I write a lot about coming out and the wildly differing responses and reactions this revelation can result in. Deciding who we come out to, why we do so, and how we have this conversation are different decisions for all of us. I do feel we are obligated to come out to our partners and our significant others, but like everything there may be some caveats to that. But beyond that, I don’t think we have an obligation to come out to anyone else we know. Of course, there is a difference between telling someone that you like to wear panties and telling someone you plan on living full time. One revelation is a personal preference when it comes to undies, the other is a major lifestyle change. I don’t think your best friend needs (or wants) to know what you wear under your boy clothes, but if you are going to present and identify as a gender other than the one most people know you as, perhaps it’s time to have that conversation.
How we come out is different for each of us as identifying as trans (or bi-gender, or as a crossdresser, or genderfluid…) means something different for all of us. Yes, I am trans and were I to come out to someone today (not planning on coming out to anyone today, but the day is young) I would explain that identifying as trans doesn’t mean transitioning or hormones. When I came out as a crossdresser to my mom and siblings years ago it didn’t quite explain who I was as accurately as perhaps a different term would.
Why we come out is also different for each of us. I feel we need to come out to our partners because I think it is important (and fair) to let them know who we are, in case our gender identity (or wardrobe) is a deal-breaker for them. Beyond that, we come out to others in our lives for different reasons. I have considered coming out to my two best male friends because sometimes I feel I am being dishonest and I would hope they would feel it would be safe to have a similar discussion about themselves with me. I came out to a roommate because I was tired of not being able to wear what I wanted in my own home.
Why we come out to someone is tied to who we come out to. Sometimes we come out to someone because we feel strongly they would be an ally. A friend, a confident. Someone who can help us with makeup. But I think it’s fair that for some people in our lives we have more reasons to NOT come out to them than there are reasons to do so. For example, I would never, ever come out to my homophobic relatives that post anti-queer statements on Facebook. Do you think they care or understand the little nuances of being non-cis? Coming out to them would absolutely ruin my life. It’s true you can cut out toxic people in your life, but let’s face it, some people, especially relatives, can never go away.
I have come out to a very select number of friends in my life. Coming out to someone that I am not in a romantic relationship with has, in a way, very few repercussions. You are friends, not dating, so coming out doesn’t impact your relationship as significantly. Coming out to a girlfriend brings up a lot of questions. They may ask themselves if they want to date someone who wears lingerie. They may wonder if committing to someone who is on a journey (uuuuuurgh) of gender identity and all the twists and detours this adventure can have. They may wonder (or worry) that in a few years their boyfriend (or husband) might want to transition. Who we are is hard enough on ourselves, but sharing this secret (if it is a secret) is a lot to ask of someone else. As much as we worry about “getting caught” our partners wonder about the implications on their own life if our secret was revealed.
Have I come out to every girlfriend? God, no. When I was twenty I dated a girl who came from a very religious family. I can’t say she was completely committed to Christ but her family’s influence (and her need of their approval) was a big reason for everything she said and did and said she believed. She would openly mock anyone from the LGBTQ+ community, she would smugly say lesbians were going to hell. Coming out to her would be The Worst Idea ever.
And yes, some people might wonder if perhaps she realized that someone important in her life was non-cis perhaps she would become more enlightened. And yes! That is a fair point and not unrealistic, but even if she was accepting her family would not be, and that would be enough for her to condemn me. They didn’t like me anyway, lol.
Looking back I can’t believe I dated someone like her, but I was young, emotionally fragile, and had just gotten out of a rather traumatic relationship. I needed love, I think. And in my defense she was not “gays are bad” when we started to date. She was primarily like that when she was around her family.
But that relationship is a perfect example of what is on my mind this morning. She said she was a Christian and although it’s been a while since I’ve been to church I am pretty certain that Jesus’ whole thing was to love others and that only God can judge. “Whatever you do so to the least of people, you do unto Me” and all of that. To know someone who proudly declared themselves a follower of Christ but had so much hate and contempt for anyone who wasn’t cis or straight was baffling to me. It was hypocritical.
The first girlfriend that I came out to, and the first person I came out to EVER was as enthusiastic and supportive of the LGBTQ+ community as you could imagine. She identified as bi and said her last boyfriend did drag. I came out to her for two reasons. Firstly, we were dating and I had wanted us to, you know, keep dating. That meant putting my cards on the table. But I also came out to her because I thought it was safe to do so. Based on her sexual identity and her previous relationship I didn’t think she would freak out that her boyfriend loved wearing lingerie.
I was WRONG.
She listened but kindly asked for reassurance that I wouldn’t do it anymore. That I had outgrown it. That I wouldn’t mention it ever again. I was stunned and heartbroken. Heartbroken because I had let someone in, I had shared my secret with someone for the first time and it went BADLY. But more so I was stunned. After all, she talked about her support for the LGBTQ+ community but when it came to supporting her LGBTQ+ boyfriend, well, then it was different. At the time I felt it was hypocritical. Why did she brag about her ex doing drag but her current boyfriend wasn’t “allowed” to wear panties? Why was it okay for her to be bi but I couldn’t be a crossdresser?
To be fair, ‘crossdresser’ was (and probably still is) primarily considered a fetish and being viewed as kinky is not necessarily the same as simply wanting to wear lingerie. In her defense she might have had a different reaction were I to have come out using terms that more accurately described who I was, and who I am.
But my point is that her reaction surprised me. I had felt that coming out to someone who identified as a member of the LGBTQ+ community would be “safe”. I was wrong. One’s identity does not obligate them to be supportive of everyone else’s identity.
Even if someone identifies as straight/cis they may still be an ally and supportive of the LGBTQ+ community. My mom and siblings are Good People. I am glad to be related to them. One would imagine that coming out to them would be a positive experience. I mean, my brother is gay so I feel there is so precedent there. My mom had a yard sign for marriage equality on her lawn, we all have friends who are gay, so I felt coming out to them would be safe.
I was WRONG.
Again, I take some responsibility as to HOW I came out. I came out as a crossdresser. Again, there may have been some lingering… ah, prejudice against the term and it’s association with fetishism/kink/sex but I wish I had explained myself better. Overall the reaction was more or less “that’s nice but let’s not talk about. Ever”. And we really haven’t. At least not on purpose.
I suppose I could come out again, but to be honest after the less than welcoming reaction I feel it would be pointless and would be setting myself up for another disappointment and rejection.
My reaction at the time (and is still my reaction) is (and was) wondering if their response was hypocritical. Why was it okay for our brother to be gay but wasn’t okay for me to be who I was? Why are you supporting transgender equality but won’t talk to your trans family member?
In their defense I will acknowledge that if I came out as trans (or bi-gender) or explained myself better their reaction might have been different, but that ship has sailed. I know I could have come out in a more descriptive way. It is important to be gentle when we come out. As overwhelming and as complicated it is to understand ourselves, it is ever more so for our loved ones.
Labeling someone as hypocritical is a pretty big brush to paint them as. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt but in my experience these are just reminders as to why coming out is as complicated, risky, and as nerve-wracking as it is.