Everyone reacted to me as coming out as transgender differently. I briefly touched on this in my post about coming out, but I wanted to go into more detail about those reactions, rather than the process itself. Each reaction can be grouped into one or more of a few categories: excitement, questioning, doubt, indifference, and turning it back on themselves. I can’t say that one group of reactions is better than another, because they all have their positives and negatives.
The best example of excitement came from my two best friends. I really wish I still had that conversation archived in my Discord direct messages, but I cleared it out in a haphazard cleaning of my inbox. At the time I came out to them, I was still questioning, but the whole conversation was positive and focused upon my well being. We talked about how long I’ve been questioning, about the signs they saw looking back, about where I was going from there.
I love talking to people who are excited about my transition. It’s extremely validating to hear that someone is taking this new information and using it to create a better more accurate picture of who I am as a person. The downside is that it often comes with awkward questions that I don’t necessarily know the answer to, or how to answer even if I do. It can also be frustrating, because someone that excited and eager to dig through my past for signs can often find signs that I never thought of, and don’t necessarily agree with. Early in the questioning and transition phases excitement can also be hard to hear because it has this strange affirmation that I was trans and should transition, when I wasn’t even so sure of it myself yet.
Questioning is probably the hardest category to deal with, largely because every time you come out to someone new there’s some amount of questioning. The questions can often feel like they’re doubting and questioning your identity, even if they’re just questions to better understand. It’s also the category that most often comes from people not familiar with LGBT, and especially transgender, issues. It can be exhausting to answer the same questions over and over again, every time you come out, and often made me wish that people would simply accept that I am a woman, and leave it at that.
Beyond the very basic “what does being transgender mean?” questions can range from benign to extremely personal. The specific question that I like the least is about surgery. My parents, and work, both asked about it. Getting it from my parents were understandable, but work was a bit awkward. They were really asking if I needed to take time off for anything, which I get, but it was still an unexpected question to be asked. Another unexpected question was when I was talking to a fertility doctor about sperm freezing, and he was very quick to drop the comment that he’d be more than happy to cut my balls out, in just as shocking and blunt phrasing. Despite the bluntness and awkwardness surrounding many of the questions that can come up as part of coming out, at least questions show that the person asking cares. Even if it’s concern or disbelief or doubt that’s fueling the questions.
Which brings me to the next category: indifference. Somehow indifference is simultaneously the best and worst reaction to get from someone. It often comes with comments such as “You do you” or “whatever makes you happy” or “you’re still the same person to me.” Objectively, those are all the correct reactions to someone coming out as transgender. Unfortunately, they also come with a side of being very anticlimactic. I may be the same person, but so much about me and my identity changed with the revelation that I am transgender. To me, it feels like it’s a huge, life changing event. I want the reactions to coming out to be as important. That being said, my gender identity truly shouldn’t affect anyone other than myself.
Most of my coworkers fell into the indifferent category. The hardest coming out that I did was to them, though that is more because of being the last people I came out to and it happened 3 months into HRT. Also, because I spend far more time with them than I do almost anyone else. 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. My career was dependent on it going well, and stereotypically at least IT isn’t one of the most accepting nor diverse careers.
The reaction that I find is the actual worst one, is when it gets turned back to themselves. “What does this mean to me?” often gets asked. It sounds extremely selfish. Why should my identity affect anyone other than myself? It’s an understandable reaction, but one that I really wish would never happen. Coming out takes a lot of courage, and to have the first words in reaction to it not being about the person coming out is terrible. When it happens to me, my first reaction is “oh god, I made someone else uncomfortable” and immediately retreat. It makes me want to forget I ever said anything, and return to my nice, safe, comfortable closet.
This is the reaction that I got when I initially came out to my wife, and to be fair my coming out as a woman did have an affect on her. It meant that we were in a gay relationship. My coming out caused her to question her own sexual identity. Ultimately, that is part of what broke our relationship. Still, I wish that the initial reaction to coming out was more supportive. The rest of the discussion about fears and worries and what it meant to her could have come later.