How am I supposed to get out as a trans?
Coming-out: How to react correctly when someone comes out as a trans
For people who are part of the LGBT * community, coming out is one of the most nerve-wracking experiences ever. You never know how the other person will react. Whether they are met with acceptance and love or disapproval and rejection.
The more tolerant and open our society becomes, the easier the coming-out process becomes. But many people still often need years to overcome themselves. The moment in which they come out is therefore well considered and a very big and important step for them.
Coming out can be particularly difficult for a trans * person - a person who does not identify with his or her assigned gender.
This is because most cisgender people (i.e. people whose gender identity corresponds to his / her gender assigned at birth) still do not fully understand transsexuality or transsexuality or even perceive it as "foreign".
The opposite of good is good intentions"
A trans * person therefore not only has to fear direct hostility, but also insensitive reactions and questions that call into question their gender identity, with which they themselves certainly had to struggle. This lack of empathy can even come from friends and family who actually only "mean well".
To avoid wrong and hurtful reactions, we have for you the "dos and don'ts" when it comes to coming out summarized. How you should react if someone comes out as a trans - and how not.
Note: We use the term trans * in this article. This is a collective term that describes people who do not (or not only) identify with the gender that was assigned to them at birth. You can find out more about the terminology here.
How you should react:
- Congratulate him / her! Coming out is an important step. For many trans * people it means to finally be aware of their identity and to be able to live it outwardly. Therefore, it is important and right to congratulate your counterpart.
- Thank him / her for his / her trust. That he / she shares this information with you is not a given and often requires a lot of effort and courage.
- Be responsive to his / her needs. For example, you can ask questions like: How can I support you? How would you like to be addressed? How would you like me to handle this information to others?
- Also ask how he / she is doing. The process of coming out can be a true roller coaster ride of emotions and you should be sensitive to it. Is he / she relieved now? Nervous? Happy? Scared?
- Treat him / her "normally". Remind yourself that the other person is still the same person they were five minutes ago. In the future, do not only talk about his / her coming out, but also about the things that you have talked about before. This lets him / her know that your feelings towards him / her have not changed.
How not to react:
- Don't downplay the importance. Of course, it would be great if at some point it was absolutely no longer a big deal if someone came out as a trans. But we don't yet live in this perfect world and therefore it is important NOT to react with indifference to the coming-out of a trans * person. When you say things like, "I don't care" or "This isn't a big deal to me," it can be very hurtful to the person who comes out.
- Don't be smart. The sentence "I already knew this for a long time" is firstly not helpful and secondly you are taking away the person's coming-out moment. Which brings us to the next point, because ...
- ... it's not about you! Also, if you may feel confused or insecure, don't share it with the person. This situation is about him / her and his / her needs. You can determine your feelings and thoughts with yourself afterwards.
- Don't question his / her identity. Sentences like "Are you sure?" or "Aren't you too young yet?" insult trans * people and their gender identity.
- Do not ask about his / her physical gender reassignment. That does not concern you. Or do you want to be questioned about your genitals without warning?
The above sentences, which you should avoid as much as possible, can also be referred to as transphobic microaggressions. Microaggressions are short, everyday statements that discriminate against other people.
Some examples for transphobic microaggressions are:
- "Are you going to have an operation?"
- "What's your real name?"
- "Do you have body part XY?"
- "But last year you said ..."
- "You look like a real woman / a real man."
- "You can't tell by looking at it. You are so pretty!"
If the person coming out has given you permission to talk to others about his / her coming out, then it is important that you pay attention to the way you talk to others about it in the future.
Sentences like "He wants to be a woman" or "She was a man" are wrong. Instead, say, for example, "She's now also outwardly living her female gender identity" or just "He / she is trans *". It couldn't be more straightforward, right?
Continuing education is YOUR job
"But I don't know how to address him / her now," cis men and women often complain after a trans * person comes out. The answer is simple: just ask! Everyone is different and has a different approach that he / she feels comfortable with. Instead of throwing your hands in the air and lamenting your ignorance, just ask the person directly.
But it is also important that you train yourself afterwards. Don't expect your trans friend or family member to take on the task of educating you about everything. If you are new to trans, there are tons of resources you can use to learn more about it.
Here are a few helpful books on the topic of trans *:
These are informative series and films on the topic of trans *:
- This Is Me * (five-part documentary series)
- Tomboy * (film, 2011)
- Orange Is the New Black (Netflix series)
- My Life in Rose Red (film, 1997)
- We’ve Been Around (six-part documentary series)
More information and materials are also available from trans * organizations such as TransInterQueer, Transgender Europe (TGEU) or the German Society for Transidentity and Intersexuality (dgti).
Trans * Lives Matter!
I hope that at some point we will live in a time when a person can come out without it being viewed as a hot gossip or "shock". Then trans * people no longer have to live in fear that they will lose friends or family by coming out or that their identity could even pose a threat to them.
Until then, it is our job to support our trans * friends and family members and show them that they always have someone who is behind them.
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