A Guide to Coming out to Family
Coming out to family and friends can be a life changing experience, and the consequences of doing so can vary from great to tragic, depending on who you come out to. So above all, before you come out to them you must prepare yourself for the consequences.
Why come out at all
While you may be considering the idea of coming out to your family, there are a few questions you would be wise to ask yourself before actually doing it. Many transgender people are just looking for acknowledgment and the support and, hopefully, acceptance of their family and friends. However, achieving these goals may be difficult and might take a lot of time to say the least. Coming out to your family is probably best approached by thinking through a series of questions and feeling comfortable with the answers you give yourself.
First, you should ask yourself "Do you have to come out to them at all?," and this would depend largely on how close you are to your family. If you are already estranged or distant from your family, then the consequences will have a much different impact than if you are living with your parents or emotionally close to them. So realistically, you might want to consider only coming out if there will be a benefit to you, your family, and your quality of life. If you are transsexual and will be transitioning, then full disclosure will most likely be necessary. If you are a crossdresser, then it might be possible to avoid telling family if you live away from them. These are extremely personal decisions but they should be answered with careful consideration.
Parents, for example, usually have an extremely difficult time accepting a child's gender issues because they have raised that child with certain gender expectations. To break those expectations and have a child declare that they are in fact a different gender will undoubtedly cause some kind of unrest in the family. With the proper preparation and self-evaluation, a transgender person who is coming out to family may increase the likelihood of having the support and acceptance of their family. This is not a good time to "fly by the seat of your pants" and go with a stream-of-consciousness approach. Remember that family members have a mental image of who you are. You are threatening that image and need to be aware of this in your approach. If you do decide that full disclosure is necessary, you must to be prepared for the consequences no matter how positive or negative they may be.
Another question to consider is "What do you hope to gain by coming out to them?" Obviously, if you are definitely going to come out to them, then you should be thinking about the "why" behind the process. Sometimes the coming out process is rooted in guilt and statements such as "I can't stand to hide my true self from the people who love me anymore." Other times the coming out process might be forced, such as situations where a loved one has found clothing or other items that would suggest and necessitate a coming out of sorts. It's important to think of where you want the relationship with your family to go after coming out so that you are better able to verbalize that in the coming out process.
By asking yourself the two prior questions, "Do you have to come out at all?" and "What do you hope to gain by coming out to them?", you will be on the right path to approaching the coming out process with your family in a well-prepared manner. Remember, this is an internal process before it is an external process.
The consequences you will encounter will be varied. One of the best possible outcomes would be that you are totally accepted in your new gender, the family supports your decision, and life goes on with your relationships improving with a new found sense of honesty and vigor. In this case, the coming out process may be seen as a journey, not necessarily a destination. It may also be a beautiful process for everyone involved.
Unfortunately, at the other end of the spectrum, you may suffer complete rejection, be cast out from the family, removed from wills and other such adverse outcomes. Sometimes this may be caused by a lack of preparation or foresight. Most times it is due to having family members that are extremely rigid in their thinking. The family members may have religious issues with the gender disclosure, they may be afraid of ridicule from others in their community or they may just refuse to believe that gender issues are the root cause of the transgender person's problems.
In any case, you do need to realize that there are varying degrees of success and failure in the spectrum of the coming out process. There will be a beginning, middle and end to the coming out process and, ultimately, there will be acceptance or non-acceptance; that might not have anything to do with the amount of preparation and love you have for your family.
Who to come out to first
When considering who you should come out to and who you should come out to first, you need to consider a few key points. Keep in mind, first, that "news" of this sort may travel fast in your family. Think of how your family dynamic works: does your family have a tendency to talk and gossip among themselves or are they fairly reserved?
It is often recommended that you consider coming out first to those who you feel would be supportive so that you increase the likelihood of gaining valuable allies who will back you and support your decision. These people may often act as spokespeople on your behalf when you aren't there. Keep in mind that as news travels about your gender issues you will want to be out to people who may be understanding first. The more people you have in your corner in the beginning, the better off you will be in the long run. This may be a best friend, a trusted parent that you are close to, clergy, or anyone else that you feel close to and who you think would be understanding.
You may want to consider the following factors in choosing who to come out to first:
- Does the person have a history of being accepting of different people such as gay people, people of color and people with disabilities?
- Does the person typically exhibit fairly open ideas about life situations (gay marriage, major change in other family members such as divorce, etc)?
- What is the person's history in reacting to information you've given them? Have you ever tested their reaction by telling them something surprising about yourself? How did they handle it?
- Do they have so many things going on in their life that they might not be able to add your "issues" to their list of things to accept?
It is probably well-advised to consider coming out to the rest of your family members once you tell the first person. You should definitely approach coming out as a process that begins by telling the first person, then continuing to other people. Again, there are many ways to come out and each person's way of coming out must fit their life situation. What's right for one person may not be right for another.
Coming out takes some preparation to ensure that it is done properly, and it is as painless as possible. Of course you could throw caution to the winds and blurt it out over the dinner table so to speak and hope for the best, but that is not recommended. Take advantage of, and seek advice from those who you would consider supportive, your support team, support groups, or medical professionals. Find out from them what their experiences have been, how would/did they feel, what their ideas are. Explain your situation and listen to what they would recommend if they were in your position.
You also need to think about how those you are coming out to may react. How have they dealt with stress in the past. Are they open minded, are they religious, what are their family values, and while this has nothing to do with your own situation, how do they feel towards Gays and Lesbians. This will give you an idea of how they may react.
When you do finally come out there are going to be many questions you will therefore need to become an expert on your situation. Research the subject, as there are going to be a lot of questions that will require answers and not being able to provide adequate answers will not help your cause. Remember that there a very few people who understand Transsexualism, what it is and what it is not, and it will be up to you to allay any fears they may conjure up.
How to, where and when
So you have decided that you are going to come out... Now you have to decide how, when , and where you are going to do this. Yes you could simply pick up the phone and tell the person, but there are other options available that may be better suited to your particular situation.
Face to face
This is the preferred but the most difficult method to use. There is no waiting as you will receive instant feedback. It is difficult as not only will you receive instant feed back but you will also have to deal with their emotions, then and there. There is no waiting for a reply, they is no way they can hang up, there is no ignoring the letter, you have to be prepared to deal with the outcome.
Next to a face to face revelation, doing so in a letter is also a very good option. Of course there are pros and cons to this but it is a very viable method. One of the advantages of a letter is that you have complete control over what you want to say and how you want to say it. Additionally it can be as detailed as you want it to be. A letter can be kept, read and re-read, studied over time, giving the receiver time to digest what they have just been told. It also gives them time to prepare their own reply, no gut responses, or knee jerk reactions that one may experience in a face to face or telephone situation.
A letter is also an viable alternative to the telephone when the person does not live close by (in another town/city or country). In this situation a telephone conversation could end up with one of the parties hanging up on the other leaving each with unanswered questions.
Here is an example of a letter that was addressed to a mother. It is a compilation and best suited the needs of the author - A Letter to Mom and there are examples of letters sent to other family members.
Email shares the same characteristics, pros and cons as letters however they have the advantage of being received almost instantaneously, and the same email can be sent to multiple recipients therefore each recipient would receive the email at the same time. One of the downfalls is that email addresses are linked to current internet accounts and susceptible to becoming invalid should the accounts not be kept up, so unless you verify each address before you transmit the email there is a risk that one of the recipients may not get the email. Additionally there is the question of confidentiality. Often the recipient is not always the sole user of an internet account therefore the risk of the letter being read by someone not intended is also high.
The telephone can afford you some anonymity in that you don't have to look at the person who you are coming out to, therefore you or the recipient would not necessarily be put off or embarrassed by each others reactions. The big disadvantage is that there can often be embarrassingly long moments of silence and the risk that the other party will simply hang-up and that would end the revelation possibly requiring you to make another attempt later. Another disadvantage is the you do not have complete control of the conversation and the recipient, if they are particularly vocal take over the event.
In any event you should consider each method and after looking at the intended group, individual and your relationship with them, pick one or even a combination of them to use.
Where and when
The timing of, and the place you select to come out is a fairly straight forward issue to deal with. First and foremost the place you select should be as private and comfortable as possible. Likely locations include your place or theirs with your place being preferred if possible that way you have full control of the event, allowing you to pick the time to make the revelation. Staging this in a public place is not recommended as there are far too many distractions and the person(s) who you are coming out too may not feel comfortable or may even be too embarrassed to be able to respond.
Do not hijack another occasion to do this. For example steer clear of coming out on special occasions such as your or anyone's birthday, similarly for anniversaries. Additionally you should not consider holidays such as Christmas, New Years, Valentines Day, Thanksgiving, or any other event either spiritual or not. While the symbolism of you coming out on these days may be clear to you, you do not want to add the pressure of your coming out to already stressful situations, and you definitely do not want to spoil what would be happy family events.
Consider making your coming out an event of it's own. Invite those you intend on coming out to around to your place if you own or rent. If you are at home call for a meeting at such and such a time in a room where the family normally gathers, kitchen, living room, dining room etc... Rehearse what is is you intend to say and make sure that you are prepared to take questions. Save your actual revelation till the end of the event, after the meal, after everyone has their refreshments, when everyone is comfortable etc... That done, as you have rehearsed come right and "Come-out" to them stating:
"I've asked you/you all here because I have a very important announcement to make, a life changing announcement. I'm not sure if you have noticed any changes in me or my life, but simply put, I am a (MtF/FtM) transsexual"... and continue (Your speech can be similar to the coming out letters referenced in this article and the [Guide to Coming Out at the Workplace], just change them to fit your needs.
Don't pause for effect, you need to relate everything you want to tell them and then stop and wait for reactions after you have finished. If anyone attempts to interrupt you just hold up your hand to stop them and continue. While you are speaking you will see and here their reactions. Some may laugh, some may get angry and ridicule, some will remain quiet, some may simply walk out with or without comments like "This is really stupid" etc... Try not to be alarmed but continue.
When done wait for the reactions and the questions.
Now don't be surprised if there are none. It may take time, a lot of time, for this news to sink in, and the trick is to give them as much time as they need, as you have nothing to loose, you are going forward with this and there is no turning back. Of course there will be those who will want to know everything right away, just be prepared to answer their questions.
This article and the information contained in it is intended to be used as a guide. Your own situation will determine the extent that the information and recommendations apply to you, and how you use them.
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