Ask a Gender Therapist: Coming Out as Transgender to Family & Friends
In this week’s edition of the Ask a Gender Therapist Video Q&A Series I address…
Coming Out to Family & Friends as Transgender
Coming out to family and friends as transgender can be one of the most difficult steps in this journey. I’ve got a step-by-step process you can follow to help make this a far less overwhelming experience!
Download the free Coming Out Worksheet and fill out while watching the video!
Hey, welcome to “Ask a Gender Therapist.” This is a video series where I answer your transgender questions from the perspective of a gender therapist. My name is Dara Hoffman-Fox, and I work as a licensed professional counselor in Colorado.
Welcome back! My eyes may look sad or puffy or sleepy… I don’t know if any of you struggle with seasonal allergies, but August is the worst for me. So don’t worry, I’m feeling good, I’m feeling spry and ready to help you with your transgender questions.
The last video I made was called Discovering Your True Gender Identity and Not Letting Fear Stop You. I promised at the end of that video I would then make a follow-up video where we talk about what you should do next once you do figure out if you are transgender.
Once I started thinking about that, I realized that this will probably end up being more than one video. In fact, so far I have come up with four ideas for videos.
The first one, which is this one, is going to be coming out to your family and friends. The next ones, in no particular order, will be: coming out at work or school, the challenges of being transgender in our society today, and finally, physical transition. So today we are going to start with coming out to family and friends.
I’m going to suggest you grab something to write with, a pen and paper or your iPhone, or whatever it is that you take notes on. We are going to be going over a lot. So go ahead and get the things you are going to need… That took you a while! Just kidding. 🙂
What you are going to do first is, I’m going to have you think about what I call Relationship Truths. As best as you can I am going to ask you to memorize these Relationship Truths. Let me go ahead and tell you what these are, because this is your best place to start. The reason I want you to think about these Relationship Truths is because it will help you to feel less like you have to do this perfect or that there is some right way you have to do this. Go ahead and give these a listen and see what you think.
The first relationship truth I want to tell you about is “Every individual and their experience is different.”
The second one is “Every relationship is different.”
The third is “Every individual and relationship evolves and changes over time.”
That’s the reason why there is not going to be just one answer for every person out there about how you should come out. There are going to be a lot of different kinds of relationships that you have with a lot of different types of people. Those are the relationship truths that I want you to start with.
The next thing I want you to think about is I want you to take an honest look at the relationship with the person you are getting ready to come out to. The good thing about this is you can do this with every person that you are going to come out to. You can do it one person at a time. That’s why you have your paper where you write down each person and you’re going to take an honest look at that particular relationship.
Let me go ahead and give you three ideas about what you can think about when you are thinking about this relationship. Now remember the relationship truths; every individual is different, every relationship is different, and every relationship evolves over time.
First, “What type of relationship do you have with this person?” Is it close or is it not so close? Or is it somewhere in the middle?
Second, “How much do you value this relationship in your life?” Do you value it very much or not so much? Or somewhere in the middle?
Third, “What are you willing to do to preserve this relationship?” A lot of not much? Or somewhere in the middle?
So for instance, think of someone you are close to or feel very close to, and very much value the relationship, and someone you would be willing to do a lot for, in this case to “preserve the relationship.” This might be a spouse. if you are a teenager this might be your parents. It could be one of your siblings. This relationship could be even with one of your grandparents, or kids, etcetera and so forth.
Now, examples of relationships where you might not feel so close, you might not value the relationship all that much, and you might not be willing to do all that much to preserve the relationship. Honestly it could be any of those people I just mentioned and for some reason you just don’t have that close of a relationship with them. Then it could be your mom, your grandma, your spouse, or one of your kids. It could be someone who you have always had a strained relationship with and you had found it very difficult to relate to them no matter what. This might be someone that when it comes to telling them that you’re transgender, it might turn out that they are lower on your priority list in terms of how much time and effort you want to put into what the after-effects are of coming out to them.
Now you have the three relationship truths and you have thought about the relationship you have with the person you are going to come out to. You have thought about what type of relationship you have with them, how much you value that relationship and what you are willing to do to preserve that relationship. Now here’s the thing, each of those questions is going to help you determine how much communication, patience, and time you are willing to put into this.
By communication I mean it’s not even going to be that one conversation you had with them when you came out to them. We are talking about how much you are willing to be vulnerable and open, would you be willing to go to counseling with this person to be able to work through it. Would you be able to be honest with that person? How much would you be willing to sit and talk for hours about this? That’s what communication means.
Patience would be how much patience you are willing to have with this person. They may go through a grieving process. They are going to have to take time to learn more maybe about what it means to be transgender and for you specifically what it means. They are going to have to take time to understand, so there is going to be a lot of room for patience there. So you are going to have to figure out how much are you willing to give depending on how much you value that relationship.
Time means, of course, how much time you are willing to give to certain things, such as getting used to this and getting used to new pronouns and name. It could take a great deal of time for a lot of this to really sink in for this person, and how much are you willing to “put up with it” and sit there with that person and allow them to go through the process they need to go through while you are going through your processes as well.
So, how do you go about telling your loved one you are transgender? There are a lot of different options nowadays.
Back in the day, you had your choice of either sitting down with the person and telling them, you could call them on the telephone and talk about it with them that way. Or, you could write them a handwritten letter and give it or mail it to them or read it to them while they are sitting in front of you. Those are all legitimate options for you to take. It really depends on your past experience with this person, what are the best ways you have communicated with one another, and go ahead and use that as one of your strengths.
But don’t forget that there are other options available now that we are in the 21st century. You can always write an email so it gets to someone quickly, you could write an email that goes to several different people and you can send it all at once. Then they can all see that you have sent it to many different people all at once or you can copy and paste it and send it.
You can create a Facebook post and announce it that way. It’s very broad and general and I have had some clients do that. Sometimes people will do that after they have told some of their closest relationship people and then see how many of their Facebook friends want to stay in touch afterwards.
I had one client who had a cool idea who said she was going to record a video of herself and she was going to send it specifically to her mother, for instance. It is not something she is going to put on YouTube. Although that is something that some of you may be okay doing. You send out a link and you have people watch it or you can make it a specific video for one specific person and send it to them. That means you could come out to somebody through Skype or Facetime.
You also need to think about, if you are going to do this in person with somebody, would you like to have someone with you for support, is this a friend or a family member who already knows about this? Think about whether or not that would be of help to you when you do this.
Lastly, think about whether or not this is something you are going to tell more than one person at once. Like I said, there might be some people you really need to do this one on one with and you want them to be the ones who know at the earliest. Then, as you keep moving along you might have more broad or general announcement that you make to other family members or friends.
This might sound a little overwhelming, which is why I suggested that you get out a pen and paper or do it on your computer or your phone and start making a list of everybody that you want to come out to. Answer those questions about what is your relationship with this person, how much are you willing to put into this when it comes to communication, patience and time. What method do you want to use to come out to that person? Go ahead and make that list and then you can kind of break it up and you can even make it into a timeline. Of course, it can shift and change; some people write it on post cards or notecards and that way you can kind of shuffle it around.
I am actually inspired to create a worksheet to help you out with this. I haven’t made it yet. Here we are at September 2014, so I am hoping by October 2014 I will have a worksheet for you. So if you go to my website after September 2014, which is d2.fourfourmedia.com, just go to the search bar an you can type in ‘Coming Out Worksheet’ and that should be able to bring that up for you. I look forward to creating that.
Updated October 1st, 2014: Download the free Coming Out Worksheet!
One thing that I want to mention that I heard on a YouTube video recently is by a guy named Dekker Moss. He’s a trans man and his video was called Hey Doc, Some Guys are Born Girls and he was talking about how he has an identical twin sister. And when he came out as transgender, he realized that his twin sister was going to lose her identity as an identical twin sister. She now had a fraternal twin brother.
So when your identity changes when you realize you are transgender, don’t forget that the person you are talking to more than likely their identity is going to change somewhat as well. Whether this is your spouse or your parents or a friend, they are going to have to go through their own identity shift and some people more than others depending on how much they were involved in your life.
Let me go ahead and touch on a few additional resources before I let you go. This week on my website I put a post that is awesome. It is called Gender Transitions: The Leap of Brave Beginnings and 8 Ways You Can Help. This is by a guest blogger named Charissa Grace and she is the author of a blog called Charissa’s Grace Notes. She wrote this blog post so that the person who is listening can help. So if you are transgender and you are coming out to somebody, they need to read this blog post.
I also created a PDF file that you can easily download and send to them or if they want to go get it, they can download and read it. It is about 6 or 7 pages and it goes through all the steps that Charissa describes in her blog post. But it is in easy-to-read PDF form. Click here to download it.
So, that is it for this episode. I am working hard on creating more content for you. If you have emailed me with a question for Ask a Gender Therapist and you haven’t heard back from me yet, don’t worry. I have a lot of questions to get to and eventually I will get to yours.
Do remember that I am not going to be able to write back with any real personalized advice because if you aren’t my client I‘m not really allowed to do that. But, I will give you some general information, some tips and I will direct you to some resources, and also I will definitely save your question to use in one of these videos one day.
In the meantime, I do want to advise that you go to my website and sign up for my email newsletter. I promise I won’t bug you very often. About every two weeks I will send out a newsletter just letting you know what blog posts I have created, what YouTube videos, what other posts people have contributed to on my blog as well. I would love to have you as a part of that list.
Thanks again for watching and I look forward to creating the rest of the “How To” videos about what to do after you realize you are transgender, what are your next steps. I’ll be talking to you again soon. Thanks!