BY: Mark Van Streefkerk
I remember wanting to come out so badly and dreading it at the same time. Sometimes it felt like I was going to pass out when I told certain people, but I knew I just had to start. Sometimes I’d set out to work determined that “Today would be The Day.” However, instead of coming out to everyone, I'd spend the day swallowing a cold lump of nerves down my throat. It seemed to take forever to muster up the courage to come out.
If any of that sounds relatable, read on for five things that helped me in coming out.
1. Consider your safety
Growing up in a very conservative family, I knew something different about my gender, but I also knew it was dangerous to talk about it. I had to take that part of me and put it on the shelf while I lived with my parents. It’s devastating to be in the closet or feel like you’re living a lie, but sometimes it’s the safest choice for the time being.
Perhaps you live with a family that would disapprove. Or maybe you live somewhere where your physical safety would be at risk if you came out. If this is the case, focus on what you need to do to survive and feel good during those times. You’re not a coward if you have to stay in the closet. I played a lot of sports, read all the books I could, and got into art when I was in my teens. I was pretty miserable, but I had a lot of joyful moments too. You’re worth being as happy as possible, even if you must be closeted.
2. Start small
When you’re at a place where you feel safe talking about your gender, start by telling one person. Test the waters by seeing how they react when you bring up LGBTQ issues or reference someone trans. Show them a trans person on social media, and gauge their response. You can change your name and pronouns online or explore coming out to an online community that doesn’t know you IRL.
3. Write down what you want to say and practice it, or say it in a letter
You know that one friend you came out to? If it feels right, ask them to help you practice your coming-out speech. I started by coming out to one friend, then my housemates, and eventually my coworkers one by one. I typed up a letter and mailed it to my family. I decided a letter was the best way to tell them; even that was pretty scary. A letter was a way to tell them without having to be there. For letter or email writing tips, be direct. Inform them of your decision to change your name or pronouns. It’s not your job to convince them or defend why you feel the way you do. You can include one or two resources if you feel inclined to, but keep it simple.
4. Take a deep breath
When you come out to someone in person, take a deep breath, and start with what you’ve planned on saying. You can lead with, “There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you: I’m trans.” Or, “I’ve actually been meaning to come out to you as nonbinary.” Those are just a couple of examples. There is no right way, and certainly, no one way to come out. It’s okay if you stutter or get nervous. If you can, bring a friend you’ve already told for support.
5. Get help
Ask others to advocate for you if you trust them and want that. The hardest part of my transition was the time between coming out and being read as male in public. Between those two points, I had to constantly correct people about my pronouns and name. It was exhausting. It took some of the weight off me when my friends corrected people who misgendered me.
Some final thoughts: be easy on yourself. Your only job is to represent your authentic self in the world, and it doesn’t have to happen all at once. In fact, coming out is not a one-time deal. You’ll be coming out to a lot of different people for a long time, possibly the rest of your life. If that’s an overwhelming thought, think of this way: you're building a muscle or learning a new skill. It really does get easier because you get better at it.
Want more tips for how to come out as trans? Check out this YouTube video for ideas: