“Sexuality” – What is it?
Sexual identity and sexual orientation are part of what makes you who you are. Sexual orientation is your sexual preference for people of the same or opposite sex, or to both sexes. Sexual identity is the label that you might use to let others know who you are as a sexual being. Media portrayals on screen and other social media platforms reinforce a relatively consistent set of sexual and relationship norms, and the media rarely portray sexually responsible models. Sexuality is not just about sex, it is about your emotions, attractions and desires, and how you express these. Having sexual thoughts and feelings is a perfectly normal, healthy part of human life. This is true whether you are attracted to women, men, both or people who have a fluid gender. Some people are not interested in sex at all, and this is normal too.
“Coming out” is the term used by LGBT+ people to describe their experience of self-acceptance, openness and honesty about their LGBT+ identity and their decision to disclose this with others when and how they choose. There is no one prescribed way to come out.
Coming out can be a celebration of who you are, however, it’s not always easy. It can be a mixed ball of emotions and internal conflicts. Some individuals may experience challenges and difficulties when deciding to tell others about their sexuality and/or gender identity/expressions. LGBT+ people might fear rejection from their friends and family Sometimes people just struggle with the words to express themselves to their nearest and dearest. Others have the confidence to shout it out from the roof tops.
However, it is important to remember that everyone is unique and will come out in their own time and way. There’s no rush to make any major decisions. What’s important is that you feel comfortable within yourself. Being gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer or transgender is just one part of your true authentic self. It’s an aspect of your identity, but it doesn’t define your character, your humour or intelligence. You have hobbies, interests, ambitions, and beliefs, all which make you an amazing complex person.
Why Come Out?
Perhaps you have come to terms with your sexual orientation or gender identity, or maybe you are still thinking about it, it can be difficult dealing with all these big questions and concerns on your own. You may get to a point where you need to talk about it with someone, to get support or simply get it off your chest.
Coming out allows the person to develop as a whole individual, allows for greater empowerment, and makes it easier for an individual to develop a positive self-image. By coming out, the person is able to share with others who they are and what is important to them, rather than having to hide or lie about their identity. Coming out can also make it easier to connect with other LGBT+ people, giving a sense of community. Outlining the benefits of coming out is not meant to convince you to do so in any situation. Rather, thinking about some of the possible outcomes can clarify an individual’s decision.
Tips on Coming Out
If you are thinking of coming out, you may feel comfortable going through this process by yourself or you may like to draw on the experiences of other people. If you want someone in your corner during your coming out experiences, feel free to reach out to ScEEN in Kerry. We are available to help you through these tough questions directing you to appropriate referral services. Here are some helpful tips on coming out;
It is a good idea to prepare before you come out to a family member, friend or colleague. Remember, only come out when you feel ready. There’s no right or wrong way or time to come out to your friends or family. However, it’s a good idea to take time to think about what you want to say. People may worry about how their friends or family will react when they come out. They might be surprised, have lots of questions, not know what to say or maybe guessed already.
If you want to share this with a friend, choose a friend you think will be trustful and supportive. Think about how you’ll answer some of the things they might ask like, ‘how do you know? If a friend reacts badly, remember they might just need some time to absorb what you’ve told them.
Coming out when you’re arguing or angry isn’t a good idea. Some people tell their family face to face while others prefer to write a letter or send an email. Your family might be shocked, worried or find it difficult to accept at first. Remember, their first reaction isn’t necessarily how they’ll feel forever, they might just need a bit of time to process what you’ve told them. For most people, they feel a huge sense of relief and can look forward to the future.
“When I told a friend he said we already knew and he was just waiting for me to tell him. I’ve always had positive experiences, my family were okay, my Mom got over it in a week, my Dad was very accepting without even saying anything. Totally accepted by brothers and sisters. I know that I was lucky.”
Am I transgender?
Gender is traditionally, presented to us as either male or female, however, gender is a rich, broad spectrum that comes in numerous forms.
For many, expressing gender is unconscious. However, for those whose gender identity doesn’t match with that assigned to them at birth, unravelling and expressing it can be a difficult and complex thing. Lots of these individuals come to identify as “transgender ”, an umbrella term that describes a wide range of people who experience or express their gender in different, sometimes non-traditional ways.
Those of us who identify as transgender must make deeply personal decisions about when and even whether to disclose and be open about who we really are with ourselves and with others. We express that openness by being our full and complete selves among our friends and our families. Each of us takes on this challenge in our own way and time. Throughout the process of self-discovery, you should always be in the driver’s seat about how, where, when and with whom you choose to be open.
Being Open with Yourself
For those of us who may have been told that we might have a gender identity that differs from the body into which we were born, or that we might feel compelled to express our gender in ways that aren’t associated with our gender assigned at birth. That’s why so many of us are worried, confused and scared when facing these truths in ourselves. We can spend a lifetime trying to hide it, hoping that someday it might just simply go away.
There’s no right or wrong moment to be open with yourself. Some transgender people have long struggled to live the lives they think they’re supposed to live, rather than live the lives they know they were meant to live.
People come out during all stages of their life — whether they’re children, or in their teens, seniors, married, or even have children of their own.
Given the diversity among transgender people, there’s no one rule as to whether a person will or even should reveal this aspect of themselves to others. One thing we all have in common is that we take our first step by being open and truthful to ourselves.
Throughout the disclosure process, it’s common to feel the following:
Transitioning does not always mean getting medical treatment. By dressing in the preferred-gender clothing, adjusting mannerisms and speech, or requesting that friends and family address you with your preferred names and pronouns, transgender people can use non-medical options to live and experience their gender identities and expressions.
Others may wish to pursue medical treatment — hormone therapy, surgery or both — to align their bodies with the gender they know themselves to be.
However you decide to express your gender identity, transitioning can be a very public “outing.” It involves disclosing to family, friends, employers and healthcare providers. For most transgender people, transitioning by its very nature is not something that can be hidden from everyone.
When it comes to transitioning, a broad range of medical personnel, from psychologists and psychiatrists, to surgeons, endocrinologists and voice therapists may be consulted. It’s very helpful to find healthcare professionals who are experienced in serving transgender patients. You might find reaching out to a peer or support group helpful with this, as they will already have a handful of contacts for you.
Finding a Community
For the majority of us who identify as transgender, it is both important and helpful to find others who share similar emotions and experiences. Finding a community of peers can help us to feel less isolated and can answer questions we might have about their experiences and how they overcame similar obstacles.
There are countless LGBT+ support and social groups across the country, including TransKerry, a monthly support group based in Tralee. A list of available supports can be found in the Supports section of our website.
Deciding to Tell Others
Some transgender people who wish to disclose this truth about themselves to others reach a breaking point in their lives where it’s too difficult to hide who they really are. Whether it’s someone loaded with a feeling they have kept from their partner, or a young individual who doesn’t fit into the gender binary, transgender people often feel compelled to share their true selves in order to build stronger and more authentic relationships with themselves and those closest to them.
Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to live openly as a transgender person. It may not mean you have to be out at all times or in all places. You have the right and the responsibility to decide how, where, when and even whether to share your identity with others, based on what you feel is right for you.
Making a Disclosure Plan
Once you feel you are ready to share your feelings with someone, or even those first few people, give yourself time to prepare. Carefully think your options through of whom to approach, the right time to do so and how to do it. Ask yourself the following questions:
Who should I tell first?
You may find this to be a critical decision. Ideally you should speak to someone/people who you believe will be most supportive of you, as their support can help you feel more comfortable and even help you to progress by sharing with others. If you’re coming out at work, who is the point person, or who can be your champion? Your HR representative? A colleague or manager? Someone at another transgender, LGBT or social justice organization? Do your homework before deciding. Also, be aware news can travel quickly. If you’d prefer that the people you tell keep your news to themselves, make sure you let them know, and plan for the chance that someone you tell may let it slip. Don’t be surprised if someone, intentionally or not, shares your news with others before you have a chance to do it yourself.
Is this a Good Time?
Choosing the right time is completely up to you. Be aware of the mood, priorities, stresses and problems of the person/people you would like to come out to. If they are going through their own major life concerns, they may not be able to respond to your disclosure constructively.
Do I know what I want to say?
At the early stages of the coming out process, many people still have so many questions and are not ready to identify as transgender, or they may know they are transgender without knowing exactly what that means to them or to others. That is perfectly Okay. You may just want to tell someone that you’re asking yourself these questions. Even if you don’t yet have all the answers, your feelings and your safety are a priority. To get a better idea of what it is you want to say, try writing it down to help organise your thoughts.
Is it Safe to Come Out?
Your safety should always be a number one priority. If you have any doubts about your safety, carefully review your risks and options. Writing them out may prove to significantly help with this. Unfortunately, LGBT+ people can experience threat of harassment and violence, and some transgender people choose to disclose being transgender in a safe space with friends by their side to ensure their safety.
“I find the social interaction is the best thing, you need to be seen for who you are and be accepted for who you are, it’s just a connection . . . ‘When I’m on the beach now, I just think . . . I’m myself now and isn’t it beautiful.”
Having the Conversation
It’s common to want or hope for positive reactions from the people you tell, but that might not happen immediately. It may help for you to try and put yourself in their shoes and understand their likely reactions and potential questions.
The person to whom you disclose being transgender might feel:
- Uncertain what to do next
- Unsure how to react
You may find that you want to verbalize the range of feelings they might be having and reassure them that it’s Okay to ask questions. People will generally take their cues from you as to how they should approach things, so if you’re open and honest, you’re more likely to get openness and honesty in return. Appropriate and gentle humour can also go a long way to help ease anxiety for you and the person/people you’re talking to. Always remember to give them time. They may need some time to process this new information to understand you.
Telling Your Parents
Regardless of your age, you may be afraid that your parents will react negatively if you tell them that you are transgender. The good news is that many parents are able to come to a place of understanding. Some may never quite get it, but others may surprise you by becoming advocates themselves. However, if you are under 18 or financially dependent on your parents, consider this decision very carefully.
There are supports in Kerry for families of transgender persons, which can prove to be extremely helpful for both families and friends of transgender persons. TransParenCi runs in Tralee and is specifically for parents and families of transgender people. You can find more information on this in the Supports section of our website.
Some reactions you may want to prepare for:
- Some parents may react in ways that hurt. They may cry, get angry or feel embarrassed.
- Some parents will need to grieve over the dreams they’ve had for you before they see the new, more genuine life you are building for yourself.
- Some parents may say things like, “Well, you’ll always be a daughter to me, never a son.” Or they may be unkind about the way you express your gender. It may take time for them to get used to seeing you as you know you are.
- They may ask where they “went wrong” or if they did something to “cause this.” Assure them they did nothing wrong and didn’t cause you to be transgender.
- Some may think of being transgender as a sin or attempt to send you to a counsellor or therapist in hopes they can “change” you.
- Some parents or family members may already know or have an idea that you are transgender. For some, hearing your news may come as a sense of relief.
- Supportive or not, their initial feelings may not reflect their feelings over the long term. Keep in mind that this is big news and there’s no timetable for how long it takes parents to adjust.
Telling Partners and Spouses
One of the biggest reasons transgender people decide to not come out is down to the fear of how a partner or spouse will react. They wonder if their spouse will ask for a divorce or if their partner will suddenly stop loving them.
The good news is that love is hard to stop suddenly. But even a relationship built on the strongest foundations may confront insurmountable challenges when a partner discloses being transgender. In these cases, separation may be inevitable. A husband or wife may find it difficult to trust or have a romantic relationship with a partner who is transitioning. However, there are many others who discover that they can. More and more couples and families are staying together through transition, and coming out to those you love the most doesn’t have to lead to separation.
Before you decide to come out to a partner or spouse, it’s important to remember that they’ll need time and patience, just as you’d expect time and patience while working through your own feelings. Counselling can be extremely helpful to many couples, as can talking with other couples who have been through similar situations.
There’s no right or wrong way to have this conversation. Coming out to children can seem like a daunting task. Depending on their ages, you may be worried about them rejecting you or about their safety at school if their friends find out.
If you have a partner, spouse, ex-partner or ex-spouse who is involved in your children’s lives, you may want to have the conversation together. Or you might find that bringing a grandparent into the conversation could prove to be a helpful alternative. Your children may have many questions that they feel more comfortable asking someone else for fear that they’ll hurt your feelings. Older children, especially, may need more time to think about the news you’ve shared with them before they’re ready to talk. Family counselling sessions could be a great way to start a conversation. It may also be helpful by giving your children the ability to talk to other children of transgender parents can be enormously helpful.