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.
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
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
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
Faerie has a nice selection of links and a good overview. [archive]
wrote a nice piece on the difficulties. [archive]
Israel has a nice piece on telling parents.
has a great piece on why you should come out: http://transsexual.org/Out.html
Lisa Lees has a nice selection of transition
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.