Coming out as trans and/or nonbinary.
Coming out as transgender and/or nonbinary to friends and family can be scary, difficult, exciting, liberating, and more. It’s different for everyone, and there’s no one right way to come out.
Where can I find support about coming out if I’m transgender or nonbinary?
You can find support in a lot of places, including:
- other transgender or nonbinary people who can share their experience of coming out or transitioning;
- transgender support groups at your local LGBTQ+ community center, school LGBTQ+ group, or PFLAG local chapter; and
- supportive cisgender people.
Not everyone lives near lots of out trans people or an LGBTQ+ community center. And even if you do, it might not feel possible or safe to use these resources. Check out communities and support on the internet:
- hotlines and chatlines from organizations like Gender Spectrum and Trans Lifeline, as well as The Trevor Project’s online community and one-on-one counselors;
- the Human Rights Campaign's Transgender Visibility Guide, a step-by-step for coming out as trans;
- the Trevor Project’s Coming Out Handbook for LGBTQ Young People; and
- resources from national organizations such as the National Center for Transgender Equality and GLAAD.
What does it mean to “come out”?
Coming out as transgender and/or nonbinary is about all of the ways that you might share your gender identity or gender modality with other people. It might mean you tell people about the pronouns that affirm your gender — like he, she, they, or ze. It might mean that you ask people to call you by a new name or to think of you as the gender identity you see yourself as.
Most transgender and noninary people feel healthier and happier when others see and support them in their gender identity.
While there are some similarities, coming out as transgender or nonbinary is different than coming out with your sexual orientation. A lot of people know what it means for a person to be gay, bisexual, or other sexual orientations. But there’s still a lot of confusion and misinformation about what it means to be trans.
What are different ways of coming out?
Coming out can mean different things at different times.
When you first share your gender identity, you’re likely still perceived as the sex/gender you were assigned at birth. For example, coming out might mean saying, “I know you see me as a girl, but I’m actually a boy. Please see me and treat me like a boy.”
Coming out can be different if others already see you as your gender identity, which is sometimes called “passing.” For example, if someone already knows you’re a girl — but not that you’re a transgender girl, or that you were raised as a boy when you were younger — coming out might mean telling them, “You’re right to see me as a girl. When I was younger, people thought I was a boy because I was assigned male at birth. Please continue to see me and treat me as a girl.” In these situations, coming out is less about revealing your gender identity, and more about sharing your gender modality or gender history.
Coming out is a personal decision. You deserve to come out in the way that feels safest for you. You may choose to come out:
- before you make any changes that others can see, like changing how you dress or getting gender-affirming treatments;
- after or during the transition process;
- to different people at different times; or
- not come out to some people at all.
All of these options are OK — only you can decide what’s right for you.
What if I feel nervous or afraid to come out?
It’s understandable. Other people’s responses can be supportive or unsupportive. Know that you deserve to be seen and treated respectfully as you are.
Because people sometimes don’t understand or respect trans identities, you may face discrimination, rejection, or even violence when you come out or are outed by someone else. These fears and misunderstandings around gender differences are known as transphobia, transmisia, and cissexism. Communities that have been discriminated against — like Black, Muslim, or disabled communities — have a greater risk of experiencing transmisia.
For help coming out as transgender or nonbinary, set up a support system beforehand. This can include friends, family, a therapist, or a support group. While you might have to come out even if you don’t want to, support can help you feel that coming out won't jeopardize your safety, health, or living situation.
Who should I come out to?
You’ll likely come out to many different people in different ways over the years. Kinds of people you might come out to include:
- immediate family members, like parents, siblings, and children;
- extended family, like grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles;
- friends and chosen family;
- doctors, nurses, and other health care staff;
- classmates or coworkers;
- partners or people you’re dating;
- social media followers;
- the general public, like if you share your story on a stage;
- systems or institutions, like your employer, school, or the government.
How do I come out to my parents, family, and friends?
Here is some advice for coming out to the people in your life.
Before Coming Out
- Consider coming out first to the person or people in your life who will be the most supportive.
- When you’re ready, think through how you’ll do it and what you’ll say.
- Choose the method that’s most comfortable, such as writing a letter or email. If you’re OK coming out in person, that conversation can either be in a private setting where you’re alone or a public setting with people around.
While Coming Out
- Even though you’re the expert on yourself, you can share research about being trans with the person you come out to. Check out the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), The Trevor Project, PFLAG, Trans Lifeline, and Gender Spectrum for resources to help them understand your gender identity.
- Throughout the process, remind yourself that you’re allowed to feel whatever you feel about coming out — nervous, excited, curious, scared, proud, relieved, and more.
- Plan for ways to feel more comfortable in your body if the conversation is hard, like using breathing exercises or holding a fidget toy or comforting object.
Right After Coming Out
- Keep an open mind about how people will react. They may surprise you with their acceptance. Still, it can be helpful to have a plan if the person responds badly — such ending the conversation if they cross a certain line.
- If possible, arrange to have a supportive person who you can talk to after you come out to someone. This ally can celebrate with you if it goes well or comfort you if it’s hard. This ally could be a friend, family member, therapist, teacher, or trans mentor.
What should I expect in the days and months after I come out?
After you come out to others, be prepared to wait as they digest and respond to the new information.
It can take time for people to accept your gender identity. They may need to practice your new name or pronouns. They may have questions or not know exactly which language to use. They might make mistakes and hurt your feelings, even if they’re trying to be supportive. Many people tend to become more understanding and supportive over time.
Should I come out?
You don’t have to come out if you don’t want to. For some transgender and nonbinary people, it feels safer not to share their gender identity and/or gender modality with others. You get to decide what feels best for you.
Not telling someone that you are trans or nonbinary isn’t lying or hiding the truth. If you do want to come out, you get to decide when and to whom. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
However, if you want to access gender-affirming treatments like hormones or surgery, you’ll need to come out to a health care professional.
What does it mean to be stealth?
A transgender person can be “stealth” in a certain environment if nobody there knows they’ve transitioned. Some people call this being “invisibly trans.” For example, when a transgender woman’s coworkers see her as a cisgender woman.
Because of cisnormativity and transphobia, also known as transmisia, a person who’s seen as cisgender is less likely to be discriminated against than someone who is seen as transgender. Many people who are stealth in some areas of life — like at work or school — are out in other areas, like with friends or family.
How can I come out as trans and/or nonbinary to a current or potential partner?
Coming out to someone you’re dating or hooking up with isn’t always simple. Unfortunately, it can also feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
Different things can affect your decisions about coming out to potential partners: Whether you’ve had gender-affirming treatments like hormones or surgery, whether you’re publicly out as trans or nonbinary, the kind of sex or relationship you’re looking for, and other factors. For example, a trans man who’s been on hormones for a long time, has had phalloplasty, and is stealth may think about coming out differently than a nonbinary person who’s been on hormones for a couple of months, doesn’t want bottom surgery, and has a public profile as a nonbinary person.
Here are some ideas to consider before deciding if, when, or how to come out to a partner or potential partner.
- Discuss the pros and cons with a supportive person, like a friend, trans mentor, support group member, or therapist.
- Consider if it would feel best to come out to a potential partner before you first meet, like via a message or by having your identity listed on your social media or online dating profile.
- You may decide to date other trans or nonbinary people, or others who you feel will understand and accept your identity.
- You may want to wait until you’ve gotten to know a partner and feel safe sharing your identity with them.
- You might decide to come out to them in a public place, where you won’t be alone if the person’s response is negative.
- You can set up a plan with a supportive person afterward.
How will my partner or people on dating apps react when they learn I’m not cisgender?
You can’t know for sure how someone will react — they could be more accepting or more rejecting than you expected. How someone reacts when you come out is about their feelings and beliefs, and not about you. You and your identity are real and valid. You’re loveable and deserve to feel safe and seen in your relationships.
Outing is when someone shares another person’s identity without their consent. Someone can be outed as transgender, for instance, when they’re not ready to share their gender identity.
Outing can be intentional or accidental. Either way, sharing information about someone's gender identity, gender modality, or sexual orientation without their permission can make them feel embarrassed, upset, and vulnerable. Outing someone may put them at risk for discrimination and violence.
If you’re transgender or nonbinary, you deserve to decide who gets to know your identities. It’s not OK for people to out you.
If someone shares their trans identity with you, remember that this might be private information. They trust you with this information, and it’s not yours to share without their permission. Ask them what you're allowed to share with others, and respect their wishes.