Coming out as transgender

Dear Alice,

I want to become a male but I'm trapped in a female's body. I recently saw "Boys Don't Cry" and everything Teena felt I felt. Becoming a male would make me truly happy but I'm hopeless and desperate for a first step to take. I only cross dress in privacy and around my close confidants. My mother would die if she found out. Lately I have been feeling suicidal over my complete and dire unhappiness and uneasiness. PLEASE HELP ME!

—LOST gender

Dear LOST gender,

You may not realize this, but you just took a great first step by submitting your question. Thanks to movies such as Boys Don't Cry and other courageous efforts, people who are transgender, or who question their gender identity, are beginning to see themselves in the media—confirming that you're not alone and providing encouragement that resources are available. First, to address your suicidal feelings, please do talk to someone you trust! If you need immediate support, you can call or text the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386. When it comes to coming out (if you choose to do so), you can do that in your own way and time. Finding support systems along the way can help you feel more confident and help you manage any negative responses you may receive. 

It's important to remember that, even if you feel alone navigating your gender identity, there are many other people who have been in similar situations. You can also take comfort in knowing that there is no one “correct” way to be transgender. All of your feelings regarding your gender are valid ones and you can, if you do choose to transition, do so in whichever way feels best for you—be it through using new pronouns, trying out a different name, changing the way that you dress, or any other form of expression that feels congruent with your gender identity. 

A trusted friend or family member can be a good place to start; they can help you find resources and the support that you need. An additional next step may be to find supportive people to talk with about your feelings and interest in exploring your gender. These would be people who respect your identity and have a positive, open-minded attitude towards sexuality and gender as a whole. It's excellent that you have some close friends to support you through this search. It's important that you find individuals and services that are safe, accepting, supportive, and helpful to you. 

It's understandable that you're nervous about how your mom might react to your feelings. Many people have never had an opportunity to gather accurate information about gender and sexuality, and, in fact, may often fear things they don't understand. Through exploring your thoughts, feelings, and options with caring mental health professionals, health care providers, and other transgender individuals, you can figure out how and when to talk with your mom (as well as other family members and friends) about your feelings and decisions if and when you feel ready.

To begin a discussion with your mom, you may want to start by feeling out her reaction to some popular media with transgender themes. The movie Boys Don't Cry could act as a springboard to open your discussion. Based on your discussion, you may see how open she seems to be to the topic and whether or not it's something that is safe to discuss with her. 

These and other compelling stories may help your mom become more familiar and comfortable with the subject of gender identity, and allow you to further define your own feelings and experience. It is possible that it will take her some time to understand what it means to be transgender, especially if she hasn’t discussed gender identity in the past. With some additional opportunities to learn more, she may start to come around and be supportive. You may also come to the realization that she isn't a safe person to share this information with now or in the future. If that is the case, you may want to consider what repercussions there are for coming out to her, such as any financial, emotional, or other tangible support she may provide to you. It's also wise to consider both your physical and mental safety if you choose to come out, and ensure that you have a plan in place to keep yourself safe prior to telling her about your identity. 

Depending on where you live, there may be services in your area that are open to discussing cross dressing, transgender, and transsexual issues. Luckily, there are lots of organizations with websites and hotline phone numbers, which you can access from anywhere. Not only will they be able to provide you with a wealth of information, but they can also connect you with local services and organization chapters.

Some organizations to try include:

One of the services available to you online, or in person, is support groups. In these groups, you'll have the chance to meet and talk with other people like yourself who feel that their sex assigned at birth and the social gender norms that go along with it don't match with how they feel inside. You can learn more about the different ways people express their gender and sexuality, and where else they've turned for support and assistance. Giving and receiving encouragement from other people can go a long way in helping you to feel more content, and help you figure out what steps, if any, you want to take in regards to transitioning. Finally, remember that it's your decision to whom you come out. Your safety and comfort take priority; keeping your gender identity only to yourself and supportive people you trust doesn't make it any less real.

Take care of yourself and remember, it does get better.

Last updated Nov 11, 2022
Originally published Apr 07, 2000