If coming out doesn’t make us feel good, it isn’t worth it. We don’t owe our identities to anyone

Coming out

As a trans person, I come out almost daily.

Every time someone makes a comment about my appearance, I need to show my ID, I need to go to the doctor, I walk into a classroom, I connect with other people in my community, I disclose my identity. What that has taught me is that any coming out which doesn’t make us feel better about ourselves simply isn’t worth it.

The few times I heard of “coming out” while growing up, it was always presented as an unavoidable milestone in the life of every LGBT+ person, this one-off big event to look forward to while navigating excitement, anxiety, fear, impatience.

As a child, I always knew I was in some ways different from the other girls at my school. It was really hard to pinpoint why, since we shared lots of interests, but I kept feeling like an outsider.

It wasn’t until I was 13 years old, just a week before my birthday, that I found the labels to describe who I was.

My first impulse was denial. I wanted someone to tell me I was wrong, that no such thing existed. I was still holding the book where I read the word “transgender” for the first time when I called my boyfriend and I told him “I think I may be a man”.

He started telling me how ridiculous that sounded but I had already hung up. Even just saying those words out loud made me realise they were true, and I felt a rush of relief and joy I had never experienced before.

For me, and lots of other people, coming out is a way to tell yourself it’s true, it’s real, you’re valid. Being able to tell someone else about your label can make you feel finally free, and finally yourself.

What I didn’t expect was the anger that came after that, and the frustration. Being both gay and transgender, I know from experience that coming out can be a lot different when it comes to gender identity.

It’s not as simple as letting people in on your private life and talk about your partners, your love interests, your family. You have to change the way people see and perceive you. Whether it’s a new name, new pronouns, a new gender expression or a transition, there is a long-term social impact to take into account.

The reactions I struggled with the most were actually the ‘supportive’ ones

When I started coming out to my classmates and friends, it was mostly in secret. I knew my teachers would have told my parents, and I was afraid that would have put me in danger at home.

I come from a very small conservative town. We didn’t talk about LGBT+ topics, the few people who were out were always surrounded by rumours and gossip, and “gay” and “trans” were used regularly as slurs. That meant that anytime I would tell someone I was trans, gay, queer, I would need to explain what that meant.

Reactions were always mixed. They went from debating the existence of LGBT+ people, to threats, to laughs. But the ones I struggled with the most were actually the “supportive” ones: friends who told me they believed me but refused to call me Ramses or consider me a man until I either looked like one or had come out to everyone.

It was really hard for them to understand why I couldn’t just tell everyone easily, or how it could be a safety concern. The idea of being out to some people and in the closet in other scenarios was so unusual for them that they assumed I was lying. And for lots of years I believed that narrative as well: you’re either “in” or “out”.

Now, age 26, I’ve slowly managed to get out of that grey area. I take lots of pride in who I am, and in being visibly transgender. And it motivated me even more to challenge that narrative.

We don’t owe our identities to anyone, and we should never be forced to come out unless we truly want to.

Something that helped change things for me was when I started volunteering for Just like Us, the LGBT+ young people’s charity. As an ambassador, I speak in schools about LGBT+ allyship and therefore come out regularly to a classroom full of pupils.

The most common questions I often get in schools are: “When should I come out?”, “How did your parents react?” and “How do I come out to a homophobic or transphobic family?”

Most young people are really surprised to learn they don’t have to come out to anyone if they don’t feel safe doing so. They tend to believe they won’t be accepted by the LGBT+ community if they are not out to everyone, even if it’s at the risk of their wellbeing and safety.

As someone who has experienced being in danger because I’m trans, I try really hard to make them realise how much more important it is to take care of themselves and their mental health.

Coming out needs to be about the joy we get sharing our identity to others, letting them in our lives, having them learn more about us.

We don’t owe our identities to anyone, and we should never be forced to come out unless we truly want to.

And I really wish everyone – especially young trans people – will start seeing “coming out” as a celebration of our identity when you’re ready and with who you choose, rather than a necessary and painful step.