BY PAMUELA HALLIWELL LMFT
As National Coming Out Day approaches, we often hear coming out stories of individuals who represent the LGB. These identities and experiences are more widely accepted than they were years before, but they often forget about the unique challenges and experiences of coming out as trans or non-binary. What does it really mean to come out as trans or non-binary? It can mean being afraid that someone else will “clock you” or out you while you’re walking to drop off a letter at the post office, or ordering your favorite coffee at Starbucks. It can mean the risk of losing people you love that you hope love you for who you really are, without conditions. It can mean facing challenges securing work, or a relationship. It can even mean facing statistics that show an increase in the likelihood of being homeless at some point in your life, higher chances of suicidality, and for trans women, facing this stigma or stereotype that you are a prostitute, or just “dressing up”. It means having to face obstacles to no fault of your own, and it can also mean rising above those obstacles, looking them in the face and saying “I deserve a chance”, “I am ready to be free”, “I’m not backing down” and “watch me glow”.
And it can be worth it. The people that are meant for you will stay, and the people that love you for who you really are may come around and understand, if you give it time. When you make the decision to be yourself, you can acquire a sense of freedom that is only yours, and that no one can take away from you.
Although everyone’s coming out experience is different, the following are some suggestions, from one woman who happens to be trans, to another trans or non-binary individual.
It’s important to be true to yourself.
Even when you think it’s best to hide who you really are, it will not take long before you suffer the consequences. You are wonderful as you are, and being trans or non-binary is only a part of yourself. We do not need to fit into molds that have been recycled and recreated for decades to make others happy. You have your own life that you need to live, and you will be the one suffering the consequences if you make decisions for others that don’t fit for you. Trust yourself, and be honest with yourself. You do not need to know all the answers.
You are enough.
In the age of social media and constant likes, retweets, and IG, we are often comparing ourselves to others. Our journey is our own. Your journey is your own. Many times, especially as transgender women, there is this feeling to compare oneself to a cisgender woman. We do not need to compare. There is no competition. We can both be great. But the negative self-talk that we have about our bodies or our looks in comparison to other people, that has to stop. You have to be your own friend and cheer yourself on, and recognize that you don’t need to compete with anyone. You are valid.
Trans women are Women.
Enough said. We are not a separate entity, third gender or alien creature. Transgender women are women. Also, transgender men are men. And non-binary identities are real and valid. Enough said.
It’s Your Choice
You do not need to tell everyone that you are trans. You are not required to tell anyone that you aren’t comfortable with, although there are some situations where it’s optimal to disclose. Be mindful that intimate partners (individuals that you are in relationship with) do have a right to know, as this impacts them in the relationship as well. Also, be aware that safety is of the utmost importance. A lot goes into deciding who you want to tell, including if the individual can respect your wish to keep it a secret until you are ready to tell others. Choose wisely, and this doesn’t need to be rushed. Make a plan and utilize your support system, transgender support groups at your local LGBT center, or an understanding LGBTQ therapist.
It can become easy for us to forget this, but we have been thinking about our gender and who we are for a significant amount of time, often years. By the time we are telling someone, their first reaction may not be what we want it to be. We need to provide time for the person to process. We have had lots of time to think about this, but we can’t expect them to jump on board as quickly. Just because their initial reaction may not have been what we hoped, doesn’t mean they won’t or can’t come around.
Be prepared for a mourning period
This may be an experience you feel, or something the individual you have come out to experiences, and both of these are normal. Depending on the relationship, someone may mourn the “you” that they thought you were. This may make you feel sad. You want them to see that you are the same “you” that you have always been. Give them time to have their own experience and their own feelings, allowing them time to grieve and mourn. This doesn’t mean allow them to misgender you, or not respect your pronouns, however. This just means allow them space to feel their feelings as they continue to move forward. Don’t lose hope.
If you are an ally, here are some suggestions to help you. You are also an ally or advocate if you are one of the other letters of the LGBTQ acronym.
Please do your research.
Trans people do exist. Very often, trans and non-binary folks say they have gay, bi, or lesbian friends, but those friends aren’t always aware of or affirming to the T in the LGBTQ. We are all part of the same community, and we have to support each other. The fight for equal rights in our community has been led by strong and courageous transgender women, often women of color such as Marsha P. Johnson. We are stronger together, and when one of us is under attack, we are all under attack. Once individuals attempt to take away trans rights, what do you think is stopping them from taking away gay rights next?
Support the T/Don’t Question It
If you are already a member of a marginalized community, one of the last things you should be doing is discriminating against another community that is super marginalized and not widely accepted. Of my own experience, I find it frustrating when I, as a Black woman who happens to be trans, face ridicule or discrimination from Black men who, from my perspective know more than anyone what it feels like to be discriminated against. By questioning my gender or discounting me as if I’m not a woman, they are placing more prejudice and discrimination against me, while knowing I’m already dealing with the struggle of being Black and a woman at the same time as being trans, therefore causing me to feel rejection from members of my own community. There are reasons why they are doing that, part of that may have to do with education, or not understanding or being informed about gender or trans identities. To that I say, please do your research. Read up and learn about what it means to be trans, a journey that no one would take on their own if it wasn’t meant for them. Also, if you want to be an ally, check out SOFFA groups at the local LGBT Center, groups specifically for those who are friends, family or partners of someone trans.
Use your Privilege and your Voice
This may sound unfamiliar in this context, but many LGB folks have privilege. You are part of a community that is more widely accepted than trans and non-binary folks. Use the privilege you have to shine a light on both stories of triumph in the trans and non-binary community, as well as a voice to lift up the concerns, needs for equal rights, and the existence of trans and non-binary folks. You may have access to a space that is harmful to trans people. Use your voice to inspire change. Vote for political officials and representatives who are supporting trans rights and standing against anti-transphobia laws. Support organizations that stand with trans lives including my organization, the San Diego Black LGBTQ Coalition’s Emergency Black Transgender Fund, or other LGBTQ organizations such as the Gender Phluid Collective, Transgender Law Center, and the HRC.
Ask about Pronouns, Use Them.
Asking about and using pronouns communicates respect. Asking someone what their pronouns are is your way of acknowledging their existence and showing them that you are safe and affirming. When they feel they can be themselves, trans and non-binary folx often are happier. This single act can help reduce fears and anxiety. Educate others on what pronouns mean, and consider adding your own pronouns to your email signature or Zoom name.
If you are a parent:
Believe your child when they come to you and tell you they think they are trans or non-binary. They may not have the words to let you know this, but be on the journey with them. So many times we are afraid that our parents will reject us, not approve, or kick us out of our home. This leads to much more significant pain and trauma occurring in an already prejudiced society. Research has also shown alarmingly higher than normal mental health statistics for trans and non-binary youth, including a significant number of young people being kicked out of their homes due to their gender identity. Talk to them about their experience. Be mindful of your own, and how that may play a role in their ability to talk to you, and your ability to support them. Place your child’s needs and their pain over your own fears and anxiety. You do not need to rush into a transition, but be aware they have probably been thinking about this a very long time, so while you’re just now tuning in, this show has already been on an hour and a half.
We don’t choose our gender identity, just as we don’t choose our sexual orientation. These two things are different and are simply who we are. All we can do is be honest with ourselves and make the best decision that works for each of us. I encourage you to live out loud, and be unapologetically you. You may be scared for a while, but you will live to finally love yourself, and you may be surprised with the amazing things and experiences you are able to have when you come out the other side. I know I was.
About the Author
Pamuela Halliwell is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in the California guide on LGBTQ Therapy Space, and President of the San Diego Black LGBTQ Coalition. On her website she states, “I am a transgender therapist who medically transitioned a few years ago to become more of who I really am and have received trainings for trans youth and LGBT rights. I have worked with the LGBTQIA communities for several years including advocating and writing letters for trans-affirming medically necessary surgeries including top-surgery, bottom surgery, HRT, and FFS (Facial feminization surgery). I am aware of the difficulties in navigating insurance and providers that are trans-competent. I also am aware of the many challenges that are facing the transgender and gender non-conforming, non-binary communities, especially under current systems at play. I have attended, presented and spoken at conferences that continue to fight for equal rights and empowering the transgender, gender non-conforming and non-binary community. We will not be erased.”