Youth Blog—Ask an Expert: How Do I Tell Others That I’m Transgender?
In our “Ask an Expert” blog series, researchers from the IMPACT Program answer questions from LGBTQ youth. This month’s expert is Brian Rood, MA, MPH, Psychology Resident with IMPACT.
Question: How do I tell others that I’m transgender?
Answer: That’s an important question and a difficult one to answer. Transgender (trans) individuals are becoming more visible in society; however, they’re not always understood or accepted by others. Unfortunately, people might respond to someone who is trans in ways that are harmful (e.g., discrimination and violence). Therefore, it can be stressful to begin the process of telling others about your gender identity. Please know, however, that there are many people out there who do understand and embrace your gender identity, and others who, with some education about gender, can become sources of support!
Based on my work with trans individuals, I’ve observed that telling others can help strengthen self-worth and self-acceptance, and help with stress management. In short: there are many benefits to talking to others about your gender identity, and this can help to support your mental and physical health. Still, talking to others can be a stressful experience with very real consequences. Although this is not true for everyone, some trans individuals experience loss when coming out—friends, family, and work/school.
There are pros and cons to telling others, and these are different for everyone. As a therapist, I often will have clients create a pros and cons list when deciding to engage in a difficult activity. Maybe try this out for yourself. If your list has many pros and few cons to telling others, this might indicate that telling others could be helpful. However, if telling others would produce many cons and few pros, this might indicate that now is not the best time to say something. Having to hide who you are, though, can be a difficult experience, so it’s important that you continue to keep yourself healthy and optimistic.
Some important things to consider when telling others: Is it safe? Is there someone you can turn to for support? Would your basic needs (e.g., food, housing) still be met if others were to react negatively? Coming out to others is important, but it should be done when you feel comfortable, supported, and ready. There isn’t a “right” way. You’ll need to determine what’s best for you.
Given that many people don’t know what it means to be trans, you might need to provide some education about gender identity and expression when you tell others. Check out our Gender Identity Map—it could be something that you share with others to increase their knowledge about gender diversity.
If you’re feeling unsure about how to start the conversation, sometimes it’s helpful to start more generally: Do you know what transgender means? Do you know anyone who is transgender? Getting a feel for how open people are to diversity and different identities (e.g., sexual orientation, race/ethnicity) will help you to better determine if they might be supportive. Also, if talking in person feels too difficult, consider writing a letter or sending an electronic message.
No matter what, remember that you are valuable, you deserve love and support, and there are people out there who want to help.
For other transgender blogs and additional information, check out our Transgender 101 page.
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Cover photo credit: Ky, “Listen” December 24, 2008