Gender Identity & Expression - Q and A

Do I know what I want to say?

Particularly at the beginning of the coming out process, many people are still answering tough questions for themselves and are not ready to identify as transgender. Or they may know they are transgender without knowing exactly what that means to them.

That's okay. Maybe you just want to tell someone that you're starting to ask yourself these questions. Even if you don't yet have all the answers, your feelings are what matter. To get a better idea of what it is you want to communicate, try writing it down to help organize your thoughts.

Who should I tell first?

This can be a critical decision. You may want to select people who you suspect will be most supportive, as their support can assist you in coming out to others. If you're coming out at work, who is the point person? Your Human Resources representative? A manager or coworker? Do your homework before deciding. Also, know that this kind of news can travel quickly.

If you'd prefer that the people you tell keep your news confidential, be sure to tell them so. Still, don't be surprised if they share the news with others before you have a chance to do it yourself.

What kinds of signals am I getting?

Sometimes you can get a sense of how accepting people will be by the things they say. Maybe a transgender-themed movie, like TransAmerica, or a transgender character on a TV show can get a discussion started. Or maybe someone in your life has told you that they joined a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights organization. But don't read into these conversations too closely. The most gay-friendly person in the office may react negatively, and the person who makes an anti-transgender joke may end up being your biggest supporter.

Am I well-informed and willing to answer questions?

People's reactions to the news that you're transgender may depend largely on how much information they have about transgender issues and how much they feel they can ask. While more and more people are familiar with gay, lesbian and bisexual people and issues of sexual orientation, issues surrounding gender identity and expression are different. They aren't yet as widely understood.

If you're well-informed and open to answering questions, you can go a long way toward helping others to understand.

Is this a good time?

Timing is key. Be aware of the mood, priorities, stresses and problems of those to whom you would like to come out. If they're dealing with their own major life concerns, they may not be able to respond constructively.

Can I be patient?

Just as it took you time to come to terms with being transgender, some people will need time to think things over after you come out to them. The reason you've chosen to be open with these people is that you care about them. If they react strongly, it's probably because they care about you, too. Be prepared to give them space to adjust. Rather than expecting immediate understanding, try to establish an ongoing, caring dialogue.


Is it safe to disclose?

If you have any doubt at all as to your safety, carefully weigh your risks and options. Transgender people face the real threat of harassment and violence, and some transgender people choose to come out in a safe space with friends by their sides to ensure their safety.

Also, while more and more localities are passing laws that ban discrimination against transgender people, most transgender Americans are not legally protected from workplace discrimination. As a result, coming out to someone at work could cost you your job, and sometimes your livelihood.

Visit the HRC's Resources for Transgender Employees for a comprehensive guide to coming out in the workplace.