By Gabriel Coppersan
Coming out as transgender is a very scary process—particularly when you’re in the uncertainty phase, considering thoughts like whether you’re just experimenting or feel fundamentally at odds with the gender you were assigned at birth. You may have total certainty within, feeling sure of your dysphoria and eager to express it. Or you may be battling self-doubt, and dealing with the challenge of trying to parse what’s going on inside your own head. People come out as trans with a variety of personal attitudes—but regardless, we can never control the reactions we’re going to get.
What’s perhaps the scariest, or potentially most supportive and important, element of coming out as transgender is coming out to your parents. You may wonder about the real potential of being left without a sense of support from your family or, even worse, getting kicked out of your home (depending on your age).
While I know the deep pain of not being out as transgender, I also know the pain that can be experienced when proper precautions aren’t taken prior to coming out. In my opinion, it’s best to assume the worst-case scenario (as unlikely as it may be) and make sure you’re prepared for any possible reaction from your parents.
With that, here are a few very practical questions to consider before coming out as transgender to your parents. Some of you may come from families that are especially accepting—and you know that off the bat. But as I said, preparing for any potential disapproval leaves you empowered in any situation. So consider these questions before coming out:
1. Is it the right time to do so?
You will need emotional support during your transition—that is the bottom line. And so thoughtfully considering various factors about your relationship with your parents prior to coming out will help you prepare you for determining what to expect in terms of support systems.
While emotional support from your parents is ultimately the most important thing, financial issues are often a part of that. Consider where you are at in terms of financial independence from your parents; you might be at a point in your life where you are entering college and require your parents’ financial support. If you’re past college (graduate school or working, already financially dependent) then there are different possible practical ramifications of coming out to parents. Keep these questions in mind, as their answers may strongly affect how you choose to proceed.
You may also want to consider what’s happening in your parents’ lives at the moment. Has someone just lost a job or a loved one? Are there other major stressors in their lives? These things aren’t yours to change, but they may affect the degree to which your parents will be prepared to react flexibly to your news.
2. Do you have a place to stay?
If coming out to your parents happens to go south and you live with them, you might be forced out of the home and end up finding shelter. Even if you don’t expect this, it’s a good idea to coordinate with some friends or supportive members of your extended family and see whether you can stay at their place the day you are planning to come out, or thereafter. Having an extended support system is always a good thing, no matter the day or event in question.
3. How supportive and/or knowledgeable are they about transgender people?
You may not know the answer to this. But try asking related questions first. Do your parents know what the word “transgender” means? If so, do you know how they feel about it?
If you’re not sure, you may want to consider bringing up some hot topic on the news related to trans identity and/or rights, and observe how they react. For example, you can casually show them the Nike commercial that features Chris Mosier and point out that he’s a transgender man. If they respond positively, then they might be more receptive to you coming out. If they don’t, you may decide to speak with a professional therapist, school counselor or even a group of supportive friends about how to proceed. Depending on what support you need, it may not be the best time to come out to them, but only you will know the answer.
4. What are your transition plans?
It’s good to have an idea about what the next steps are in your transition after coming out to your parents, even if you don’t really know. In most cases, parents (supportive or not) are going to want to know what it means that you’re “suddenly” transgender (even if it’s not sudden), and what you plan to do.
5. Are you currently in therapy?
You don’t necessarily have to come out by yourself. If you’ve already come out as transgender to your therapist, who has been supportive, you could ask for help with coming out. In a best-case scenario, the therapist may even have experience with these issues, and can offer specific tips about how to communicate the challenges you’re having. Either way, therapists can invite your parents to a future session and help you approach the subject collaboratively. Having a professional opinion on your side might help them better understand what you are going through.
These are a few things to think about in this process, but I can’t stress enough the importance of planning ahead when it comes to real questions of making sure you’re safe and have a place to stay . You never really know how parents might react to you coming out, and it’s helpful to prepare yourself for a worst case scenario.
Assuming you’ve done that, then comes the question of actually coming out. There are a few ways you can do so: you can have an honest conversation and tell them upfront, hand them a letter or even send an e-mail.
Whatever method you plan to use is your choice but it’s important to make sure that you’re clear about telling them that you are transgender, explaining what that means, and asking that they call you by your new name and pronoun. I would also have a couple of resources/articles on hand that they can look over so they can learn more about the meaning of transgender identity immediately following your conversation (or after reading your letter/email).
If you happen to be stuck or don’t know where to start, here’s an example letter or e-mail template I’ve made:
Hey <insert recipient>,
I've been meaning to tell you for a while and I think I'm ready to say it now: I am transgender. I don’t identify with the gender I was assigned at birth, and instead I identify <insert description of self-identity>. This means that there will probably be drastic changes going on in my life and I want you to be aware of it. Along with the changes, I also go by <insert name> and hope you will begin to address me that way.
While it may seem sudden or hard to believe, being transgender is not something that I decided to be when I woke up one day. It’s not easy. The person I am is who I've always been—it’s my identity—but I used to lack the vocabulary to express it.
This may be a lot for you to take in, especially since you’ve always known me as your <son/daughter/child> but if you have any questions about it, please let me know and I'll try to answer them. While discovering myself is an amazing feeling, I need all the support I can get. In short, I need to know that you’ll love me no matter what. Transitioning is a scary prospect and I can't do it alone. I'm hoping you'll be supportive in my journey to my authentic self. It would really mean so much to me and I hope you will be able to regard me as your <son/daughter/child>.
Thanks for reading and I hope to hear from you soon.
Love, <insert name>
P.S. Here's some articles that I think will help you understand better:
You can change this template around to your liking but I hope it gives you a good starting point, even if you decide to take some of this language and use it to say out loud in-person or over the phone. Good luck!
Gabriel Coppersan is a transgender man who started his medical transition at the age of 22, just after graduating from Hunter College with a BA in Psychology. He started his blog, Dear Cis People, with the original intention of just voicing thoughts about issues and experience that are relevant in the transgender community. After writing just a few posts, Gabriel started blogging more seriously, as readers began reaching out.
Aside from writing, Gabriel makes videos on his YouTube channel about his personal transition and life updates, along with coverage of transgender topics, and issues related to mental health.