How do you tell people, and is there an answer for this. The short answer is that there is no one right way, or any real way to know for real life situations whether someone is going to react well or badly. I’m going to talk about strategies to consider and who to consider using them with.
What should you say? Start with the minimum possible that provides what’s required for that relationship. Avoid going into great detail, they don’t need your timeline, or when you started this or that. If you think it will help you might say it was a tough decision for you. Let them ask for more information rather than volunteering it.
You should make a conscious decision about who and what kind of people in your life you would like to know. Think about what you’re trying to accomplish. Do you want to live a stealth life? Move to a new city with a new name and your past behind, being ultra careful to never let anything slip?
In the past this was also done because it could provide a bit more of a normalized life. You move, you look, act and are physically female and find a girlfriend or boyfriend and a job. There have been cases where a person married and divorced a couple of decades later without the spouse knowing.
Is it for you? It wasn’t for me. Yet I still think that you don’t need to actively tell many people. If they are people you see and are close with you need to tell them. Members of your community, family and friends all have to be told. Last, coworkers need to know because you’re going to change right in front of them.
By saying nothing you will allow people who do recognize you the control to come up and ask when they are comfortable. If you go to them they may well feel put right on the spot. Consider using this with anyone you see very little, and in particular if they barely know you.
One on One
This is appropriate for people you know, however, you should consider their personality. You’re also going to have to understand that the reaction you get at the moment is likely to be well filtered, not what’s really in their brains.
If you’re contacting someone close this should be a physical letter. Someone you don’t know as well you can send email, but you could also just say nothing.
A letter provides privacy and time for the receiver of the message. I sent my sister a letter because I thought it would be difficult news for her. The letter allowed her time to process, do some reading, and to pick the time we would talk about it.
Usually this is just done for coworkers as part of a training. It’s a fairly standard approach. A trainer gets up and there’s a discussion about what it means to be trans, why someone like you does what you’re doing (this happens when you’re transitioning at work), and then normally there’s an open discussion. You will not be present.
You most likely know various folks tenuously through social networks and work connections. There’s nothing particularly wrong with just letting the word spread for those who care. A remarkable number of people will sort of notice and ask nothing. One of the important lessons we learn on this path is that we are the center of our universe, but no one else’s.
By and large you won’t know what people really think. You’ll get some semi pat answer like “wow, I had no idea” and something along the lines of “good luck”. It would be the rare person who really gives you an immediate genuine reaction but there was one that happened a few times: A few folks told me about people or relatives in their lives who had transitioned. I always took that as a good sign and time has not proved that wrong.
Expect that people will talk about this behind your back. It’s going to happen, develop a thick skin because nobody can stop it. It will end when the next juicy topic arrives.
You know what people think and how comfortable they are by what they do. They can say anything of course.
If you’re MtF expect that many of your male friends will be more distant or suddenly absent. You may not feel it, but you really have changed. In a big way and it isn’t the surface stuff. They have the dissonance of remembering their “former” friend and now seeing this person that looks a bit the same but looks, sounds, acts and seems to even think differently than he did. After you’ve had GCS you get the added problem of men thinking about that surgery and well, you know.
For many people they are uncomfortable for a variety of reasons. Their clergy person told them it’s wrong so it’s wrong. They have a visceral feeling about it. What you need to keep in mind is that it is not your job to fix them or to make them accepting.
Most people just don’t care. You’re you and what you do doesn’t affect them. I wish everyone felt this way. Some others do care but want to see you fulfilled and happy, I like this too.
The only “positive” reaction I despise is the you do what you need to do and I’ll be cool with it. I’m ok with it because isn’t my business is fine by me, but this one feels to much like I don’t approve but aren’t I cool for putting up with it?
People who are just besides themselves positive are hard to read. They could be sincere and they could be hiding how they feel. Ask yourself how this goes along with their normal behavior.
Don’t expect one reaction that doesn’t change necessarily. Some people might start negatively but later learn something more or feel differently over time. I had one such person who wrote me some months ago who said she felt I had been a very nice man and it hadn’t sat well with her when I transitioned but now she was ok.
Incidentally, value friends who can talk about their discomfort. Most won’t even though they feel it.
Dealing with Doubters
These come in different flavors, but let’s start with the ones you don’t need to deal with at all. People who are rejecting you don’t get to doubt you. Tell them to take a hike, you aren’t their friend and you don’t care what their opinion is.
The ones you do have to deal with are the ones who are well meaning, both family and friends. There’s no special formula, but here are some points you’ll want to consider including:
- You’ve had a long time to consider this decision, both the pros and the cons. It has taken you years to decide and you are very sure.
- In this process you have been counseled by experts in this area who looked for other problems that might mimic this, and to evaluate your need and readiness to make a transition
- In looking at the alternative paths, you have not seen one that leads to a happy life. You know this is not an easy path, but the other paths are more difficult still.
- This is a permanent condition, it is rooted in the brain and there will never be a cure for it, so there will never be a reason to regret this decision