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Thoughts on “coming out” as Transgender to family

This is mostly a posting about coming out to parents, siblings or other relatives or friends that you’re close to.  This is not about coming out to children; that’s for a different post.

Before you come out:

I think it’s important to start with thinking about the purpose of your communication, and that is just to come out to them, to come out of hiding and let them know who you are and what you’ve been struggling with.  I’m making the assumption that you also wish to remain as close as possible to your family, and be accepted and hopefully supported by them in the future.

There’s also the question of if you should come out at all. If you are dependent on your parents/family (under 18, or if they are paying for college, etc…) then you need to think of the very real possibility of their cutting you out or off.  The last thing you want to be is a homeless transgendered youth.  If this is the case, then it may be wiser to spend some time finding and getting support before proceeding.

If you decide that the time is right and it’s safe to come out to them then…

The Vehicle:

 

My experience has been with Transgendered clients, that a letter works best.  The letter has several advantages over face to face communications.

  • You get to take your time and think about what to say and word it perfectly.
  • You can have a friend, therapist or supportive person read it over first and give you feedback.
  • You can’t be interrupted.
  • The recipient can go back and read it again and take their time with it.

Why a letter and not an email?  Well, it’s more personal, email can be a little cold.

What to say:

I’m of the school of thought that you should just say it in your own words as clearly and plainly as possible.  I think it can be good to also include the following:

  • Reassurance that you love them and want to remain connected and hope that they will be supportive.
  • Reassurance that this is not their “fault”.
  • A little bit about your struggle with gender over the years, your experience, coping, isolation, etc… (be specific! It will help them empathize with you)
  • A few recommendations of books, articles or support groups in their area
  • and I recommend to ask them specifically not to respond right away, but to take some time (a week) before they respond.  Let them sit with it.  This will weed out any immediate bad response and let them cool down.

Just as you would tailor a cover letter for a job you may need to tailor your coming out letter for different family members.  Your parents are two (or maybe more than two) separate people, invite them to respond individually.

What not to say:

  • No need to talk about specific long term plans/timetables or surgeries in your coming-out letter. Remember, the purpose of the letter is to let your family know that you are transgendered.  Period.  Future plans are better left for future communications.  Why?  Because just digesting the fact that one has a trans son/daughter/brother/sister is enough to begin with.  Remember, you’ve had a lot of time to think about this and are ready to move ahead.  They are just learning of this for the first time and need to absorb it. I think its ok to gently allude to the fact that changes might be coming in the future, but I wouldn’t go father than that in your first communication on this topic.
  • There is no need to go into the etiology of transsexualism here.  There are too many conflicting theories biological and otherwise, and even if you knew the origin of your being transgendered, it wouldn’t change it.

Afterwards:

If you get a positive response that’s great!  Otherwise stay calm, even if you get a negative first response.  Give them time.

Don’t be reactive to a negative response.  Be the adult (or if you don’t feel it, just pretend).  Remember the long term goal is to have them be connected to you and supportive.  Keep the long term goal in mind in all your communications with them.

It does happen sometimes that parents have a very negative response and even reject you outright.  This can be very hurtful and disappointing.  When this happens, again, don’t be reactive no matter how you feel.  Keep the long term goal in mind.  It’s easy to “write them off”, but ultimately unsatisfying if you want to have your family.

A few things to do with a negative reaction:

  • Communicate that you are open and ready to talk when they are,
  • Be empathic with their difficulty in accepting/understanding/assimilating this information.  Understand that they need time and may have a religious/cultural basis of understanding that can’t be overcome quickly.
  • Express your wish and hope that it will change over time.
  • Ask what you can do to help them accept this?

Other Approaches:

You know your family best, so keep that in mind when crafting your coming out communication.

Here are some other perspectives on how to come out to your family:

coming out, hormone, surgery, and other letters

http://www.videojug.com/interview/how-to-come-out-to-your-family-and-friends-as-transgender video ‘How To Come Out To Your Family And Friends As Transgender’

http://www.hrc.org/issues/3455.htm
Article ‘Coming Out to Family as Transgender’ fromThe Human Rights Campaign

http://www.tsroadmap.com/family/index.html
Transsexual Road Map  – Family issues

Find out about Psychotherapy when dealing with Gender variance in yourself or someone close to you.


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7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Great article. I’d like to add the suggestion to write the ‘coming out letter’ in the form of an online presentation such as in a blog. That way the individual can go over the information for a while before presenting it. It can also be used for several different classes of friends / family etc by simply preparing different posts for each. It’s possible to make blogposts private or password protected on wordpress.

    Myself, I’ve been pretty out for a while but I used this method of posting info for family on the web, then approaching them with the intent to direct them to the website. This makes it a lot less uncomfortable at the outset. I think it’s really important to stress that you can’t really estimate 100% how people will react, even if you think you know, it can vary a lot.

    December 27, 2009
  2. Kaye #

    I did enjoy your article, however, as a transsexual person, who is an advocator, the term transgender is not only incorrect, but offensive to the many in the trans population.
    The difference between gender and sex is that your gender is who you are, your sex is the body you are born into. For transsexuals our gender is who we are.
    The term trans means to change. We do not need to change our gender, our gender is already correct, we need to change our sex to match our gender.

    January 5, 2010
    • Thank you for your comment. Yes, I am aware of the controversy around terminology and that it is evolving and changing. By using the term ‘transgender’ I’m not implying that you want to change your ‘gender’, rather I’m trying to be inclusive of all gender variant people that might want to engage in some form of transition. When taken literally, its an awkward term. But, transsexual excludes those that might also engage in some form of transition. I think I might need to open another thread just to talk about terminology.

      January 5, 2010
  3. Your thinking is very avant-garde and, consequently, have your kind of people can push society forward

    January 5, 2010
  4. SuperSonic #

    Super post, Need to mark it on Digg

    January 21, 2010
  5. Ted Heck #

    Thanks for this excellent post, and your excellent blog. I am going to share it with members of the FTM support group that I facilitate. I look forward to seeing that post about coming out to children you mentioned in the first paragraph. I know someone right now who is struggling with this and I don’t have many good resources to pass along.

    December 14, 2010

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