Cici’s Top Tips For Coming Out
I like to start columns like this with the same disclaimer. I’m not an expert. If you want an expert opinion on any of these matters, please see a therapist or a counselor. Counseling referrals are generally available through any nearby LGBT Center -- or in the nearest large city.
But if you want the advice of a friend... that’d be me... then maybe I can help out a confused nervous newbie... that’d be you. Of course, all I can really tell you is what’s worked for me and my friends. I’ve been on the scene now for nearly 14 years... give or take a few years here and there for career, family, and self-confidence issues.
Here are my top tips for coming out. This is a huge step in the life of any transperson. Many girls go their entire lives living happily in the anonymity of the internet, or in the private darkness of late night clubs. Their daytime friends are none the wise.
But there comes a time for some girls when they want to share their lives, their experiences. They want to share the excitement they’ve been experiencing with the ones they love most. Or they simply wish to live more openly and honestly.
No matter what the reason. No matter what your overall goals. Here are a few tips on coming out. Or as some genius once pointed out, “I’m not coming out, I’m letting you in.”
Damn. That’s a great line.
When you decide to tell a few friends or family members, choose those friends wisely. You may not want to start with your wife or your mother or the best friend you’ve known since second grade. I started with a few co-workers. People that I trusted, people that I respected, but no one who knew me closely or intimately. In retrospect, it was almost like a trial run. I was practicing for the people that I really cared about.
However, if you do decide to tell a close loved one first, remember that phrase... “loved one.” You’re talking to a person that loves you... and wants to continue loving you. One never knows how a conversation like this will go. One never knows how receptive your listener will be. But they do love you. And you love them. That’s why you’re speaking with them. Hopefully you can draw some kind of comfort and confidence from that knowledge.
In addition to choosing your confidantes wisely, choose your words wisely. As any good storyteller knows, the way you tell the story is often as important as the story itself. You know the people you’ll be talking to or writing to so you should know how to best approach them. For some you’ll want to be quite serious. While for others you might want to make light of it. Laugh about it with them. Just be sure they take you seriously in the end. I’ve had a couple of people say to me, “You’re joking, right? This is a joke, right?”
Nope. Not a joke. This is me.
Not everyone has to know.
Once you’ve told some people -- and gotten a good response -- you may be overcome with a feeling of euphoria. Emboldened by your success, you may become less choosy with the next round of confidantes. Just be careful. As your circle widens, the odds increase that you’re going to reveal secrets to someone who isn’t as accepting... or who isn’t going to react so positively.
That’s just the odds. Always remember that -- as with any aspect of your life -- you get to choose with whom you wish to share your secrets. In a perfect world, we should all come out to everyone. But we don’t live in a perfect world. Only you know your wife, parents, siblings, relatives, co-workers, boss, kids... so only you know who you should tell.
My rule of thumb? My friends have to earn it. They have to earn my trust... and they do that long before the topic of trans life comes up.
There’s no good way or right way
Should you tell people in person? On the phone? Through a letter? Through an email? In a text? I prefer a more personal approach, but that’s not always possible. Fortunately the world (and the world-wide web) have provided us with a variety of communication options.
I’m a professional writer and I have confidence in my writing. So I’ve told many of my friends back east (who I do not see very often), through letters or emails. But for those who live locally here in Southern California, I prefer to tell them in person -- even though I get nervous, and stammer and stutter and mumble. I’m a much better communicator through my writing, but I prefer the intimacy of a face-to-face conversation.
Some girls like to announce themselves over social media... and I understand that. Coming out is a powerful moment. But if I was a loved one, I’d prefer that I was told individually. Just as I prefer a personal Christmas card to a mass mailing. This is a very personal moment for you and the person you’re telling. Treat your friend -- and the moment -- with the respect they deserve.
Have photos ready... but don’t force them on people
I’m pretty proud of my photos. I’ve developed a personal style. I’ve worked on my makeup. I’ve gone to amazing events and hung out with amazing people. And my photos show all of that.
So when it comes time to reveal myself, I like to show people photos that represent the life I’m now living. I want them to know that this is not a passing phase. This is a way of life for me, and I take it seriously. Even if you see my silly party pix, I think you can tell that, while I may not take each moment seriously, I do take my trans life and my femme persona very seriously.
However, I don’t like to lead with the photos. I don’t like to shock people. So I try to talk to them first. Or write to them if that’s the case. Then, if they seem open to the idea, I show some photos of CiCi. More than anything, I don’t like to force my femme persona on others. For instance, no matter how accepting they are, your parents may never want to see their son in femme mode. That may not be acceptable for you. But I’d give them time. Maybe they’ll come around. For most cross dressers, simple acceptance is a big step forward. More in depth conversations and revelations can come later.
But again, this is all up to you. Weigh the possibilities in your mind. After all, if you’re a beginner, you may not have a lot of good photos to show. Or you may not have confidence in your writing. You may get nervous talking to people face-to-face. Play to your own strengths. In a sense, you’re doing a sales job. You’re “selling” your way of life and your femme side to a new customer. Put your best face forward, speak (or write) clearly and confidently, and you just might make that sale.
Give your loved ones time to react
Give them time to adjust to the bombshell you’ve just dropped. I was surprised at just how surprised people seemed when they heard my news. I was certain I’d done something or said something to give myself away. I’m not exactly James Bond. But I guess I hadn’t slipped up after all. So when I “came out,” my friends were pretty shocked.
So far the reaction has been good. I haven’t had anyone slap me or throw me out the window or refuse to associate with me. But I’m prepared for that possibility. I still have several key family members to tell.
I often hear crossdressers complain that a certain loved one hasn’t been as accepting as they had hoped. But, honestly, that’s to be expected. Look at it this way. How long did it take you to accept your femme side? For many of us, that took 30 or even 40 years. Yet we expect our loved ones to come to terms with us in a few minutes? Or a few days? Be patient. In general, people don’t react well to change. They need time to digest what you’ve said. They need time to recalibrate all the years they’ve known you and all the moments you’ve shared. That may not be fare, but you can be damn sure they’re going to do it. Give them that room. They’re your loved ones. They deserve it.
Pace yourself. Don’t try to tell your entire life story in one sitting
If you’ve been in this lifestyle for a while, you’ve probably got a pretty exciting story to tell. The ups and downs. The twists and turns. A whole park full of roller coasters has got nothing on you.
You’ve met amazing people, had amazing experiences, and maybe gone to some pretty fab clubs or locations or events. And that’s all great. But it’s probably more than your boss or your grandmother needs to know at this point. Ease them in. Share the basics. If these people are really close to you, you’ll have plenty of time to fill them in later on all the femme details and regale them with the crazy stories of your many crazy exploits.
Your friends will be curious. I’ve already made this mistake. I’ve told my friends my story. Briefly and clearly (yay!). But I’ve forgotten to invite questions. This is a topic that makes people uncomfortable. Even though you’ve just come out to someone and revealed some very intimate secrets, that person may not feel welcome to ask further questions. Put them at ease. Invite them to ask. Now. Later. Two years from now. Be sure to let them know that you are open to an open, honest conversation. (And if you’re not open to an honest conversation with a loved one, you should probably ask yourself why.)
Believe me, your friends will want to ask questions. They want to know everything! Remember, you live this life every day. If not in person, then online. You know this world well. But for the most part, mainstream America is totally ignorant regarding the day-to-day life of the average cross dresser. They will know nothing about your lifestyle except for what you tell them.
As I said, no need to overwhelm Grandma during your very first conversation. But be sure to let her know that she’s free to ask questions. And that you’d be happy to clear up any confusion or misunderstandings.
Prepare for the worst
I’m a fairly optimistic person, but after living this life pretty actively for over 10 years, I’ve heard the horror stories. Not everyone is accepting. Not everyone is willing to live and let live. I know people who’ve been kicked out of their houses. I know people who have lost their jobs. I know people who have been locked in heart-wrenching custody battles.
That kind of ugliness is, sadly, a reality in our community. I think things are changing for us. But change happens slowly. So please, before you tell a soul, know what you’re risking. Do a personal gut-check. What are you willing to risk? What (or who) are you willing to lose? Once your secret is out, you can’t pull it back in. And the way others see you will never be the same.
I never depend on others to keep my secrets. No matter how much I trust them. Are you willing to make that same leap of faith? Are you willing to live with the consequences? For instance, if you tell every co-worker in your office, sooner or later, there’s a good chance your boss is going to find out. Is that acceptable? Only you can answer that.
I know of wives who were accepting when their children were young. But as their children got older and started asking questions about their father, the wives became less accepting. In fact, the whole topic of coming out to children deserves a separate item:
What do I tell my children?
This is often the most difficult question a transperson faces. It’s hard enough to tell mature adults -- adults who understand how complicated life and relationships and love and sex and gender can be. But children don’t have those experiences. Children aren’t mature.
On the other hand, children often don’t have the deep-seated prejudices and biases that the rest of us have. So they may be more accepting. During the gay marriage debates, some of the most proud and thoughtful voices I heard were the children of gay parents -- determined to defend their parents and dispel the myth that gay people weren’t fit to be parents.
I never told my stepson when he was young. The time for me to tell him would have been when he was in his teens. But by that time, we were already having a difficult time getting along. I didn’t feel like I should add to the tension.
But others have had great success. This past holiday season, I was cheered by all of the photos I saw posted on Facebook of happy, smiling transpeople posing for photos with their happy, smiling children.
It makes me teary-eyed just thinking about it. I mean... that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
Try your very best to be honest
Your friends and family will have lots of questions. How did this start? What caused this? Where is it leading? Are you gay?
Families can get pretty nosy sometimes. You never have to answer any question you feel is too personal or intimate. But please say that. Please don’t lie. Either answer the question honestly or politely decline to answer. Try not to exaggerate as well. If you’ve been going out for 2 years, don’t tell people it’s been twelve. If you dress primarily as a sexual fetish and have never thought seriously of transitioning, don’t tell people you’re seriously thinking of going full-time. We often exaggerate in the hopes that it will give our lives more credibility.
But dishonesty never adds credibility -- especially when the truth finally comes out, and you lose the trust of many of your friends.
The truth is, your life needs no validation to be credible. To friends. To family. To others in the trans community. And most of all, to yourself. You need not act a certain way or say a certain thing in order to be accepted. Your life is credible because it’s yours. And you’re living it as honestly as possible. Far more honestly than most people ever do. Be proud of that... truly proud... and that will come through.
I said this before in reference to the girls who are going out for the first time. I can’t even begin to put into words how proud I am of you. You're doing something that very few cross dressers and transpeople ever do. It sounds so simple, but it takes courage to live an open and honest life. I do not believe it’s anybody’s “duty” to come out. I believe it’s a very personal and private choice. But at the same time, I am quite sure, the more girls who come out... the more quickly changes will happen in the way our community is perceived.
It’s all in our hands.