“How Can I Come Out to My Friends & Family?” by Ariel Williams
Guest Post by Ariel Williams
This article originally appeared on Quora
Answer to: How can I come out to my friends and family? by Ariel Williams
Reprinted with permission from the author
Question: How to come out trans?
This is a difficult question to cover but I will give you the full speech as I have had to so many times before to help my trans brothers and sisters out there. I hope this will be of assistance.
First let me say that although this is possibly one of the scariest parts of transition, you can do this just as I and others had to do this. It is normal and understandable to be apprehensive and scared about this decision. In my own experiences and that of many others I have spoken to, this will not be as bad as you might imagine in your head. People can and will surprise you and in a family love can be a force that can surprise more than any other. This will be a long answer. I am not going to pull punches. You need honesty so you will get it. Just don’t let anything here deter you from your plans. I speak about worst case scenarios but the fact is this almost always easier than we think it will be. Some of the things I talk about may not even be concerns for you, if not then great but at least you thought about them.
The Big Disclaimer
The first thing you need to know is there is no one size fits all answer to this question. The specifics of how you come out to friends and family are different for each and every person. Right or wrong and fair or not, it will depend on such varied factors as; your religion, your family’s religion, your cultural background, your race, your country, local laws and politics, and how close you are to each family member and friend as well as your history with them. The short version of that is that most of these things you know better than anyone else. You need to think about the people you will be telling and make little mental or real notes to yourself about these things then you can work to address them if and when it should come up. Trust your instincts about who will be more receptive and who will be less receptive but remember people can surprise you in good and bad ways. You need to be strong. You can do this!
Do’s and Don’ts
The best advice I can give you is a list of a few things you should and should not do. These are not just suggestions but come from other people’s real experiences of what works and what doesn’t.
Do not attempt to have this conversation dressed in your new/future gender.
I have never seen it work out well. You might very well be the cutest and most passable girl or boy on earth and this would still be a bad idea. The reason why is simple.What you are about to reveal to your friend or family member is going to be difficult and a very big shock and adjustment for everyone involved. Adding the further shock of them seeing you dressed as other than the gender they know you as will only add to that shock and stress. Later you can have the, “see I can pass” conversation but this is not the time. This conversation will be as much about them as you and you don’t want to make them any more uncomfortable than they will already be.If you intend to do this in person then you should dress in the gender and clothes they expect. If you have already begun hormones or other changes than dress to minimize the effects of those for now. Simple, clean and professional clothing will show you are healthy and serious. You can always go for clothing that is androgynous like baggy jeans and a loose t-shirt. Men and women both wear that and it’s not hard to shave or wear two layers of shirts. After you speak they will need time to digest this information and think about it. If they ask you can always show them some pictures on your phone or computer but, only if they ask.
Do not try to do this in a very large group for families.
Inevitably, if someone acts badly to this information it will color everyones reactions. In a large group of relatives this can cause a huge commotion or even a fight. Some might support you, some might not. Some might get upset just because “you upset <such and such>”. .You want to try and figure out who will be most supportive and tell them first. Do not group mother, father, all siblings etc. in one group for the big reveal. A smaller more intimate conversation might be easier on your nerves too.
Do not lose your cool.
No matter what happens or what is said you need to be cool, calm and collected. You need to be ready to answer questions and bombast with rational and honest answers. You need to be ready to diffuse the situation. No matter what is said or who says it you do not want to be raising your voice or getting yourself upset. Expect things might go wrong and prepare yourself for it but hope for the best. Sometimes people might be initially very inappropriate and say hurtful things only to come around to fully supporting you later. You don’t want to argue or change their minds just be there to answer their questions. An argument now will just makes things harder later.
Do not do this drunk and/or high.
This should be common sense but I want to say it anyhow. Even if you think you have only had “one or two drinks” and can pull it off their perception might be different. As I stated before, you want to appear calm and collected during this conversation. Anything that even slightly lowers that perception or your credibility should be avoided.
Do not make assumptions on who will or will not support you.
I know I said to trust your instincts and that you know who will be most and least accepting but you need to reserve judgement until the time comes. Don’t write anyone off expecting them to hate you or pin your hopes on anyone just yet. It is hard but you have to give them a chance. Show them your love and hope for the best. It will shine through to them that you trust them if you really believe it.
Do not take it personally and do not lose hope. (IMPORTANT!)
Some people may react very badly to this news but eventually come around to be some of your strongest supporters. Some might not. Some might seem accepting only to drift away later. This will be as hard for them as it will be for you. Everyone will need to make adjustments to this.My mother supported me fully from day one and yet she cried off and on for several days after I told her. The reason is, she knew inside that she was mourning for the future she always wanted for me. She was losing her baby boy. She might never get the chance to be the grandmother she always dreamed of being (barring adoption).My mother was afraid that the costs of surgeries and transition might bankrupt me. She feared that I might be in danger during the surgeries and treatments yet to come. And she was afraid that others might mistreat me or fire me if they found out. Some of those fears were valid some were not but all of them were understandable. She recovered from it but it was a difficult few days for her.And this is how it affected a person that was supporting! Just imagine how much worse it will be for a parent that either doesn’t understand or has not really had much exposure to LGBTQ issues. Hopefully this drives home that you need to be understanding of them. These are the kinds of things your family and friends may go through as well. They and you can and will overcome this.
Do prepare for the conversation.
You will need to be on your A-game here. Make sure you have thought through the questions they might ask and the problems you might encounter. Make sure you are ready even without notes or information at hand. You might get the feeling that the perfect moment to tell them is happening without you expecting it and you want to be ready to seize that moment if it happens. If you already told one person roleplay out the conversation with them and have them pretend to be the more tricky members of your family while you practice coming out.
Do tell them you love them. Do this alot.
Make sure you say it and mean it. Make sure you tell your friends how much they mean to you. How important they are. In all the nervousness of the situation this simple and seemingly intuitive thing might get forgotten. You can’t say it enough. Not just at the beginning but a few times through the conversation.
Do see a doctor or therapist before you speak to them if it is possible.
If you have come this far I know you are serious but they will have their doubts. Some of these doubts may be them in denial some may be honest concern that you suddenly flipped out. It isn’t completely unfounded. There are people that have breakdowns or sudden flare-ups of neurotic behavior that have never shown signs before. You want to be able to show them this is not that.You want to be able to tell them “I have been seeing this doctor and this therapist and after talking about this for X months, WE have come to the conclusion this is the best course of action for me…”. Or whatever, put it in your words. Notice I said “we” you want to point out this wasn’t your idea or the therapists idea but both of you on the same page. The point is a doctor and/or therapist gives you legitimacy and instantly refutes the “he or she has lost their mind” line of thought before it can begin to take hold.You want them to know you have been doing a lot of soul searching and have carefully weighed every option before coming to this conclusion. It is as much for you as them though. Your therapist can help you work up to the stressful day when you finally tell them. I know some people where the therapist or doctor even offered to be present during the telling of the parents. If you are that lucky and you think it will work with your family go for it. People often moderate their emotions around others in ways they won’t when around family.
If you are under 18 seeing a doctor or therapist without their knowledge is possible but could be a double edged sword. It might work for or against you. Better that you get them to take you to a therapist for “depression” and then after gaining full confidence that the therapist will not break the news until you do, you can talk to them about the real reason for the depression. This avoids the “what have you put into my child’s head” line that could come if you see a therapist through a local community center or health clinic without their permission.
Do plan an escape. Do be safe.
I don’t want to be a bummer, I really don’t but you need to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. Make sure that you are prepared for the worst case scenario. IF you did this in person make sure you drove your own car or have a cab, Uber, or bus fare and are not reliant on them for transportation. Make sure you have someplace you can crash and sleep for a few nights if you are living with your parents and need to get away from the house for a few days. If you live in their house make sure anything valuable (emotionally or monetarily) is ready to be picked up and packed, the rest is less important than you think. Don’t pack a suitcase just make sure you know where the most important things are. Make sure if things go bad there is someone you can turn to for help, advice and possibly a shoulder to cry on. Hopefully it won’t come to that but be prepared.
Do talk to the people that you expect to accept this first and alone.
This has two big benefits. If you know this person is socially liberal, has LGBT friends and will protect you then you can probably trust them to keep it secret for at least a few days. This gives you a place where you know you can turn to and lets you build on the existing trust. This person will be invaluable to have along with you when you tell the least receptive people in your circle assuming they get along okay with that person already. They will also be great to have along to support you when you tell the other family members.This is generally a win win with almost no negatives. The worst case scenario is they gossip about it but you need to decide if you can trust them to keep it a secret or not. Just don’t expect them to keep it a secret forever. That is very stressful and no one can do that forever. Secrets always leak eventually and that is not their fault. You just gave them a huge weight to hold. If you tell them that you ONLY want them to talk about it with you alongside it can work to take some of the secret burden off them. But get repeated and multiple confirmations that they won’t tell anyone until you do before and after telling them.
Do trust your instincts.
If you feel that the right time to tell them is suddenly happening as a follow up in a conversation or some other event, go for it. I can’t explain why this is but it often happens that we end up coming out not when we planned to but because some weird and random event set it all off. If it happens, go with it. Again trust your instincts. You’ll know when and if this happens. If you have read everything else then you should be ready. Trust your instincts.If you don’t feel safe for any reason leave or make sure you have a safe exit. I spoke about this before above. If someone is getting angry or violent, politely excuse yourself and do not engage them. This is hard to do but is the better route. Just be careful to think it over and make sure it is not your own fears and doubts overriding actual danger sense.If you feel safe than follow your heart. If you think a hug is right then go for it. Possibly go for it anyhow (remember love). Just respect boundaries. You will know when the time is right or wrong just make sure it really is the right or wrong time. Do not let your own fears color this. You will know when it is right. This will make sense then.
Do get some pamphlets and resources online.
While I wouldn’t suggest handing these out while you are talking you might want to leave these with your friends or family when you leave or are done talking. If they have specific questions and want more information while explaining then you can still give them out. These may also be good for you as you might learn some stuff too.PFLAG:
Do consider writing a letter or making a phone call.
I would strongly suggest you do your coming out in person but nothing above needs to be in person. Most all of these suggestions can be done by email or online or phone to. I came out to my mom by phone and it was caused by one of those weird (this is the time) moments I described before. If you do write a letter, make sure to address as many of the possible concerns as you think you might need to and BE by your phone 24 hours a day after sending it. If they don’t call after a reasonable time, then you call. Don’t write anyone off and don’t let people give you the cold shoulder. Be polite, give them space but call occasionally. Things can sometimes change given time and persistence.
Prepare for the worst but hope for the best. The most important thing I can stress is being confident and having faith in yourself. This is hard but THOUSANDS and MILLIONS have gone through it and you can too.
Good luck hon, I am rooting for you!
Ariel Williams is a dreamer, writer and artist. She has been published on numerous sites including; Gizmodo, BBC, Forbes, Slate, The Huffington Post, Nerdist, and Thought Catalog.
Ariel is also a nerd, a geek, a tabletop roleplayer and can write about herself in the third person when the need arises. She tends to write about pop culture, LGBTQ issues and nerdy things and is a frequent contributor to and 5 time Top Writer on Quora.