This section covers:
- What should I do before coming out to someone?
- Responding to negative reactions
- How can I connect with other trans people
- What would I do if I’m outed?
Do you feel safe coming out to this person? If not, or if you’re not sure, you may decide to:
- have a support person alongside you
- tell them in writing
- have another person disclose the information on your behalf
- arrange to have someone you can check in and debrief with after the conversation
- ask the person not to respond right away, so they can take some time to let the information sink in, or
- not come out to them
In situations where you are at risk of losing a sense of safety in your home, or at risk of losing your housing altogether, pre-arrange a back-up place to stay and have a bag packed with essentials in case you need to leave right away. It is good to have a safety plan in place.
You may want to make a timeline to indicate who you want to come out to and when, based on your own life circumstances and goals.
It’s a good idea to consider other people’s circumstances, too. Is someone you want to come out to going through their own major life event? If so, they may not be able to provide you with the support you are hoping for and you may want to choose a later time.
If you are coming out in person, you may find it useful to practice:
- what you want to say
- how you want to respond to positive and negative reactions, and
- how you want to respond to various questions
Some people react very positively when someone comes out to them as trans, and are supportive right away. Others may be surprised, or not understand what is means to be trans. Some people may have a lot of questions.
Not everyone is able to offer immediate understanding and acceptance. Some people may need time and space to adjust to the news you are sharing with them. Expect that the person could feel surprised, shocked, honoured, uncomfortable, fearful, supportive, disbelieving, curious, confused, angry or relieved.
Consider some strategies for dealing with reactions that don’t feel supportive. For example, you could say “I know this is probably a lot of new information to digest. How about you take some time to reflect on this. I’m ready to talk more about it when you are.” For more tips on handling negative reactions, see “Responding to negative reactions” below.
Even if the person you are coming out to is accepting, they will probably need some guidance from you about what feels supportive. For example, would you like them to call you by another name? Use a different pronoun? Use different family labels (i.e. sibling/sister/brother; daughter/son/kid; aunt/uncle/auntle; etc.)?
What else do you hope for, in terms of support? Use your intuition to determine whether this is the time to make these requests.
News can travel quickly. Let people know if you want them to keep your trans identity confidential. Be aware that some people may or may not honour this request. If you are considering coming out by email, keep in mind that email can be easily forwarded to others without your permission.
- For more help on being ready and willing to answer people’s questions about trans identities, see Families.
There are different degrees of negative reactions. In response to a mildly negative reaction, you might say, “I understand that this information may come as a shock. You’d probably like some time to digest this. I’m open and ready to talk about this more when you are.”
If you need to leave a situation because it is emotionally or physically unsafe, do so. This will enable you to keep yourself safer and regroup before you have to further deal with the situation.
If someone is sharing information about your identity in a negative way at work or school, or in another public environment, go to the person in charge and describe the discrimination or harassment you are experiencing. If this doesn’t resolve the situation, you may need to work your way up the chain of command or file a formal complaint. Be sure to keep a record of each incident of harassment.
- For more about how to deal with this kind of situation, see Advocacy Tips.
- For more about the human rights complaints process in BC, see Legal Issues.
Connecting with other trans people can be a helpful way to appreciate the wide range of gender identities and expressions, learn strategies for navigating the world as a trans person, and anticipate potential challenges associated with coming out.
If you live in a rural area, connecting with other trans people can be a bit more challenging. Fortunately, there are plenty of online trans communities. You might want to join trans list-serves.
“Being outed” refers to a situation where someone discloses or discovers your trans identity without your consent.
Sometimes, the problem of being outed is caused by a lack of understanding rather than an intention to do harm. In these cases, you may wish to inform the person about your right to privacy and confidentiality, as well as the consequences of being outed for trans people. If you feel unsafe, you might choose to have an ally communicate this information for you.
If someone starts to react in a negative way, it’s best to stop them before they get too far. Put your hand up and say something like, “I was not actually asking for your opinion.” Exit the situation if you need to.
- For tips on dealing with a more hostile situation, see the Responding to negative reactions section, above.
Many trans people carry a letter from their doctor stating that they are trans and intend no deception or ill will. This can be useful if you are outed when, for example, you are crossing a border or dealing with police.