Coming out to family and friends

This is a highly personalized issue, but there are some general aspects that apply to pretty much everyone.

Please review this site's section on family issues for more information on this sensitive topic.

For detailed advice, please see the coming out info for early transitioners.

Other tips

Another reader sent along the following tips based on her experience:

How have they responded to other "crisis-proportion" events in their life?

This is a pretty good metric of how they will respond to this. Has a sibling done something (unexpected pregnancy, eloped, life crisis, etc) that unsettled everyone, and how did they respond? How did they respond to their friends' kids crises (although this is not as reliable a guide).

Do not fight with them during disclosure.

(I know it's hard - after all my planning I still did it). Calmly explain and listen calmly and hear them out.

Do they have trouble listening to you, or taking you seriously?

Has your track record of past "hobbies" (funny they seem to look at it like this) been flaky or are you serious about follow- through? Have you meant what you said in the past, and said what you meant? (Not a show-stopper, but for the inconsistent it might influence how they disclose - like through a letter, or just showing them progress over time if this is possible in your situation)

Be prepared for a tidal wave of emotions to hit you from within after disclosure.

This knocked me off my feet - I experienced raw fear, even though I'm in my thirties, haven't seen them for over a decade, and live across the country from them. Makes me wonder what happened when I was younger that they aren't talking about (and most likely never will). I still wish I could have seen this one coming - so if this can help anyone, I'm happy :-) As a follow-on, keep a therapist on "standby" when you do tell them!

I found that once my parents knew, telling the rest of the family was easy, relatively speaking. One sibling surprisingly sided with me, and even chewed my parents a new, um, perspective, for what they did.

Finally, I guess I should have known better: I had tried to explain this to them back while I was in college, but didn't even get to the "gender" part (I said that I wanted to switch my major to psychology because I was "discovering something incredible"). They essentially shamed me into silence (I was away at school and the fear of losing my newly found freedom caused me to hide this away deep inside). Sad that over twenty years later the reaction was much the same, except this time I was stronger and was more able to handle it. (Advice: Work on your self- image and self-confidence before you tell them, particularly if they are the authoritative or religiously conservative type. You may need to be strong for them as well as you). And, should the worst happen (I pray for you that it doesn't), be prepared to walk away. Sad, but sometimes it is necessary. I guess the song was right: "Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em."

Another reader sent along this excellent piece:

A lot the ideas below are not specific to coming out. They are certainly not all from me personally, I just collected them under this topic. Some are general remarks about confrontations with a difference of opinion and a difference of interest. Some contain some (known) psychological tips. Some might sound standard advice to Sales people. That's not so strange as you have to sell a difficult story. These remarks are all ingredients, you have to come up with the recipe for the occasion and pick the right ones. Some are very personal observations, so be sure to think this through for your situation.

  • Work on self confidence before you come out. If you show yourself more certain, it is less likely that people will start picking on you. It is easier for another person to accept a convincing attitude. An uncertain attitude can give rise to fear an aggression. This you do by preparing. Know very clearly for yourself what you want and why want it. Write it down on paper. Question yourself critically. (Cfr . the preparations you have to do for your financial planning). If you have thought this through well, you can deal with any questions and remarks which might come. The three following observation can help to raise your self confidence.
  1. Your feelings and struggle are not something to be ashamed of. They are caused by a (medical) condition which is not well known and poorly understood. It is not a choice you have or have made. Even if you would push them away it now, they will certainly come back later. Therapists can back up your statement. You might have the impression that at a certain point you made a choice. Most likely what you experienced is that you accepted yourself as you are and not as what other people expected you to be. That is not what I would call making a choice, but a good step towards developing a more harmonious life.
  2. You don't have to be ashamed for the therapy you want to follow (HRT and SRS). For a TS person, the only known treatment with an acceptable chance of success is to transition. This is scientifically proven. All other treatments tried have a chance of success which does not even come close.
  3. The cause of TS is not know to date, although there are some hypotheses. Possible reactions of others (typically parents or other close relatives) to blame it on certain circumstances, on their behavior or on themselves make no sense. They are completely speculative. As the causes are not known, no one is to blame, as no could have known. So don't blame yourself either.
  • Beware of your body language. Pay attention not to send out conflicting messages (e.g having an insecure pose while you say you feel confident or vice versa). Say what you feel and feel what you say.
  • Stress the pain you feel from your current condition and the problems you have in functioning like this. Doing nothing will not improve your quality of life, quite likely things would get worse. Most people will be more open to this (who would want to see someone suffer) than the desire you feel to complete the transition and live in the other role. Most people cannot relate to the latter or come close to understanding. It is more likely to be rejected as a whims. However, IMO, the pain and the desire are both sides of the same coin, only most people can read one side better than the other.
  • Adapt your message to the person or group you are addressing. Pay attention to sensitivities and try to avoid them. Maybe you do not want to stress your all your objectives immediately, and drape them with other aspects of transition which your audience is more sensitive to. You can decide to tell things gradually during multiple conversations. You might have the feeling that you are holding back, but you are not. You just look for the right timing.
  • Look for the right timing. This can be difficult. You might be almost bursting to tell your story while something happens which makes the atmosphere totally unsuitable for your message. In that case, hold your breath, however difficult. You will not regret this.
  • Adapt your style to the style of your audience. If the person or group is direct, be direct. In most cases people understand better if things are expressed in a way they would express it. So is your audience direct, indirect, rational, emotional, extrovert etc.
  • Try to put yourself in the position of the person or group you are talking too and imagine yourself explaining from there point of view. Try to imagine what your reaction would be if you were them.
  • Addressing a group as a group assures a well structured and uniform communication to all members of the group. It also shows courage which most people are susceptible to. Depending on the group, I think it is important to brief the leader of the group first and assure his presence. This does not have to be a leader in true sense, but maybe (one) the most respected people by the group. He/She can control the groups reactions while communicating and back you. The disadvantage is of course that a lot of reactions can come to you simultaneously and that one triggers another (escalation).
  • Addressing members of a group individually and selectively has the advantage of having better control over the conversation and its circumstances. However, your communication will not always be the same or understood in the same way by different people. Soon you risk that conflicting messages flow through the groups informal communication network (yeah, nice words for gossip and backtalk). So timing is very important. I think contacting all (most) individuals before they start talking to each other is key. So this is most appropriately if these people don't see each other to frequently or you can rely on their discretion.
  • Emotions : be prepared for emotional shockwaves. You will know best who to expect them from. Sometimes they will come from unexpected corners. Emotional responses are not necessarily a negative sign. They will sometimes come from people who really care about you. The response means that they are concerned with what will happen to you. I personally find this most difficult to deal with because of the emotional response which it can trigger within me. This will cloud my perception and handicap me to react appropriately. If anticipated however, I stand stronger.
  • Not all emotions are what they look like. Anger and aggression can sometimes be another face of fear. This can be fear for what the future will bring for you, but most surely fear for what the future will bring for them. How will they tell this to other people ? How will people react to this situation ? How will this affect their lives ? Preparing some answers for them is key. Personally I like the idea of using a printed folder with explanations and background. This can be self-made but maybe better from an institute. It brings the subject on a more neutral, objective terrain (this is not just something from you) and gives it a serious label.
  • An emotional response to an emotional response can be quite all right too, as long as it does escalate the original response. For example, becoming angry because the other party is angry is often not a good idea from my experience. It might be well different for you. I had on several occasions tears in my eyes because I felt hurt, treated unfairly or completely misunderstood. The tears just came and passed on the right message to the other party which backed off and tried to be more understanding. In my case, people were not used to see me crying so this was a strong signal. Again this might be different for you. Maybe becoming silent or the opposite will do the same for you ? The key thing is that the emotional message should be a strong indicator that this is dead serious for you.
  • When things get too emotional, it is mostly a good idea to break off the conversation. People wont be listening anymore anyway or are likely to interpret statements incorrectly and twist them. However you need to have an idea on how to follow-up. A second try is in general more difficult. On the other hand, it gives everyone time to let the dust settle down and think things through. Leaving something like your statement or a folder can be of help there. Next time, you do not need to start from scratch.

Off-site resources

Paradox Faerie has a nice selection of links and a good overview. [archive]

Tucker wrote a nice piece on the difficulties. [archive]

Gianna Israel has a nice piece on telling parents.

Jennifer Reitz has a great piece on why you should come out:

Lisa Lees has a nice selection of transition letters. [archive]

The Human Rights Campaign has put up a nice overview.

Again, go check out the coming out info I wrote for early transitioners for more important information.