How Do I Come Out as Trans or Nonbinary?

6 min read
Source: Courtesy of Alex Stitt

They are flying the rainbow peace flag in Florence, Italy. People make themselves visible around the world.

Source: Courtesy of Alex Stitt

There’s no right or wrong way to come out. Some wait decades until they’re ready or until they’re in an accepting social environment.

Some open up to a trustworthy few and camouflage around everyone else. Some tell everyone the moment their egg cracks. Some reject the very notion of coming out altogether since we shouldn’t have to disclose our identity any more than we should hide it. As always, it’s a very individual process; context is only everything.

Coming out to someone supportive is called a soft disclosure.1,2 No matter how awkward or vulnerable you feel, you already know they’re in your corner. Soft disclosures are a great way to bolster your self-worth and support network.

They’re also a good warm-up for the various hard disclosures.1,2 It feels like a gamble if you don’t know how someone will react. If speaking your truth will impact your relationship somehow, you’re entering rocky territory. And if the odds of acceptance are low, or you know you’ll be rejected, then that’s a very hard disclosure indeed.

If you need to speak your truth, consider the when and where, allotting plenty of time in a safe environment to say what you need to say. When possible, get some backup, like one true friend or even your therapist, as there can be a lot of difficult emotions before, during, and after a big disclosure.

But most of all, affirm the effort over the outcome.

It’s easy to fall into an anxious or judgmental mindset, fixating on success or failure, so validate your values at every step. If you value honesty, you can hold onto your truth even if someone else doesn’t understand it.

If you value courage, every trial run counts, even if it takes ten tries to get the words out. And if you value authenticity, it’s OK to be uncertain, as gender exploration is authentic curiosity, full of sincere questions seeking sincere answers.

You’ll undoubtedly encounter cognitive dissonance, not because you’re split between good or bad, but because you have more than one set of personal values. Safety values stem from your self-preservation instinct, while self-actualization values cheer on personal growth.1

It’s important to balance both sets with self-compassion and an honest risk assessment to ensure you’re physically, emotionally, socially, and occupationally safe during an emergent growth process.

But the big question is how does one come out?

The obvious answer is however you need, but figuring that out can be tricky, so let’s look at some value-congruent ways people have come out before.

The Slow Reveal: If you value privacy, independence, and personal boundaries, you may prefer a slow reveal since there is no big splash or “official” coming out moment. Instead, you live your life and let other people figure it out, or not, as the case may be.

While a slow reveal does grant you more time to explore your gender in private, people may continue to misgender you if they’re not informed. In this case, the reveal is very casual, responding calmly when people finally notice.

The Correction: Sometimes, it can be easier to correct someone at the moment than to rehearse what you’re going to say. This often looks like one of those “um, actually” statements updating your pronouns. This kind of disclosure may feel more natural if you value spontaneity, factual honesty, or thinking on your feet.

Though waiting for others to bring things up is passive, you won’t have to wait long since people use gender-based language every day.

The Daisy-Chain: If you’d rather get ahead of things, you can daisy-chain a support network by having private one-on-ones with your supportive friends and family. This is time-consuming, but it’s great if you value friendship, compassion, and trust.

These soft disclosures also give you plenty of practice to affirm yourself out loud. Link friends together if you can by hanging out or playing games online, as this will help integrate your community.

The Press Release: Much like the old town crier nailing a proclamation to a message board, social media allows you to get it all over and done with. This may be optimal if you value control and clear communication, as you get to select who sees your post and choose your words carefully.

Remember that posting online doesn’t avoid in-person discussions, so the order of operation matters. Would you rather build an offline support network before you post publicly or begin online and segue to in-person conversations, as needed?

The Meeting: Celebratory meetings resemble a party with hugs and champagne. Vulnerable meetings look like family therapy. Hostile meetings are a shouting match. Awkward meetings make grandma spit out her champagne on the Thanksgiving turkey.

There are a lot of group dynamics to consider, but you may choose to convene a meeting if you value family, togetherness, and belonging. One of the benefits is that you get to bring as many allies as you want like a friend to hold your hand or a therapist to keep the peace. You can also bring notes, write a speech, or wing it.

The Resolve: Sometimes, holding onto your authenticity can feel like an act of defiance, especially during hard disclosures. The resolve is simply this: “I shall be authentic, come what may.”

As always, it’s important to keep yourself safe from harm, and for many conflict-avoidant people, this kind of resolve is a big no, and that’s perfectly OK. Yet, for those who value radical honesty, determination, and direct communication, it may be more important to be honest and lose an unsupportive friend or family member than to maintain an unhealthy relationship.

The Reboot: Some people opt to move on instead of coming out. If you value adventure, rebirth, and severance, relocating to a new place and introducing yourself anew may be easier. Many try this when they go to college or leave their parent’s house. While this sidesteps people using your dead name (since no one knows it), focusing wholly on the present doesn’t address what to do if and when people from your past show up.

All of the Above: The goal is to reach a point of social safety and self-affirmation that you no longer have to worry about disclosing your gender identity. Yet between here and there, you may use all these methods, albeit at home, work, or school.

Remember that sharing your authenticity is for you more than anyone else, so don’t pressure yourself. Disclosure isn’t a finish line; it’s an ongoing process. Yes, communicating your labels and pronouns is a huge milestone, but authenticity is tiered with vulnerability, and there’s so much more to share when you’re ready.

For now, try connecting with online support groups who understand what you’re going through and check out more disclosure guides from the Trans Youth Equality Foundation, the Trevor Project, and Planned Parenthood.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

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