Coming Out Series: Building Support
This post is the first in a series about coming out as LGBTQI. Look for more posts on this topic soon.
Coming out was for me one of the most difficult things I had done up until that point. As a matter of fact, the idea was so scary to me that it prevented me from moving forward in getting the help I needed for many years simply because I was too afraid to come out to even a therapist and talk to them about my gender issues. I knew that in my case if I was going to come out and survive it, that it needed to be slow, and that I really wanted to preserve as many relationships as possible. As of today, I am out publicly and have been able to maintain most of my relationships as a result. Actually, it’s quite easy for me to say that since coming out I actually have more friends now than I did before I started – this completely shocked me. I’ve also lost some friends in the process (well a few just have drifted away).
Now, there’s a huge emphasis placed on the quality of one’s friends and family when it comes to coming out. And it’s true. There are families and friends out there that literally can stand the test of time through anything. But just having open minded friends isn’t the only way to make sure that your coming out goes well – treating the subject with respect, and taking your time leading up to it can also help a lot. You are not a victim of your own coming out, you have a large part to play in this process. You can choose to take some time to really think about and educate yourself about the possibilities of what lies before you, and what you might like to say.
In my case I came from a small town. The kind of town where everyone knows everyone. My parents still live there, and work for the same places in the community that they have for decades. I knew that in my case I wasn’t going to be able to be “stealth”. On top of my family’s visibility in the community I myself had been very visible in the community growing up. I always was involved in student government for my school (elementary, high school, and college), involved in choir, band and drama, and even had a radio show in our small town. On top of this, the community was overwhelmingly religious, and the majority of my friends (and my family) members of a denomination that strongly opposes LGBT equality.
I knew that if I was to ever come out to this wider community that I was going to need to have my own small network of support. That way, if I lost many of these friends that I wouldn’t feel like I had lost everything. I wanted to have a small group of support in place just in case things went badly.
When it came to building support I started with those absolutely closest to me and I came out to them. I also only came out to people who I absolutely trusted to not share what I had said. I came out to my girlfriend as transgender 7 years before I started transition, my parents 3 years before, and my siblings 2 years before. These years gave me the chance to educate myself about what I truly was dealing with, to understand what I truly needed, and to have a number of discussions with each of these people along the way. I was fortunate that I found the courage to come out to these few people early on in my trans journey, because it truly allowed me to have a network of support from the time I first came to terms with being trans all the way through acknowledging that I would transition.
By the time I got to the point where I faced transition as my only chance left to resolve my gender incongruence I had many years behind me of being “transgender” and of these closest people knowing. I had had many conversations with them, and when I was back in therapy again this last time to discuss gender transition they weren’t surprised when I told them the time had come.
Still, even with the support I had it wasn’t easy for them. My mom described to me losing sleep nightly for around a month as she wrestled with what it would mean to lose a son. All my family members I think considered those losses and there was at time awkwardness as we worked through it.
When it came to transition, I knew I needed to prepare to come out publicly, so I started expanding the small group of people who knew about me. I started with friendships that were the most vital to me, and people that I interact with regularly. I flew to see one good friend of mine so I could come out to him in person, others I asked for a phone call to discuss something important, a few I put a letter in the mail to. I took my time with each one, spending several hours in total talking about things and telling them how much I valued their friendship and that I’d very much like to keep them as friends.
By the time I was ready to come out publicly I had a small group of friends and family that I knew supported me. None of them knew that there were others that knew. I was fortunate that all of them kept the information in confidence.
Having this small group of support gave me a couple of huge benefits:
First, coming out to each of them gave me the chance to practice my story. Coming out, no matter what it’s for, is about telling your story and explaining to someone why you have to do what you are doing. When I came out the first time it was quite messy and I was very afraid. Some things I said didn’t even make complete sense. By the time I had come out multiple times over the phone, in person, and via letter I was very comfortable with the conversation and the questions that had come up. Starting with a therapist is a great place to first come out, then move out to people who know will keep your confidence and will also support you.
Secondly, having a supportive group gave me the courage that it was okay for me to just be myself. By the time I was coming out to the last few people in this group I realized that even if others rejected me that I would be okay. I had enough of my important relationships just in this small group, that if I lost other friendships that I would survive! This gave me so much confidence and peace when I finally came out publicly – to know that there was a small group of people who stood by me no matter what meant the world to me. It was incredible.
Last, I didn’t feel so defensive when I came out because there were others who were emotionally invested in my journey too. When people had a hard time with my coming out I knew that people would come to my defense in their own way – this made me not feel so defensive and vulnerable when people said inappropriate things.
When it comes to coming out, I can say that by building a small group of support, and by really putting some thought into who you want in this group made a huge difference going forward. Just think to yourself, “Who are my absolute closest friends? Friends that if I lost all others these few would make it worth it?.” Put those people on your list and then take your time in thinking about how you will come out to them. You need the practice, and you need the support.
Your support group might not contain friends, maybe it will contain all family. Or maybe your support group won’t contain any family but all friends. Or maybe you feel isolated and don’t feel like you have anyone in your entire circle that would support you. If this is the case, then by all means make new friends! Supportive and compassionate people are everywhere and you need to find them if you don’t have these people in your life. If you need help finding a support group contact me, or post a comment on this blog. You are not alone.
Have you been thinking about coming out? Or maybe you’ve already come out and have some advice to share. Please join the discussion below.
Image Credit: kalyan02