Today is National Coming Out Day. I am queer of gender and orientation, and one thing no one told me was that coming out isn’t a one-time thing. We live in a cis-normative hetero-normative culture, and that means people are going to assume that I’m cis and straight. If I want them to think something else, or treat me differently (eg pronouns), I have to come out to every single person I meet.
Now, obviously that’s not realistic. In some situations, explaining who I am and who I love isn’t going to be worth it. For example, I don’t explain my pronouns to my taxi driver when I’m visiting a far away city, because I’ll never see that individual again in all likelihood. There are also situations in which disclosing my gender or orientation may not be safe for me. As someone who has experienced harassment and violence due to my identity, I am now much more careful about whom I choose to tell. And in most instances, that’s information that people don’t need to know.
I definitely have people in my life that I want to tell, and whom it is safe to tell. So how do I do that? Sometimes it’s a simple conversation. Sometimes people will pick up on it from hearing others use my pronouns. For important and tricky situations, like telling family, I wrote a letter, and that’s the approach I generally recommend to others. Here’s the basic jist of what I suggest including:
- Talk about how they’ve said they’ll always love you no matter what
- Frame it as telling them something wonderful you’ve learned about yourself that you want to share with them
- Describe who you are using simple terminology, defining any necessary terms
- Explain how you wish to be addressed and referred to
- Remind them that you’re still the same person you always have been and you’ll love them just like you always have
- Offer to provide additional information or answer questions, but avoid overwhelming them by including too much
By using a letter, you give the recipient an opportunity to digest the information without being put on the spot. It also gives you a chance to refine your language, making sure you cover everything that you want to cover but might be too flustered to get out during a conversation.
If you have safety concerns, or you want to test the waters, there are tools available to anonymously gauge someone’s reaction before coming out to them. I use WillYouAccept.Me.
I also strongly recommend that you engage with the LGBTQIA+ community, online or in person, before taking this step. If you encounter a negative response, having a community of people who understand and have been through that same experience can be immensely helpful.
Staying in the closet is a valid option too. Your identity is valid, regardless of who knows about it. If you can’t come out, or simply choose not to, that’s perfectly okay. Don’t feel pressured to put yourself out there if you’re not ready, or it’s not safe for you to do so. You don’t owe anyone this information. Know that we see you, we have lived your struggle, and it does get better.