Ways to Respond When Someone Comes Out to You as Transgender, Nonbinary, or Gender-Expansive
Every transgender, nonbinary, and/or gender-expansive person’s journey is unique, with individual experiences, priorities, and requests when they come out. For some, it is a joyful experience. For others, it may not be a big deal, or it may be a scary process approached with some trepidation – or a mixture of all of the above! If someone comes out to you, it’s important to make no assumptions. There is no singular recipe for responding, but the options below are a good place to start:
- Congratulate the person. In Judaism, a way to congratulate someone is by saying “mazal tov” which means “congratulations” in Hebrew. This celebratory phrase helps to honor a person’s big step towards living a more authentic life.
- Thank them for sharing and for trusting you enough to share.
- Center the needs of the person coming out to you. Ask how you can support them. For example: “Do you have a different name or pronouns you’d like me to use?”
- Use the updated names and/or pronouns that the person shares with you.
- Check in about how they’re feeling, whether that’s anxious, nervous, fearful, joyous, excited, or elated. Don’t make assumptions, and give them the space to share their emotions with you.
- Clarify how and if they’d like you to share this information. Ask the person if they would like you to refer to them with their name and pronouns to others, or if this information is private. Outing someone without their permission can be dangerous, so find out if this information is confidential.
- Ask if they’d like you to correct others when they use an incorrect name or pronoun. Some appreciate the correction, and others may not want you to.
- Practice! Using a person’s correct name and pronouns can make a world of difference, but it can take time to make the adjustment. Practice on your own (or, if the information is public, with others) so that you make fewer mistakes with that person present, and so that you can model correct language. See Keshet’s resource for information about all-gender pronouns.
- Remember that they are still the person you knew before. Don’t make all subsequent conversations/interactions about their coming out. A human has other things to talk about!
An important note is that LGBTQ+ people rarely come out just once in the span of their lives. Because being cisgender and/or straight is seen as the default, the burden on naming a non-normative identity falls on LGBTQ+ folks. Keep in mind that when someone comes out to you, they are likely having this conversation many times with others. Your support and attention to what they need is paramount.