I didn’t have the perfect experience coming out as transgender and non-binary. Many friends and acquaintances weren’t able to change their perception of me and didn’t understand the new terms I was using to describe myself. As I meet new people and make new friends, I still struggle daily with coming out. But I was lucky that there were a lot of things my loved ones did right when I came out to them. Here are a few of the best things they did:
1. Supported me as I tried different things out.
I didn’t immediately know that I was non-binary and exactly what words I wanted to use to describe myself. That process was drawn out over many months, during which time I talked over my identity with my close friends and family.
When I talked to them about my gender identity, my loved ones never used the fact that I was unsure about my identity to question the validity of my experience. They supported me as I tried out new clothing, identities, and pronouns, letting me know they would love and support me no matter what words I chose to describe myself or how I dressed. In so doing, they enabled me to explore my identity without fearing their disbelief or annoyance if I changed identity terms or pronouns one too many times. It was an absolutely huge part of my exploration to feel that unconditional support as I tried to find what felt right to me.
2. Believed that I was telling the truth about my experience.
Even when the ideas and terms I was using to describe myself were new and unfamiliar to them, my loved ones never doubted that what I was experiencing was real and important to me. They never challenged the validity of my gender. Instead, they let me know they trusted my perception of myself. They listened when I talked about it and learned with me as I explored my gender identity.
3. Made the changes I asked them to make in referring to me.
When I finally felt sure enough of myself to begin making changes to how I referred to my gender and what pronouns I wanted, my loved ones made those changes with me and started referring to me with new terms and pronouns. My mom began calling me her “kid,” and my friends shifted their perception of me from girl to non-binary, using the pronouns I asked them to. They did this even though it was hard for them to make the change and they often messed up. They kept trying until they got it right. They had conversations with me about the importance of my new name and pronouns until they understood exactly how much it mattered to me.
4. Supported my changes in presentation.
When I began to explore my gender, it was scary to change my presentation to a more androgynous and, sometimes, masculine one. I was terrified that people would no longer like me or think I was attractive, but my loved ones let me know they still liked me and thought I looked good as I started to wear the clothes that were more comfortable to me. Later on, they also supported me when I began to broaden my presentation to include more feminine attire. They never suggested that this made me less non-binary or that it reduced the validity of my gender in their eyes.
5. Advocated for me with new people when I asked them to.
It is often stressful for me to explain my gender and pronouns to new people or to defend myself when someone attacks me for my identity. At those times, when I have asked my loved ones to step in, they have magnificently supported me by taking over some of my role in explaining things to new people or in advocating for me in the face of harassment. I know I can count on them when I need someone to support me in dealing with ignorance, both well-meaning and otherwise.
6. Were not embarrassed by me.
My loved ones are not embarrassed by me or my gender, and they don’t mind explaining it to new people (perhaps confused by my loved one’s use of a neutral pronoun in reference to me). I don’t worry that they cringe at the thought of explaining my “weird” identity to “normal” people because I know they accept and love me and my gender identity. Further, they don’t ask or answer invasive questions about my birth assignment or genitals. They respect my privacy and know that those questions are rude and unnecessary.
7. Comforted me when I was feeling down.
Sometimes, I struggle with the social and emotional difficulties that come with being transgender. It’s difficult to be non-binary in a society that only very occasionally recognizes me for who I am. Other times, I struggle with internal issues around dysphoria that can make it hard for me to dress myself or love my body. During those times, my loved ones are always there for me to comfort me with a hug or a chance to talk. Going about the world is easier when I know I have people who love and understand me to come home to.
For all these reasons and more, I am grateful to my loved ones who did so much right when I came out as transgender. Coming out is not easy, and every person who works to be supportive of their loved ones makes it much less difficult.
What are some things your loved ones did right when you came out?
[Headline image: The photograph shows two people hugging. The person on the right has short brown hair and is wearing a light turquoise long-sleeved shirt and a beige patterned scarf. The person on the left has short wavy brown hair and is wearing a purple, blue, and beige plaid shirt.]