Five things I need(ed) to hear when coming out

This is a letter I am writing for my younger self, and for myself in general – at age 12, 14, 16, 18, 19, 20, 22, 25, and 27 – all key ages when I “came out” as something to myself and/or the people around me.  A student in my world recently asked me for advice related to coming out as trans, and I wrote something specific to that student (shout out if you’re reading this!).  I wanted to adapt this to something more general and more specific – an open letter to myself, past, present, and future, for coming out and thriving as myself in the world as it is.

So, here you have it – my message to myself & others as they emerge on a particular place of “coming out,” whether that’s related to gender, sexuality, sexual preferences, or something else entirely!

1.  Celebrate!  Sometimes when queer and trans folks come out, we start worrying right away about what other people are going to think of us, how much discrimination we’re going to face, or how to deal with all this hecking dysphoria, internalized oppression, and body stuff that inevitably comes up.  The first piece of advice, that I myself need to do more often, is to celebrate.  Queer and trans people have been valued and revered around the world and throughout history because we have experiences that are unique, beautiful, and sacred.  Throw yourself a party, even if it’s just you in attendance.  Eat your favorite food, or go for a walk on a beautiful day, or make something with your hands to commemorate the day you felt open enough to start talking with other people about your queer and trans identity.  It’s incredible that you exist!
2.  Don’t focus on passing, focus on being yourself.  If you are confident in who you are, that becomes clear to others that you are defining how you want them to see you. I won’t lie, regardless of what your body looks like, there will be plenty of moments when people misread your gender expression or identity.  But in general, it is more important to act the way that feels comfortable than to put on one specific set of behaviors that you believe people will read as a particular gender or sexuality.  There is no one way to be masculine, feminine, genderqueer, or agender; you get to decide how that looks on a day-to-day and minute-to-minute basis.  I recommend finding clothes you feel confident in, that show your body the way you want it to be seen – that’s how I ended up wearing sweater vests nearly every day, since they are coded masculine, came in bright colors, and hid my pre-surgery chest.  This may require a lot of experimentation in the dressing rooms at Goodwill and in front of the mirror at home.  🙂
3.  Find a point person to talk to when you need support.  This could be a queer or trans person, or it might not – the important thing is that you know who you can turn to when things get hard or you’re feeling stuck.  My first support person was my 9th grade religious studies teacher, Pete.  When I came out to him as a young person as bisexual, he was kind of baffled, since he himself wasn’t queer – but when I came out as trans later down the line, it made since why I chose him to turn to for support.  He embodied a lot of the masculinity that I wanted in my own life, and I feel like I emulate him now as a teacher, a male leader, and a mentor for other students.
4.  Be easy on yourself and others.  You’re not going to figure everything out overnight.  Your friends and family will struggle, and it sucks, but we gotta be easy on them at least to start.  Be clear and firm in your wishes and boundaries, but don’t take it too personally if people are stumbling into their accomplice status.  Similarly, you may find that as you explore your identity more, things that you took for granted (including your gender identity, sexuality, and other identity markers) may shift.  That’s OK.  No one is going to ask you to “prove” your trans-ness – and if they do, send them to me so I can give them a piece of my mind!!
5.  Remember, nobody knows your experience better than you.  It took me a really long time to accept my identity as male (rather than as genderqueer/nonbinary) not because of things cishet people would say to me, or the pressure of my given family to conform – it was mostly other trans and queer peoples’ judgments that held me back.  It’s important to remember that the world is large and that there are lots and lots of people in our community who will “get” you – no matter who you are or what you’re experiencing.  I was very afraid to lose part of my chosen family if I was open about who I really am.  I totally had it backwards – I have only been able to build a strong, beautiful, and resilient chosen family by embracing all that I am, no matter what.
Keep being yourself and finding ways of sharing all that you are – whatever your identity – with the world!  It’s the best gift that only you can bring. ❤ If you want a much more comprehensive and in-depth list of affirmations that can be helpful as queer and trans people, here’s a link to an awesome set of cards that I use as a daily practice.

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