Family & Friends: Four Stages and Four Tips

Happy National Coming Out Day!

On this day last year, we explored and honored people who are gender diverse in each of their own unique places along their coming out journey in Outed Wear. Today, we shift the focus and address our family and friends.

If you have a partner, a brother, sister, parent, child, aunt, uncle, cousin, or friend, then you have coming out decisions! You, too, are in a coming out journey. Istar-Lev (2004) proposes four family emergence stages:

1)    Discovery and Disclosure: Your have recently learned that your friend or loved one does not identify as their birth-assigned gender. You may feel shocked and devastated.

2)    Turmoil: You may feel stress and conflict with your trans-identified loved one. Subsequently, you may either withdraw or engage in heated conversation over this matter.

3)    Negotiation: Determining that this matter will not disappear or change, you may begin deciding what aspects of this transition you are willing to adjust with and what limits you will set.

4)    Finding Balance: You find a way to integrate your trans-identified loved one back into the routine, rituals, and normal functioning of daily living.

As you move through these phases (and you may not visit each one), give yourself permission to reflect on your thoughts and to process your emotions. As you come to a place of balance and peace, you can help others normalize gender diversity and further the cause of LGBT+ equality. Here are four tips to guide your journey:

1)    Share your story. While you don’t have to make a public service announcement about the dynamics within your family, it doesn’t have to be a secret either. When your co-workers ask about your weekend, don’t censor yourself. Speak openly and honestly about what you did and with whom. This may require stepping out of your comfort zone at first. Trust that it gets easier with time.

2)    Stand up for inclusion and equality. There is no reason to stand for derogatory remarks or jokes. Inflammatory comments can be redirected to a suggestion to be more respectful and inclusive of people’s differences. Consider speaking up on behalf of gender identity statutes and legislative issues, voicing support for your loved one.

3)    Show your support. Be there for your friend or family member in their big life events. Help them plan their wedding. Attend their birthday celebrations. Include them at holiday events. Creating a space of warmth and safety will help promote comfortability.

4)    Make yourself available. Be willing to talk with other friends or family members who may be struggling in their coming out journey. You have likely moved through the process so you can relate to them in a one-on-one way, providing a different level of support and understanding.

The transgender experience is still an unfamiliar paradigm to many people. However, the more we talk about it, engage in meaningful dialogue, and normalize the experience, the sooner we can decrease oppression, raise self-esteem, and provide adequate care for the community. Your coming out story can help make that difference!

~ Julie Walsh

3 thoughts on “Family & Friends: Four Stages and Four Tips

  1. Andie Davidson

    Point 3 is a tricky one. “Set limits”? A partner who says you can be a different gender part-time, but not fully be yourself and expect continued partnership is asking the impossible. It becomes an ultimatum and love has become entirely conditional on the other being untrue to themselves in order to be loved. The crunch point of many marriages including my own. The impossible decision: to lose oneself or to lose the love of your life.

    1. Val

      “Set limits” doesn’t have to be limits on what the trans person does. It can be limits on what the cis person can/will do. For example, at first a spouse may say “I don’t want to be in the room when you’re changing clothes to or from your preferred gender” or “I can’t handle going clothes shopping with you”.

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