Whenever I heard the term "coming out" while growing up I always associated it with coming out as gay. It took me a long time to realize that as someone who is transgender the words were relevant to me as well. I believe most of us who are in the closet (with all of our fabulous clothes) want to come out of there. Some of us are tired of keeping this a secret, even if we don't necessarily want to come out. I am tired of the little white lies I tell people in my life who don't know about my gender identity. If I am dressed to kill and go out to dinner on a Saturday night with some of my t-girl friends it's not really something I can be completely honest about with some people in my life.
This is not to say I want to come out to EVERYONE. I don't want to do that. I don't need to do that. I am... well, I suppose I am afraid of doing that. You can never really predict how someone will react and respond to your coming out and you can really see their true colors when you show someone who you are, who you are COMPLETELY.
The first person I came out to was the girl I was dating when I was 21. I was certain that she was one of the safest people I could come out to. I thought she would even be encouraging. She would mention her previous boyfriend did drag and would usually be a girl for Halloween. It never seemed to bother her so I was hoping for the same reaction. And, well, I didn't get it. She thanked me for being honest with her but looked for reassurance I was done with that part of my life. I assured her I was, which of course was a lie. This side of us is not a phase and it's something we will not grow out of.
I don't... well, I don't fault her for her reaction. We were both young, this was over twenty years ago and the complexities and the simplicities of gender identity were not as understood as they are today. Of course I take some responsibility in my coming out. I didn't really know this side of me as well as I do today and again, I was a lot younger and still trying to understand this side of myself. At the time I honestly thought all of THIS was about wanting to wear lingerie and panties. I never looked at this side of myself as my gender identity. I came out as a crossdresser when in retrospect I should have come out as bi-gender or transgender.
But that's exactly my point. When you come out to someone we need to do our best to understand this side of us the best we can. Yes, I don't really know WHY I am who I am, but I know WHO I am. These days I feel I could explain exactly who I am, what I want, what I do, to someone. But WHY I am who I am... well, that's impossible. I can't explain why I am right-handed, why I like certain foods, why coffee and Taylor Swift records are the best way to spend a morning. It's just how I am wired. I was born this way.
Of course, gender identity and how we understand ourselves can and does shift over time. When I came out to that first girlfriend I came out as a crossdresser. I thought all of this was about clothes, not about who I am. It wasn't about identity... not really. I didn't really know what gender identity was back then. I didn't know someone could be more than one gender, I didn't know there were more than two genders. I explained who I was the best I could at the time.
The key phrase in that is 'at the time'. Me coming out at age 21 is different than when I came out to my immediate family ten years ago. In my teens and twenties it was all about lingerie. In my 30's it was about makeup, wigs, and real clothes. It was about identity. About having another side, another gender identity, another life. I still used the word 'crossdresser' which didn't really capture who I am, who I was. I am, and have always been bi-gender, even when I didn't know it.
This side of us requires, even demands that we learn from experience. We NEED to learn how to do our eyeliner, how to get out of a car in a minidress, how to walk in heels. Coming out isn't much different. Although I don't REALLY know HOW to come out, I know I would do it better today than when I came out to my family and girlfriend at the time. I would discuss gender identity, about how varied the transcommunity is, and how someone can have more than one gender identity, if they have one at all. Of course, no matter how expertly someone can explain and discuss all of THIS, nothing will guarantee the person we come out to will accept, understand, or love us.
And that is precisely why I won't come out to everyone in my life. Just as I am hesitant to show my true colors, seeing someone else's true colors can be equally scary. When you come out to someone you show them who YOU are, and their reaction shows you who THEY are. If this side of me would cause someone in my life to disown me, to mock me, to treat me differently... well, that would be heartbreaking. I don't want to be related or to be friends with someone if THIS mattered to them, if THIS meant that they would look at me and treat me differently. But I can't control how someone will react, their feelings are their own. What someone thinks of me is not my business.
It's not, of course, that simple. I realize that.
I do acknowledge I also have the privilege of choosing to not come out. I am transgender yes, but more specifically I am bi-gender. I am happy with both of my gender identities. I have no desire or need to choose one over the other. I can't see myself wanting or needing to transition or live full-time. My gender identity doesn't stress me out, it doesn't cause me anxiety. I don't NEED to come out.
BUT! If I needed to I would be ready. Well, as ready as one can be. Although no one can REALLY predict how someone will react to this revelation, I can predict their questions. When we make the decision to come out, I believe it is important to be able to answer these potential questions:
1) Are you gay?
This question exhausts me. Gender and clothes do not equate to sexuality. But you'll likely be asked that.
2) Are you going to take hormones/have surgery?
Identifying as transgender (and its many other specific terms) doesn't mean one has to take estrogen or have a medical procedures done. You'll likely get this question because of representation. The most prominent and well known transgender celebrities, such as Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox, and Elliot Page (to name a few) have all come out as trans and all have had SOMETHING done. It's not without precedent for someone to think that identifying as trans means surgery.
3) Why are you coming out?
This is a BIG one. Are you coming out because you are going to live full-time? If so, well, then coming out is almost required. My co-workers are used to seeing me in a tie and boring shoes. Were Hannah to show up to the office, well, there would be questions. Not bad questions, mind you, just questions.
Questions aren't necessarily bad, mind you. Questions are a way for others to understand, to get clarification. I can't predict how someone will react, but I can prepare. There really isn't always the right time or moment to come out to someone. It's not easy to select the moment for someone else to hear this revelation. Thankfully WE can (usually) choose when and how we come out. If and when you come out to someone, make sure you can answer the three questions above, but also be ready to discuss THE question that might not be asked:
WHO ARE YOU?
Decades ago I was a crossdresser. A few years ago I identified as transgender. I am still BOTH in a way but in a more specific way I am most comfortable identifying as bi-gender. Be prepared to discuss the nuances and differences when it comes to gender terminology and what it means, and most importantly, what it means to YOU. If I came out as transgender I would be sure to explain that being trans doesn't mean I will, or have to, have surgery or take estrogen shots. I would talk about how 'transgender' is a term that covers a lot of territory, including more specific ways, such as bi-gender, genderfluid, genderqueer, to identify. I wouldn't drop the term bi-gender on someone right off the bat. When you explain something as complex (although it doesn't need to be complex, other people just make it so) as gender, you need to start with terminology most people are familiar with. Most people have heard the term transgender, and most people have formed an opinion as to what that means. Bi-gender isn't as commonly known, but I would get to that eventually in my explanation.
But why start with speaking about being transgender when they are more specific and accurate ways to identify? Again, you need to lead with terms people are familiar with, even if they don't really understand the complex and giant scope of such a word. But I start with transgender because of how I define it. The term, as I explain it, is anything that I do, or wear, or feel that is different from what most people associate with the gender I was assigned to at birth. The doctors and my parents said I was a boy (and to be fair, one of my gender identities is indeed male) but ever since the "M" box was checked on my birth certificate the entire world had expectations as to how I should look and dress.
And most of the world sees what they expect when it comes to myself since I present as male for most of my life, to most of the people I know. But there is a HUGE part of me, literally my other half, that doesn't do, or wear, or feel what a boy is SUPPOSED to to, wear, or feel. This is what, in my opinion, makes me transgender. I wear beautiful dresses and I spend days en femme. I also wear panties and leggings in boy mode. I do things, and wear things, boys aren't "supposed" to do and wear. I admit that my definition of identifying as transgender is rather broad and has a huuuuge scope, but we need a place to start. If and when you come out as transgender please spend some time thinking about what identifying as transgender means to you and be prepared for a zillion questions.
As I mentioned before, this side of us is all about learning. Each time I came out to someone I learned what I would do differently the next time I would have "the talk" with someone else. These days I feel prepared for the questions I will likely be asked, but you might not feel ready. If you're not sure WHO you are or you want to come out but don't know HOW to come out, speaking to a therapist, especially with someone familiar with gender issues can be extraordinarily helpful. We only have one chance, one try to come out to someone and although it's not always possible to do it correctly (believe me, I know) it's possible to be prepared for the most common questions.