So, it probably goes without saying that having at least a few close friends is an important aspect to living a happy life, but I think this sentiment goes double for someone with a non-binary gender. I know that too often transgender people like myself tend to hide their feelings and their true personalities from the people they know, especially in the beginning of or before transition. While this act of hiding is a natural form of self-preservation it can actually do more damage than good, particularly if the trans* person is completely “in the closet” for an extended period of time (months or years).
Coming out as trans is a difficult process, one that I’m still navigating myself, but it’s truly vital for anyone out there who thinks they might have a non-binary gender to at least confide in someone (even if it’s just one other person) about those feelings. Often times the best way to do this is by talking to an LGBT friendly therapist (many can be found here: www.lgbttherapists.org/ ), but not everyone can find or even afford to see a therapist, so sometimes the only option is to tell a friend or close family member. Telling someone you know personally can be extremely difficult, especially if you value your relationship with them because there is no knowing how they might react.
So, today, I’d like to discuss different methods to come out as transgender and the reasons why it’s important to do so. Obviously, I do not want to encourage anyone to put themselves in dangerous situations, so if you believe that coming out as trans will put you in physical danger, then please exercise caution or wait until a safer situation can be established.
Method #1: Seeing a Gender therapist (or LGBT friendly therapist). This method is probably the most effective way to adequately deal with the often complex and confusing emotions that a person can feel when they have a non-binary gender. Because of the rules about confidentiality, anything you say to your therapist will stay between the two of you, which can be of extreme benefit to someone who is just beginning to deal with their gender issues (unless a crime has been committed, in which case the therapist might have a duty to report what they know). Since there is a great deal of gender policing in western culture that often manifests in social pressures to conform to one or the other gender based solely on sex, it can be really difficult to even just admit out loud for the first time that you might not be the gender you were assigned. To admit such a thing out loud, especially to another person, is really the first step of moving out of denial. The transition process has frequently been paralleled to the Kübler-Ross model of grief (you know that: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance model we’ve all vaguely heard about) and most often the hardest of those steps to overcome is denial. It was for me, and it is for many others who I correspond with.
Now, denial might sound like a word you’d associate with someone who knows something but just willfully or consciously refuses to deal with it, and you would be partially right if you assumed that definition, but I’ve come to find that denial can manifest in different ways. Denial can frequently manifest as something someone just doesn’t have the capacity to understand, even if they actually want to. Most of the non-binary people I’ve corresponded with struggle with trying to understand what they are at all, more than a lack of conscious acknowledgment of their emotions. In other words, they are well aware that something is wrong and they have strong desires to figure out what that something is, but their brains are just incapable of understanding or accepting that they are transgender/non-binary. Often times I think this is a result of our faulty definition of the word transgender, but regardless of the cause, these people frequently find themselves not understanding why they feel the way they do. They might acknowledge that they’ve always felt like a boy or a girl on the inside, but their brains just refuse to accept that that means they are probably transgender.
It is for this reason that seeing a gender therapist is a great idea, because someone who is familiar with the typical characteristics and experiences of transgender people will be able to guide you through the denial mechanisms that might be at play and help you come to terms with your gender. It is by far the safest place to come out and will likely result in you finding healthy ways to fully come out when you are ready.
Method #2: Telling a close friend/family member. There are a lot of ways to go about doing this including: writing a letter/email, having a phone conversation, writing a text, talking in person in a private or public setting, etc. This method, while perhaps less safe than seeing a gender therapist, can be an excellent way to begin living a life more true to who you are. If you are able to find someone you believe will love you and accept you no matter what gender you are and you tell them about your feelings, you are potentially opening up a safe place where you can finally be free to express your true self. This was my method of coming out. I told a close friend who I trusted completely (it helped that she confessed to me that she was gay the same day) and it was the best thing I ever did. It permitted me to have a place where I could put down the mask I’d been wearing for so long and be as girly as I wanted to be without fear or worry. With the help of this friend I’ve figured out so very much about myself, my desires, and my plans for the future. This friend became my secret confidant who would call me by my chosen name when no one else was around and who treated me like the female I always knew I had been. To let off this pressure I’d been feeling for so long was a relief beyond description. I could finally be me, the real me, without fear, worry, or shame.
More than just finding a place to be myself, I also began to build up confidence in my new identity and eventually had the courage to tell others and to begin the coming out process with my family. The confidence of this one true friend became the falling pebbles that started an avalanche of freedom for me. By having time to bolster my confidence and to discuss my fears, I was able to prepare myself for the more difficult conversations I knew would be ahead of me. It gave me the courage and strength to weather the reactions of my parents, and eventually the rest of my family. It also made me accountable, because it prevented me from going back into the closet. I had already been seen outside of the metaphorical closet, so I knew that I could never truly be concealed again should I shrink back into my fear and denial. I knew that this friend would be disappointed in me, at least somewhat, if I didn’t start living a life true to myself.
Method #3: Go big or go home! This is probably the most dangerous means of coming out, but like a Band-Aid, sometimes the easiest way to get through the pain is to just rip that sucker off! This method can manifest in coming out on Facebook or Twitter (or other social media sites), coming out at a family gathering where everyone is around, or showing up one day displaying the correct gender expression (for me it would have been wearing a dress and heals). I honestly don’t really advise jumping straight to this method, but who am I to say what you are ready for or not. The warning that comes with this method is that you will not be able to control the reactions you get at all. True, doing it on an individual basis doesn’t guarantee control, but at least you have control over how many people you deal with at one time. By coming out so publicly you will be forced to deal with the reactions of everyone all at once. Some might be good, some might be bad but regardless of the positive or negative effect, you will have no choice but to be swarmed with other people’s views, thoughts, and concerns. If you use social media, those reactions will likely be invisible to you at first and could potentially become negative ones when they might not have otherwise (Do you really want your mom to read your facebook status to find out her son is really her daughter? If you are close, then probably not). Sometimes having a one on one conversation with the people closest to you is a better way of ensuring a deeper level of understanding and acceptance about your gender identity.
This method is probably best used in combination with the other two methods. Once you’ve come out to the people closest to you or the ones you see the most frequently, sometimes the easiest way to tell everyone else is through one of these public mediums. Eventually everyone is going to find out anyways, so why not have more control over how and when that happens?
In an ideal world you would probably begin with method #1, move to method #2, and finish off with method #3. I, personally, began with #2, moved to #1, and finished with #3. The way you choose to do it is your own and should reflect your personality and desires as best as it can.
Final note: I know that coming out can be very scary and can have a lot of consequences on your life, but it is important to understand that holding in a non-binary gender because you are afraid of what will happen if you tell people is a sure way to inflict suffering on yourself. The pain that comes from being true to who you are is far less than the pain of living a lie or living for the expectations of others. Eventually all of those feelings are going to boil over your defenses and you’re going to have to deal with them. Wouldn’t it be better to do it on your own terms instead of becoming the victim of years of repression? If you are finding yourself questioning your gender and aren’t sure who you can talk to, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I promise that I will lend a compassionate ear to you and will try to help you understand what’s going on inside of you. Our conversations will be 100% private and no one else has to know if that makes it easier to discuss the way you are feeling.
With much love,