• Stephanie Ashton

Mountains

Biffy Clyro, Only Revolutions, 2009


This is part one of a two-part blog on Coming Out as Non-binary or Transgender. In this post I will share the kindest advice gathered from the internet and refined into something easy to digest. Indeed, upon reading this blog it would seem so easy to Come Out that it is surprising everyone even remotely non-binary doesn't just announce it to the world. Or at least, that was my conclusion when I read the array of encouraging advice available online.


In the second blog I will then leave the safe haven of generic advice and share my lived experience. I will share what went well, the challenges, and what has not gone so well. It is not my intention in the second blog to throw cold water on the kind advice in part one, but rather to present real life experience of what happens when you put that advice into action.


In truth, it has taken many months to write this blog. It would not have been appropriate to present uneducated opinions as guidance for such an important, deeply emotive and life defining moment. Indeed, I even felt the need to research the subject in detail and in doing so, I will try to stay broadly aligned with the excellent guidance from support organisations such as Stonewall UK. Of course, it would have been easier if I could have studied this mysterious subject with others in an academic setting. Sadly, I was not accepted into Hogwarts and so was left to study alone. See Joanna, see what you have done? Your exclusionary views make life so difficult.


Studious Stephanie. It's what I am known for

So before I begin, a few caveats on this blog. For simplicity I shall often refer to transgender people as being the target audience for this post. However, most of the concepts that I will present apply to transgender and non-binary people, and some concepts even apply to other people in the LGBTQ+ spectrum. As my respected readers, I will leave you to judge what does and does not apply to yourself.


I recognise I have quite a mixed audience so have tried to write this post with consideration to both the giver of the message and possible receiver(s) in the form of friends, family, and other bodies you will most certainly come into contact. I would also add that this blog is United Kingdom centric, and my advice may or may not be so relevant in other cultures and parts of the world.


What is the big deal?


Coming out can be a frightening experience for anyone in the LGBTQ+ community but revealing oneself as transgender carries its own unique set of threats. I frequently receive questions from people in a state of anxiety about revealing themselves and the possible consequences. And for good reason.


In the United Kingdom in 2022 our society can just about cope with the concept that being Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual is primarily about sexual orientation, even if some elements of society do not agree with it. However, there is a still a big gulf in available information and understanding about what it means to be transgender or non-binary. It is only a minority of people that understand the driver for transgender people is primarily about identity, what we believe we are, and how we choose to express / present ourselves. Transgender rights have also been politicised in a negative manner in recent years and our right to exist even seems to have become a debate. As a result, the outcome of revealing oneself as transgender to family, friends and employers is a frightening and largely unknown quantity.

For this reason, it is generally not recognised as good practice for the man of a house to turn up at the family home one Thursday evening and declare to all present that he now identifies as a cat girl. Of course, the naughty side of me would love to watch Star Kitty Flufftail dress-up and parade around the living room in front of the family, but then I don't have to live with the consequences. Yes, I know Hugo Weaving did something similar in the video for I love the nightlife, but that is not real life, okay?


Maybe not the best choice of attire for coming out to the family...

In the real world, coming out normally follows a period of terrifying anxiety, stress, possibly depression and second guessing yourself. Everyone who thinks about coming out will undoubtedly have thought about everything from who and what they are, through to how other people might react. Even when family or friends already know you like to present in a manner not conforming to your gender at birth, it is a completely different proposition to now declare that you want to live full time as either transgender or non-binary. As mentioned, not many people understand the difference between sexuality, identity, and expression and it can all get mixed up when coming out.


So, the rest of this blog is focused on providing a summary of the very best advice available online regarding Coming Out as either transgender or non-binary. I will start with the subject of managing yourself, before moving onto preparing your message, managing the big reveal, and how to interact with the different people you will need to tell.


Self-Acceptance


Before deciding to communicate to others that you are anything other than strictly binary there is another step that must come first; you need to communicate and accept the truth of who you are to yourself. I know this sounds trite, but it is important to reach a place of self acceptance before attempting to tell anyone else about it.


It is impossible to take on the task of looking for acceptance from others if, within your own mind, you are undecided and still flip flopping between “will I - wont I.” You need to be sure in yourself. Because the message you are about to transmit CANNOT be taken back and will never be forgotten by those you share it, even if you try and backtrack in the future.


When it comes to trying to achieve a position of self acceptance there are many sources of support, but I will cut to the chase and advise that you to get a good councillor or therapist. These people are trained to help others in a structured, thoughtful, and unemotional manner. Engaging trained professionals should always be the starting point where you have access to them.


Coming out is a serious business. Look serious Steffie...

Of course, you could read up online or talk with other transgender people in the community to try and understand yourself a little better. My only caveat with these sources of information is that online information can be general in nature, of questionable data origin, or can in some cases gravitate towards an extreme viewpoint. Equally, looking for advice inside the LGBTQ+ community, even from well-intentioned people, can hardly be considered unbiased and so you need to consider carefully what people share with you before taking it as fact.


Regardless, if you are at the point of complete abject misery and/or potentially thinking about hurting yourself over the issue, then it is time to get help and start communicating with those who support you in life. Genuine triggers for needing to Come Out may include:

  • Inability to go on pretending or lying about who you are and what you want to do

  • Inability to think about anything other than transition, manifesting as a loss of focus at home / at work, frequent bad tempers, or persistent black moods

  • Whether or not hiding is more, or less, stressful than being open about it

  • The realisation that you are just happier living life as non-binary or in the other gender

  • Creating distance from your male/female life including hobbies, pursuits, and friends. Sometimes referred to as unconscious cancelling, where people start to abandon those aspects of their life least aligned with what they want to be

  • Thinking about hurting yourself or 'ending it' rather than going on as you are

Now let us speak candidly. The older you are the more difficult it will be to justify in your own mind that coming out is the right answer. The main reason for this is that life has happened to you. There may be partners, children, grandchildren and many friends and work contacts in your life who have built up a perception of you, based on trust and many years of experience. Is it worth potentially damaging all of that by Coming Out?


There are many mature crossdressers, for example, who are certain that they are transgender and, given another opportunity, would transition. However, for a mature male, it might make little sense to suddenly declare themselves as Miss Angelica Poppy Flower and undermine what everyone in their life has come to think about them over a lifetime of experience.


Considerate people with a thought for others will therefore weigh up the risks when considering how they will proceed. After all, being transgender is only one slice in the pie-chart of life and it is important to consider what might happen to all the other slices when you come out.


So, the key takeaway from this section is that you need to reach a place of self-acceptance. This is best achieved with professional therapy or counselling if you have doubts. Before even thinking about making any big statements, you need to think through if it fits with everything else that you want to do in your life, and if not, what the consequences might be.


What does self acceptance fell and look like? Glowing inside and happy outside

Prepare for the discussion


Coming out as transgender is a very personal decision and different for everyone. Some people choose to come out before they medically or socially transition, and some choose to come out after or during the process. Some may choose to come out to different people at different times, or to not come out to some people at all. The reality of life is that only the person Coming Out can decide what is right for them based on their own unique set of life constraints, desires, and state of gender dysphoria.


What does matter regardless of the audience is preparing yourself for the conversation and taking control of the communication. What do I mean by that? Well, for anyone like me who has had hostile media training, you will know it is important in any bad situation to ensure you lead on the story before anyone else has a chance to fill the void with speculation, or downright lies. This follows the age-old adage; it is always better to tell the truth rather than leaving the truth to be discovered by others.


Therefore, the smart people in this community do not lie to friends, family, and employers for years on end. The smart people come out and are open about what and who they are. Of course, not everyone you tell is going to love receiving this communication, so do not be naïve. I cannot recall hearing of many cases where partners cart-wheeled down the street with delight at hearing that their beloved wanted to change gender.


However, relationships are built on trust and no secrets. Therefore, being open about who you are and telling why you feel the need to change gives you the best chance of maintaining your relationship in the long-term. It also avoids having to react to a hostile situation on the run, should your partner discover the truth of your gender identity for themselves. Only criminals and closet-whatever's think that they can get away with it forever, but that is simply lying to yourself. Coming Out may not ensure happiness ever after but it does stop you being confronted with the truth at a time and place you are not prepared for that discussion.


How could I possibly keep a secret from you? I am too sweet.

Now the next section will provide some homework for those intending to Come Out. Before making any communications to anyone, it is always a good idea to think through answers to the question that you will most likely receive. This will enable you to respond successfully and with confidence. The common thread of questions will focus on:

  • How do you know you are non-binary or transgender?

  • What is your sexuality?

  • Do you plan to physically change your body?

  • Will you change your name, identity, or present in a manner different to birth gender?

  • Have you thought about this change may impact other people in your life?

  • Will you be happy, healthy and have the same opportunities in life?

Based on these topics it is therefore a good idea to prepare to talk to the following points:

  • Be able to explain the difference between identity, expression, sexuality, and attraction (see diagram below)

  • What it will mean for you to live in your current environment after coming out

  • What transition process you plan to undertake, if known. This could include name, identity, or physical bodily changes

  • How you will manage those aspects of your life particular to your own situation i.e., children, dependants, employer, what to tell (or not tell) other people in your life

  • Be able to share examples of other transgender/LGBTQ+ people who have gone on to happy and productive lives

  • Be able to provide links to useful reference material online to help others come to terms with what it means for you to be non-binary or transgender



Now, you may not be able to provide full answers to all these questions but at least have a thought in mind about how you may respond. When I came out, everyone asked me all sorts of questions and they seemed to be under the impression I had a detailed plan mapped out before me. Well darlings, I can assure you I was no font of knowledge, nor did I have some big life plan drawn out. But I had done my homework so that I could at least look as it I knew what I was talking about.


A quick recap for this section then. If you prepare to field the obvious questions in a calm and confident manner, then the person you are communicating with will eventually accept the truth of it – even if in some cases they never reach the point of being happy with the outcome.


Find Support


If you decide to come out as non-binary or transgender, but are unsure how people might react, then it might be an idea to seek out support. Where this is the case, I would again advise opting for a councillor or one of the many transgender support groups across the country. The reason for this approach is that councillors and support groups are trained, structured, and non-judgemental. This is a great place to start so that you can think things through without any stress of being revealed or judged.


You could also consider talking with other transgender folk via the vast array of online media options. My only caution here is that whilst these people may have useful information, they are not trained to help others, may not help you in a structured way, and in most cases are carrying their own emotional baggage. In most cases, they struggle to be objective about matters of gender.


So, if you find a support group, a transgender friend with balanced views, or a network of friends who are kind and helpful then that is great – well done. Now its time for the tricky bit – telling people you are something other than what they all perceive you to be!


One example of NHS transgender support groups around the UK. A quick search online may help find a similar group near you

Telling Family and Friends


Most people worry about how their friends and family will react when they come out. This is because relationships with these people matter the most and it is a worry that coming out will put these important relationships at risk. Also, the reaction from friends and family will be emotive, in one direction or the other. It is simply not possible to act indifferently when a best friend or member of your immediate family tells you that they plan to change gender.


So, the general advice is to figure out the people or person in your life that you think will be the most supportive and come out to them first. You can often get a sense of how friendly someone is to transgender people by watching how they react when the topic comes up in conversation.


Secondly, decide how you plan to communicate with them. Some people respect face to face discussion, whereas some might prefer written communication. Regardless of the method chosen, telling someone over text message with no context is not brilliant and likely to leave you with a situation you can neither judge nor manage.


Online guidance for Coming Out often suggests telling a member of family first and that is fantastic if these people in your life are likely to be supportive. The standard advice is to choose a sensible time and place for a discussion where there is little chance of being interrupted mid reveal. If it is possible, it is always best to choose a moment when life is calm, people you want to speak too are not stressed and you have time for a proper discussion and answer the many questions that will follow. In summary, it is not recognised good practice to Come Out at Uncle Franks funeral.


Turns out that wearing a gold sequin dress to Uncle Franks funeral is also regarded as a faux pas

When it comes to how to manage the communication it may feel right to Come Out when members of family and/or friends are gathered. I am not suggesting you arrange a formal meeting, but opportunity may arise to tell everyone in one go. The major advantage of coming out to a group is that you can answer the many questions you will receive once to a wide audience, avoiding repeating yourself again and again.


But you know, for most normal human beings the idea of Coming Out to a group is terrifying, to say the least. You may instead choose to talk to people on a one-to-one basis. The advantage of this approach is that if you get a bad reaction, you can reflect on your messaging but equally, if someone is very supportive then it will help build your confidence and they may even assist you in communicating your message to others.


For mature people coming out later in life who are married or living with someone it is a good idea to have the decency to tell your partner first. If it goes badly, you have not exposed yourself to the world and can hopefully manage that situation before proceeding. However, if it goes well, then your partner may assist you in how best to approach and tell others.


When it comes to delivering your message, it is a good idea to try and knock off as many of the possible questions in your opening salvo. I am not suggesting that you write a speech fit for the House of Commons, but it is a good idea to try and cover the main points of interest to avoid getting into a very mixed-up discussion.


In terms of how you behave, try to remain calm and explain yourself as best you can. If those who care about you react negatively, do not assume the worst. People closest to you may react negatively because they’re scared for you or have no concept that transgender people can lead a happy and healthy life. For this reason, if friends and family express concern for your future happiness, it might be appropriate to share with them examples of decent transgender people online who are leading happy and productive lives. There are plenty of good examples…but one does not like to blow one’s own trumpet.


Out and enjoying life. Family members can worry that being transgender may lead to an unhappy life but it does not have to be the case

Irrespective, your family might be shocked, worried or find it difficult to accept the message at first. Remember, their first reaction is not necessarily how they’ll feel forever, they might just need a bit of time to process what you’ve told them. I always remind people who are coming out that, in most case, we have been grappling with the truth of our true self for many months and possibly years. Therefore, it is to be expected that others may need time to reflect on how they feel about you, and what it means for your relationship going forward. For that reason, do not react with anger to any initial negative feedback and back away to give people time to think over what you have told them.


Equally, don’t assume that everyone will react negatively. Some people may surprise you with their openness and acceptance. Although you can’t predict what people will say or do, when you tell a close friend that you trust, the chances are they’ll be pleased you’ve shared something so personal with them. Many people who come out describe how being so open with those closest to them has in fact made their relationships stronger than ever.


Finally, a comment on names and identity. It goes without saying that those that have known us the longest are the people most likely to find it difficult to adjust to a new name or change of pronouns. It is important not to get angry if friends and family make mistakes when referring to you by name or gender. Instead, gracefully gloss over such trivialities if no harm was intended. If you feel that you really must respond to mis-gendering, then do so in a calm and concise manner.


Work


When thinking about Coming out in the workplace, a different set of worries and considerations may apply. You may have concerns about whether revealing your identity will impact career prospects, make you a point of ridicule or worse still, result in loss of employment.


Well, the good news is that bodies such as Stonewall UK have gathered evidence that people perform better when they can be themselves. This means if you work in the UK there are a high number of major corporations and employers, across many sectors, who understand that it is in their best interest to support you to be open and honest about who you are when at work. Employers with these values often promote openness through headings such as Equal Opportunities or Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion (DE&I).


Employers with a clear DE&I agenda may even have dedicated policies for transgender people and where there is none in place, there is nothing stopping you from promoting the need for such a policy to ensure fair treatment. These organisations will also typically maintain LGBTQ+ networks which you can join for support and to meet other people like yourself at work. You may be quite surprised how big these networks are in a modern-day company.


Dressed for first day in the office as me

In terms of legal rights, the Equality Act 2010 bans discrimination and harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender reassignment (gender identity) in employment and vocational training. This includes direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, and victimisation, and you are protected throughout the entire employment relationship, from recruitment to dismissal. You can read more about these protections on Stonewall UKs information pages under Discrimination at Work.


So, the only remaining issue is how you think other colleagues at work may treat you. Depending upon your relationship with colleagues and size or your company, you may choose to adopt communication strategies like those used for friends and family. Alternatively, in a large organisation it is common practice to develop a communication strategy with your line management and human resources department, to ensure fair treatment and open and transparent communication that support both you as the individual and your colleagues.


For those seeking employment with organisations that maintain a strong DE&I agenda, it is a good idea to review who is on Stonewalls Diversity Champions Programme. This is Britain’s leading best-practice employers' forum for sexual orientation and gender identity equality, diversity, and inclusion. You can see which organisations are a member of this programme and explore the Top 100 Employers for LGBT people 2021.


Doctors, Police, and other Authorities


In the UK physically transitioning begins at your local General Practitioner (GP). They can refer you to the Gender Identity Clinic to start the process. Coming out in this respect can be a lengthy process involving lots of different specialists, doctors, nurses, physiatrists, endocrinologists and maybe even surgeons. Regardless of who you meet, you can expect to be treated with respect and dignity within the framework set by the General Medical Council (GMC) ethical guidance. Guidance for ethical care of transgender patients can be found here https://www.gmc-uk.org/ethical-guidance/ethical-hub/trans-healthcare.


When it comes to achieving your goals with the medical profession, it is vitally important that you change tack from when you came out to family and friends. Doctors are not there to be your friend or tell you what is in your mind. There is no emotional attachment. Therefore, when coming out to the medical profession, and you have a clear intent to transition, it is important that you are business-like and clearly articulate your own mind regarding what you WILL do. If you Come Out to your doctor expressing uncertainty or appear confused, you can expect to be classified as needing just about anything other than joining the already lengthy waiting list for the Gender Identity Clinic (GIC).


When it comes to dealing with Police or other law enforcement, it is vitally important to state your name as it appears on the national register of births, irrespective of current state of transition or how you may be currently presenting. Using a ‘false’ name with law enforcement is a criminal offence and be mindful that if you have not completed a deed poll and changed your name officially, you must state your birth name in all communications with law enforcement.


"What is my name Officer? Oh you know me silly; you are my top follower on instagram."

Where can I find support?


There is a vast array of support online and in the local community. Specific to the United Kingdom, the following organisations can provide support and I note them here because I have personal knowledge that they are good and trusted organisations. This is not an exhaustive list so please remember that you may well be able to find other resources closer to home.

  • www.gires.org.uk Gender Identity Research and Education Society provides information for trans people, their families and the professionals who care for them.

  • http://genderedintelligence.co.uk/ Gendered Intelligence work predominantly with the transgender community and those who impact on transgender lives. They particularly specialise in supporting young transgender people aged 11-25.

  • www.depend.org.uk Offering free, confidential advice, information and support to all family members, spouses, partners and friends of transsexual people in the UK.

  • www.gendertrust.org.uk The Gender Trust supports all those affected by gender identity issues.

  • www.scottishtrans.org The Scottish Transgender Alliance works to improve gender identity and gender reassignment equality, rights and inclusion in Scotland.

  • www.clareproject.org.uk The Clare Project is a self-supporting group based in Brighton and Hove open to anyone wishing to explore issues around gender identity.

  • www.northernconcord.org.uk Northern Concord is a Manchester based transvestite, transgendered and transsexual support and social group.

  • www.translondon.org.uk TransLondon is a discussion/support group for all members of the trans community, whatever their gender identity.

  • www.transgenderwales.bravepages.com Supports transgendered people in Wales.

  • www.transgenderni.com Supports transgendered people in Northern Ireland.

  • http://ntpola.com/ The National Trans Police Association exists primarily to provide support to serving and retired Police Officers, Police Staff and Special Constables with any gender identity issue.

  • gender-matters.org.uk Wolverhampton based, Gender Matters provides a comprehensive programme of practical support, counselling, advice and information.

  • www.inclusiveemployers.co.uk The UK’s leading inclusion and diversity experts, working with employers to create inclusive workplaces.

  • www.equalityhumanrights.com The Equality and Human Rights Commission seeks to identify and tackle areas where there is still unfair discrimination or where human rights are not being respected and to act as a catalyst for change. The EHRC also provide statutory guidance on the Equality Act for employers, which can be found here: http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/private-and-public-sector-guidance www.blgbt.org Supports the LGBT community in Birmingham.


Final Remarks


In this blog I have presented the best advice on Coming Out from the many sources that I found online. I hope that this may prove of use to anyone thinking of taking this big step in their life. In the next blog we will get down and dirty on my own real-life experience and it is my hope it will give others a better idea of what may happen if you decide to Come out.


Steffie

xx