Friday, September 28, 2012

Coming out pt 4 Hearing it ~Sevan

We've shared personal stories in part one and two; we've talked about steps involved in coming out in part three; now it's time to talk about how to handle someone coming out to you.

Similarly to our “part 3”, there’s no way I can speak to every individual circumstance. Though I’m hoping I can keep it broad enough to cover as many experiences as possible.

In no way is everyone who’s trans* like me. So they’re not necessarily going to respond how I would…keep that in mind as well.

When someone comes out as trans* to you, it may come as a complete shock. Many trans* people try very hard to fit within binary ideals. Being “big strong men, who don’t cry, might have military background, etc etc” or being “very feminine, girly, home-maker, etc” (though this is less likely thanks to the wide acceptance of “what is feminine”)

If you take one thing from this blog post; please hear this: They did not do this to hurt you. In fact, this isn’t about you at all. They love you, might look up to you, respect you and genuinely want to keep a relationship with you. Otherwise, they wouldn't come out at all; they’d just leave your life.

They may have already come out as gay or lesbian, or may be married and/or have children. You may have long history with this person; might be their spouse or parent! Everything you already know about this person could be in direct opposition to what they’re now telling you about themselves. You may want to argue with them, and try to tell them how you see them. Try to avoid this, if possible.

For transsexual adults; they have usually done everything in their power to keep from transitioning. So asking if there’s something more that could be done to keep from transitioning will only be met with the answer “no” So keep from asking that, if you can.

Hopefully, the person who is coming out to you has read my last post, or similar information about coming out. They've thought long and hard about how you might react. Fear of you reacting poorly could have had a hand in them not coming out much sooner. Parents, friends, family and spouses are very important to trans* people. As much so as anyone else.

I don’t want to put too much emphasis on “what not to do”; because I don’t prefer to be negative. Whether your friend or loved one sits you down for a face to face, a phone conversation or sends you a letter/email; they have thought through this; and chose the method that made them most comfortable, and hopefully thought through the method you would respond best to.

When I came out to my parents; I did so via email. I feared this wouldn't be the method they’d respond best to; but it was what I needed to fully express myself, explain myself, and include some links that I thought might be helpful. I wanted to be able to express myself fully and correctly. I thought they would likely respond best to a face to face, but when I thought over that at great length…I felt there was no way I’d be able to hold my own in that conversation and get all of my thoughts out. As my anxiety rises, my ability to express clearly dwindles. This was a situation where I needed to be perfectly clear. That’s why I chose email.

For my sisters, I did find a way to sit down face to face. There was far less anxiety for me in talking to my sisters than talking to my parents. So each person in my life was unique, and the way I approached them was unique.

What you say first will set the tone for the future. Watch your words carefully. If you can’t think of a kind response; it is ok to say “This is a lot to take it. I need some time to process before I talk about this again.”
That might be rough for your friend or loved one to take in, but it’ll go far better than what could quickly escalate. Emotions run high when coming out. Of course if you’re supportive and happy for your friend or loved one, share that information right away!

Learn all that you can about what it is to be transgender. Find support for yourself if you need it through PFLAG meetings or transgender support groups that might be open to SOFFAs (Significant Others, Friends, Families, and Allies) Find books on the topic, documentaries or local educational presentations. Seek out a therapist to talk to about your feelings if you need support. Your trans* loved one is dealing with quite a bit, and it would be a huge stress relief to have you educate yourself and not rely on them solely for your education about all things trans*.

Be honest about your boundaries. If your friend or loved one is talking about nothing but transgender topics or transition; you may need to gently say,

“I need some space from that topic. Can we have a “transition free day/group of days?”
Those around the trans* person often go through a process of transition themselves. New name, new pronoun, new look. It can be a lot to take in. Be honest about your needs, but if it’s support you need, find online venues; such as or Trans Family Spouses yahoo group. Both are in the side bar. There is also SOFFA* Support online:

Or local support groups or therapists; sometimes it’s good just to be able to talk to someone openly. Try to avoid going to your trans* loved one to provide you support.

If you are unable or unwilling to be there for your loved one through their transition, it is best to be honest about that. While I hope that relationships can always be maintained, that’s not always possible. I believe its best not to drag such things out. It just elongates pain. That’s not to say that you should throw your relationship away at the first sign of difficulty; but sometimes it really is best for all people involved to just, walk away. Only you can know if you’re at that point.

Above all, be honest about your feelings and your process. Let your friend or loved one know where you’re at. There’s nothing worse than being in the dark about where we stand. Fearing that we’re going to lose someone from our lives; when really that person just needs some support and some space; is a pretty terrible feeling. They've been honest with you about who they are, and where they’re at.