgender, or you could more passively inform them via things like social media where they are part of the audience but not the only member. Think about which of those 3 routes feels most comfortable for you, and then think about how involved of a conversation you'd like it to be. Do you just want to say something brief and move on, or would you want to have a longer conversation about it? Do you want to say it over a synchronous conversation (phone or video calls), or something that could be asynchronous (voice memos or messages)? Are there any boundaries you have around this topic that you'd like to prepare to say in case they are needed? Is there anything else you'd like to make sure is addressed?

There is no universal best way to come out to someone, it's very contextual and depends on your comfort level, boundaries, and relationship with the person in question. I hope some of our suggestions help you figure out what will work best for you.

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