This is the second half of a series on coming out/welcoming in. If you have not read the first half, you can find it here.
I have never enjoyed explaining myself to others. I have often felt disconnected from who I am, and it has taken a lot of time, and practice to embody myself fully even for brief periods of time. I mask many of my autistic traits when I am among company other than my fiancée. She is the only person I can fully unmask around, because she herself is neurodivergent. She is also the only person who sensed I was trans before I knew. I never really came out to her, either.
I did, however, have to welcome her to come along with me on my journey. Both of us had a lot of learning to do when it came to trans stuff and it showed in our relationship. We had more than a few totally avoidable fights for many reasons. The heart of the trouble really was that I am not great at explaining things about myself and we were both ill prepared for how emotional things can get when it comes to discussing identity.
One major mistake I made when coming out was not making a safety plan beforehand. This could have been as simple as a conversation between myself and my fiancée where we talked about my needs if I became overwhelmed. Or a safety plan could have been as involved as preparing for many different contingencies. Not every coming out or welcoming in will need all of the steps below but I suggest you read through them all at least once to get a sense of what would be good things to consider.
1. Consider your access to the basics: food, water, and safe shelter.
To assess your risk of losing access to these things you can ask a few questions.
What kind of material power does the person/people you are addressing hold over you?
Have they threatened to remove these types of support in the past over your identity or other things? Speaking from experience, if someone has threatened to do this before the likelihood of them doing so again skyrockets.
Do you have somewhere safe you can go should things go south and you need to get some distance? Is this option only temporary or do you have a longer term option available?
If you anticipate needing to leave in a hurry, you may consider packing a go bag. This should contain the basics like clothing, non-perishable foods, water, shoes (if they’ll fit), and any sentimental items that are very important to you. Even if you don’t anticipate needing to run, I would still go out of your way to protect any sentimental items that you would like to keep. People can have really unexpected reactions to revelations of this magnitude.
Before actually doing the deed, make sure you have a safe place to which to retreat, preferably with a locking door, and that you have snacks and fresh drinking water. Even if you’re telling your friends at school, you may want to plan to have the option of running to the bathroom for privacy, or having something to eat or drink, should any of these needs suddenly arise.
2. Consider your audience further.
Who will you be welcoming in with this announcement and what is the nature of your relationship with them?
What is their current understanding of transness?
If they are known to be hostile towards or seemingly “ignorant” of trans people consider your boundaries around things like questions or comments and your expectations for their adjustment. I would try to be as clear as possible about these during the coming out process. For some people, I laid out some specific phrases and wordings that should be avoided.
3. Consider choosing your method of communication around your boundaries and personal safety.
I texted some people and announced to other people in person. I was never in any physical danger as a result of coming out (or being outed) to someone and for that I will be eternally grateful. Your situation may be different and may require more advanced considerations such as those listed above. Use your best judgement here.
4. Consider your mental state in the days preceding coming out.
How have you been feeling physically? Mentally?
What are you struggling with?
What is going right in your life?
Have you been getting good quality sleep?
Have you been able to get adequate quantities of food and drink in the days leading up to and the day of your announcement?
If your answers to the last two questions were no, I would reconsider your timing for this welcoming in. You may be better off waiting even one or two extra days if you can manage to get some food, and rest in the meantime
5. Expect the unexpected.
I had a completely unexpected reaction to coming out to a group of my fiancee’s family. I completely dissociated and have limited memory of the hour or so immediately after telling them. I remember I came to and had managed to make my way from sitting and eating at the dining room table to standing and leaning on the table in the kitchen. I then dissociated again and when I came to I was lying down in a different room.
My fiancee started trying to talk to me and realized I wasn’t there. I came back to conciousness to her crying and asking me where I went. I really didn’t expect this, as I have never dissociated involuntarily before.
I tell this story not to frighten you but to illustrate that you may need to deal with something you didn’t expect. Whether that is our own reaction, someone else’s, or something completely out of left field, you will more than likely experience something you didn’t expect to have to confront.
Sometimes surprises are good.
There is also sometimes the possibility of being surprised in more pleasant ways. I tend to struggle even with change that is overall positive. Surprises of any nature are rarely welcome in my life. But even I, with time and distance, have been able to feel positively towards certain unexpected aspects of this welcoming in process.
One that immediately comes to mind is how the manager of my apartment building handled my name change. The first thing she said was “Oh, you just changed the whole thing!”. Which for some reason is still one of my favorite reactions to someone learning that I’m trans. She then proceeded to update my lease as quickly as possible, and everytime she has seen me since then she’s greeted me by my proper name. I appreciate that.
These things come to my attention sporadically. So when they do, I try to think them over, and revel a little in the bits of joy that coming out did ultimately bring me. This practice has been helpful for my mental wellbeing in the long run.
Wrapping it all up
The one thing I hope you take away from this series is an understanding that you have the right to come out to/welcome in the people you want to, when you want to, in the manner that you want to.
Life may not always work like this in practice, as there are plenty of cases of outing, and coming out is rarely a one-time, cut and dry, conversation or text message. But I’ll say it again, no one should pressure you to come out in any way, ever. Not your therapist, not your family, not your partner, nobody. This is a process you should get to do in your own way, on your own time. Hopefully, in the future, it isn’t even necessary.
Complement this with a crash course on getting involved in community action, or a look at how transition can be an act of creation.