More often than not, “coming out” is referred to as a finite event. Yet when I came out as transgender, it certainly didn’t unfold in a single instance. Coming out became a journey, and a long one at that. In fact, the trip that I embarked upon in early 2006 still continues to this day.
As I continue along this path, which I believe will be lifelong, I want to share recommendations of essential tools and insights to bring on your coming out “trip,” and to explain from my own experience how they’ve helped me along my way!
1. Prepare a map.
I know that I have found myself unprepared in coming out conversations because I didn’t know what I wanted or needed out of a given conversation. My lack of preparation made me panic, which definitely didn’t make this already-challenging situation any easier.
Coming out can be made a lot less anxiety-producing with just a little planning. I recommend preparing a metaphorical “map” for yourself so that you can navigate the tricky waters of coming out to different people and communities.
If you’re wondering what I mean by “a map,” there isn’t one right answer. Maybe it means knowing your particular goal(s). Maybe it means that you want to prepare a series of potential steps: do you want the people to whom you are coming out to simply be aware of your pronouns and name? Do you want to announce that you are transgender, and then explain what that means—or would you rather have some resources handy so they can educate themselves after your conversation? Every coming out situation will be different.
2. Get cozy with your journal.
There’s a reason travelogues are a popular genre—both to write and read. Keeping a log of your experiences when traveling can help preserve vivid memories and track growth over time.
The same is true for the “journey” of coming out. Writing down notes either before or after you come out, including what you want to say or how it went, can help alleviate the anxiety that may come with making each announcement. A journal may also help you document your growth, so that you can reflect on how you have changed during this process, and what you have learned from these communications.
3. Realize the power of patience.
I love hiking, so I am all too familiar with the phenomenon of getting upset over a gloomy forecast days before leaving the house for the trip. Sure, it’s human nature to become intolerant of discomfort. But sometimes challenging that habit is one of the most productive choices we can make.
The most valuable thing I have learned in life so far has been that I can only control my actions and reactions. Everything else is up to others, or luck, or random fate. Coming out to others is an important instance in which patience is especially powerful. The reactions of others won’t change who you are, as validating or disappointing as they may be. Some may need time to process what you’ve told them; others may welcome you with open arms right away; and unfortunately, some may never come along. Patience is what will allow you to continue on in your journey with resilience, so that you won’t allow more difficult moments to taint all the beautiful progress you have made.
4. Don’t forget your other identities.
When coming out, it may be valuable to remind those around you that you are more than just your gender. Certainly, your gender identity is important and may be the most important at the time, but as you're coming out to your recovery group, for example, you can also remind them that while your gender may be changing, your commitment to their principles and your ability to offer support and be a mentor is not changing. As you're coming out to your engineering team, letting them know that even while your gender is changing to them, your infatuation for fireworks and building new ones is ignited once again. There are so many identities that we inhabit, and oftentimes when I was coming out, people feared that I was about to become an "entirely different person." That's not the case at all and reminding those around us that we are not just one thing can help them understand us better.
5. Create a back-up plan.
Sometimes, maps get lost—and navigating your way to a destination gets complicated . Or other times, plans change and courses are altered. In any of these cases, coming up with a back-up plan is a good idea—especially to fend off anxiety. Similarly, it’s helpful to identify a supportive “home base” to which you can retreat if anxiety crops up. In my case, I always call my mom or my partner in the midst of tough circumstances. And before I had them on my team, I always knew I could call my therapist when in a bind. And even before that, when I felt like no one could understand what I was feeling, I found a home online, through YouTube, a place where I felt safe to ask questions and find support.
Folks may not always accept you coming out. And while you can only control your actions and reactions, it’s also OK to recognize that others’ reactions may take a toll on your well-being. For this and other reasons, having a source of support to affirm your course of action and offer love is invaluable.
Coming out can be a lifelong experience or a series of isolated events and conversations in your life. These are just some tools and skills that I have found useful in many aspects my life, which of course has included the challenging yet rewarding experiences of my coming out journey. If you have any tips of what to “pack” on your coming out journey, please share with us!