The three C’s: Be clear, compassionate, and confident.
Clear – Be direct. Explain as much as you’d like about what it means to be trans. I advise being concise and directive. Offer things the other person can do with the new information such as the proper pronouns or new name. “I am transgender which means that while I was assigned female, and I actually identify as male. Please call me he/him/his pronouns!” I always make sure to add the instructions because often folks are immediately wondering, “Okay, so now what? What am I supposed to do?” So I encourage you to tell them what to do with the information. If you don’t want them to do anything or change anything, say that! I almost always tell people, “You don’t need to do anything with this information. Nothing between us needs to change, I just wanted to tell you because it’s an important part of who I am!”
Compassionate – It took me 18 years to figure out I’m trans, l can give someone more than 18 seconds to figure out what it means to them. As the process unfolds, recognize that they might not understand, and that’s okay. In my opinion, love is far more important than complete understanding. I encourage folks to think of this with an analogy: I don’t understand multivariable calculus. I never have and never will. But that doesn’t make multivariable calculus nonexistent, its theorems any less proved, or the people who study it any less valid. It just means I don’t get it. Being transgender is far less complex than calculus in my opinion, but you still don’t have to understand everything about a trans person to love, support, and stand by them.
Confident – How you present yourself in these scenarios can influence how someone receives you. In my experience, the more confidence I show, the more likely the person is to receive me with the same confidence. I recognize this is often far easier said than done, so I recommend practicing beforehand. I wrote letters to many folks I came out to before coming out to them to organize and practice what I wanted to say. Sometimes I practiced by reading it aloud to myself or a mirror or a friend. In my most nervous moments, I read the letter in to person to which I was coming out in person. It’s okay if you can’t figure out how to be confident. Just try your best. You can also name, “This is a really hard conversation for me to have, so bare with me as I get through what I want to say.”
I also always invite folks to ask questions if they are curious. I think that this can often very helpful. It allows people to feel like this isn’t something strange or a “red-zone”/dangerous topic – it’s just another conversation. But if you do open up the floor for questions, you must be aware that people don’t always understand. Many folks are very ignorant and feel like they have no prior reason to understand or know anything about trans* people or related topics. You might have to educate them and realize they’re not always (although, sometimes they might be) trying to be rude or mean. They just don’t get it. And with that, maintaining a kind and assertive attitude is crucial (at least in my experience.) If you start attacking them or get super angry or defensive, they’re going to shut down and not hear you and you’ll lose the opportunity to educate them. However, you do not have to let them ask you questions. You have every right to refuse to answer or ask them not to ask you. If you do this, I would encourage you to point them to other resources so that they can educate themselves somewhere.
Lastly, time is key. People need time to process information you give them, especially if it conflicts with their previous view of you and of the world. You have taken (most likely) a long time to think about your gender and your own identity and how you see yourself, so give them some time to think and to process. Yes, some people will never understand and some people are just straight up assholes, excuse my language. And you can’t change everyone. But time does heal a lot of wounds and it helps a lot of people understand.
Visit this resource page for a myriad of resources for dealing with parents.
A few other tips: I often recommend telling your parents that this is something big in your life. Present it with confidence and security and happiness – you have discovered a part of your identity and that is really fantastic. Knowing yourself is really incredible and you trust them enough to share it with them. Tell them this – tell them that you are sharing this pivotal moment in your life with them and you really want them to be a part of your life, to share this amazing piece of your life with you. Parents don’t typically like to miss out on the good things in their kid’s life. So presentation can be key.
Show them videos of other trans people. Often times parents lead with fear and that’s why they respond poorly. They are afraid you are going to hurt yourself, that they’re going to do the wrong thing by letting you transition. They usually want to protect you and have a not-so-good way of showing it. So show them that it’s okay to be transgender. A lot of folks have told me that sharing either my 60 Minutes segment or my Olympic Channel feature have been helpful precursors to coming out to their parents. Check out this page for more videos of mine.
At school and with teachers…
I would recommend sitting down with a principal or head teacher or someone of that sort to help you talk through possible options. I think broad information dispersal is best – either by email or a teacher meeting. If you do not have a supportive teacher/principal, I would go to your GSA head or a nearby LGBTQ+ center to find someone to advocate for you. You are not alone. If a teacher or administrator is making you feel like you are wrong for being transgender, they are wrong, not you. It is their job to keep you safe so they can educate you and making space for your identity is absolutely part of keeping you safe.
With younger kids….
Be simple. Little kids often don’t really care much about your gender. They care about whether or not you like the same toys that they do and if you want to play with them. Of course, at some ages (5-8 or so) they are testing boundaries and might try to push your buttons at first (some little kids like to make fun of everything and do everything they’re told not to.) But for the most part, kids are quick to understand. They don’t have much experience or conception of reality to draw from and so you get to add to their concept of “normal.
This is what I say when I teach kindergarteners about gender and what it means to be transgender:
“When a baby is born, the doctors look at the baby’s private parts and if the baby has a penis, the doctor says, “It’s a boy!” and if the baby doesn’t have a penis, the doctor says, “It’s a girl!” Most of the time, the doctor is right. But sometimes, the doctor isn’t. Sometimes, girls have penises and boys don’t! And that’s okay. I am a boy who was born without a penis, so the doctor thought I was a girl. And when I was kid, everyone thought I was a girl. But after a while, I figured out that I’m not really a girl. I’m a boy!”
Kids will oftennod, understanding almost immediately. Usually the next question is if I like cheese or what color my skateboard is.