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How to Talk To Your Family About Transitioning

posted: 05/08/18
by: Marina Luciano-Carson

Lost In Transition shares a candid look at how four families process when a family member comes out as transgender. The series picks up right after the transition begins and shows a range of reactions, from anger to sadness to relief to love. The main thing to remember when coming out to your friends or family is that you are not alone. There are other people like you, other families like yours, and more often than not, your loved ones just want to see you happy.

Organizations like Family Equality Council or COLAGE can provide helpful resources and tips for opening up a dialogue around being transgender. Here are some important lessons and strategies for approaching your own transition.

  • It's never too early to come out to your friends or family. People understand love. What they don't understand is deception or hiding. And it's never too late to come out. Often knowing the truth will be a relief for those closest to you.
  • Tell them in a private space where the conversation can't be overheard and will be completely confidential. Telling them at your regular Saturday night dinner at your favorite restaurant will be overwhelming.
  • Make sure you tell them when there will be plenty of time for the conversation to continue if it needs to. If they are staying with you for the weekend, for example, have the discussion on Saturday morning instead of waiting until the drive back to their other home on Sunday night.
  • If it feels unsafe to come out to your family in person, you can choose to send them an email or even write a letter. This is a great option if you feel you are in danger or have reason to believe that your family will not be accepting. A letter or email allows them to have their own authentic response privately before deciding how to respond to this news, which protects both them and you from a difficult reaction.
  • If you are agonizing over exactly what to say, try writing it down first or practicing with a trusted friend.
  • Your friends and family's responses are going to vary. Some may need some time and space to process the information on their own. Some might have a million questions. Others may barely react at all. No matter how they respond to your coming out, honor the process that they need to go through for themselves.
  • If and when you are able, try to be patient with your family. Take note of how long it took you to come to terms with your identity--they will need time as well. A good rule of thumb is to give your family one year to adjust. During that time, they can ask as many questions as they want, express concern or frustration if they need to, and otherwise be "in their process." After a year, you may choose to let them know that their barrier to entry into your life is their acceptance. You are not obligated to subject yourself to any further negativity at that point.
  • Listen and ask your friends and family what they already know and feel about LGBTQ+ people. Both as a starting point for them to have a discussion about the transition; as well as to help break down stereotypes about being transgender.
  • Reassure them that you are still you--being transgender is simply one more thing about you and that there is no one way that all LGBTQ+ people must be and act.
  • Think of this as a lifelong conversation, not a one-time deal. Your friends and family's thoughts, feelings, and questions will continue over time and may change throughout the transition. This month they might not care, next month they might be upset, next year they may have lots of questions.
  • Make sure you have the support you need before and during the coming out process. Facebook has a plethora of groups dedicated to supporting transgender and gender non-conforming people. Just search "transgender support group" (or any variation of your specific circumstance, like "coming out transgender," "coming out MTF," or "transgender youth support") and find a group that you think will work for you.
  • A huge mile marker in the coming out process is when you are able to move from surviving to thriving. One way you'll know you are thriving is when you are able to give support back to other transgender people in the community. Whether that means volunteering at your local LGBTQ center or leading a discussion group or donating to a transgender organization, you'll feel positively connected to others (and more secure in your identity) when you are able to give back and lift others up.

Remember, there is no "right" way to come out as transgender. While these tips and tools can help guide you, only you can decide what is best for you! Find additional resources at TLC.com/TransitionResources. Or visit the website for the Family Equality Council to learn more.

Watch Lost in Transition on TLC on Sundays at 10/9c.

Check out these other useful guides for coming out as trans: