Coming Out to Parents as Trans*
Coming out to your parent(s) can be scary, particularly if you still live with or are financially dependent on them. Even if you’re pretty sure your parent(s) will be supportive, finding the words can be difficult. There are two major methods of coming out that we will cover-writing a letter and through conversation.
Many guys choose to write a letter because it gives them time to carefully choose their words, avoids confrontation, gives their parent(s) time to think/calm down before responding, and can be easily done over long distances. These are some things you should consider including in your letter (if applicable)-
-How important your parent(s) and your relationship with them are to you and how much trust in them and courage it is taking you to write the letter. Assure them that you will always be their child (the same child who they know and love) and that you are not doing this to hurt them/it isn’t their fault.
-Explain your gender journey. Remind them of how a-typically gendered you were as a child, how you refused to wear dresses, or how you attempted to change your name at a young age. If this isn’t your narrative, tell your own version! Maybe you started questioning your gender later in life or you identify as femme or genderqueer and have a different way of expressing your gender identity. Whatever the case, you don’t want your coming out to seem like it is poorly thought out or out of the blue. Give your parent(s) a logical basis for your identity and a little insight into the process that got you there.
-Come out. Try to describe your identity as best as possible while catering to your audience. If you’re coming out to your parent who is a women and gender studies professor it’s going to be different than if you’re coming out to a parent who has never heard of the word “transgender”. For instance, “I’m a genderqueer femme FtM” might be over some parent’s heads and may be simplified to “I identify as female-to-male and wish to be seen as male, but I don’t always feel that way and sometimes dress and act more like a feminine man than a masculine one…but I don’t feel at home as female”.
-Give them an idea of your transition goals. Are you interested in starting testosterone, getting top surgery, and/or having bottom surgery? You don’t usually need to go into detail (particularly with bottom surgery) unless your plans are imminent, but give them an idea of what direction you’re headed in. Also include in this section what you want them to do with the information you’re giving them. Do you want them to use different pronouns with you? Stop using your birth name? Help you come up with a new name?
-Provide your parent(s) with definitions, descriptions, and resources. Define terms like “transgender”, “genderqueer”, “FtM”, “binding”, or “top surgery” if you use them. Give them the names of some good websites or books that they can look at (our suggestions-PFLAG, t-vox, Transgender Explained for Those Who are Not, and Transitions-A Guide to Transitioning for Transsexuals and their Families). If there’s a book or movie that you feel captures your identity and explains things well, consider including it along with your letter (for example, when I first came out to my mother as genderqueer I had her watch the documentary Gender Rebel which helped show her how I felt). Providing them with this information is very important, it gives them a way to learn and something to think on before responding to you. Even if you don’t think your parent(s) will do any kind of research, still include something (they may surprise you).
-Bring it up at a neutral, peaceful time. Don’t do it during a holiday, before a big trip, or during a particularly hard time for your family (or, for that matter, during a really positive event, you don’t want to steal your brother’s thunder on his birthday or during his graduation).
-If you tell people separately, make sure you explicitly tell them who else you’ve told or if you want them to keep this information from another family member.
-If you’re worried about rejection or a fight, have an out. Tell a close friend or other family member what you’re about to do and ask if they can come get you afterward for emotional support (or physical support if your family throws you out).
-Bring it up by talking about something tangentially related. It’s usually good to put your feelers out, if you will, by talking about another trans* person or something you recently saw or heard in the media. Talking about Chaz Bono may be a good start, if your parent(s) seem receptive, push on, if they start spewing hate, maybe put the breaks on the whole coming out operation. Talking about a recent situation with gender (“wearing a dress the other day at Aunt Judy’s wedding was really hard for me, dresses have always been kind of awful for me”) or one’s childhood (“remember how I wanted to be a knight for Halloween instead of a princess?”) can also be a good start to ease into the topic.
-Ask them to give you time to talk without interrupting, and then give them a chance to respond uninterrupted. This doesn’t work with all families, but whenever I approach my dad about anything even vaguely controversial I use this technique. This allows both parties to feel heard and make sure they’ve both said everything they want to say.
-If you can, include everything we said to mention in the letter (how you came to the conclusion that you’re trans*, how you identify, transition plans, etc).
-Try to remain calm if your parents freak out (sorry I keep bringing up negative responses, it’s always best to hope for sunshine but plan for rain). It often takes parents a bit of time to come to terms with their child’s coming out and many go through the stages of grief (denial, pain/guilt, anger, depression, and then acceptance). The best thing to do is leave them alone and let them process things.
-Leave them a book, letter, page of websites, video, etc in case they refuse to listen or want something to look at afterward/want more information.
-Those who are religious are not necessarily transphobic or homophobic (I know an Episcopal priest, married to a professor of religion, who are both very supportive of their lesbian daughters).
-Those who are homophobic are not necessarily transphobic (surprisingly members of my extended family who weren’t supportive when I came out as a lesbian embraced my trans* identity because it meant I was now technically “straight”). Basically you can’t always predict how people will respond.
-Remember that sometimes people take time to come to acceptance, and initial rejection does not always mean your parent(s) will never come around.
-Therapy can always help. Invite your parent(s) to join a session with you, particularly if you’re already seeing a gender specialist.