Marianne Oakes, GenderGP head of therapies, shares her views on coming out:
“If there is one thing I have learned from my years of working as a counsellor with gender variant people it’s that there is no template for coming out. There can be no right or wrong approach because we are all different and the dynamics of our relationships change from person to person. The best advice I can give is to take your time. Do what feels right for you and only share what feels comfortable. We can never guarantee how another person will respond to our disclosure, we can never control this, we can, however, give the other person the best chance to respond well by taking a considered approach. Not everyone will come along with you on your journey but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take the steps you need to take towards realising your truth.”
Our team of gender specialist counsellors are trained in supporting you through this process, if you need someone to talk to, get in touch.
In this first hand account, Radio DJ Shea Coffey reflects on her experience of coming out as trans to her partner.
The question I am asked most, (other than ‘How does Trans Radio UK put up with you?’), is ‘How are you still married?’ I don’t take it personally; people actually mean, how did your marriage survive you coming out?
Any massive life change, whether planned or unplanned, can come as a shock to a relationship. We worked hard at it, we are still working hard at it, but I believe a marriage is something you should be working at anyway.
Having been there myself I wanted to share my personal experience of coming out to my partner in my 40s. These are a few things I had thought about and considered for a while before I jumped into having “the conversation”…
Coming out to a partner is complex and life changing for both parties. From what my friend’s have told me, getting it wrong can sometimes be messy and destructive. I believe every relationship is unique, with its own strengths and weaknesses, including mine. My advice, before you do anything, is to take time to look at your relationship and fix anything that is broken. I had to remind myself that relationships are a partnership. I tried not to be too self involved and to take an interest in my partner and their needs as well as my own. Given that I was asking my partner for unconditional love and support I wanted to make myself the best “me” that I could be.
My recommendation, based on my own experience, is when it comes time to tell your partner, try explaining everything in full, while being prepared to explain in small chunks and to repeat yourself. I blurted it out, and we were still talking four hours later. I had to keep reminding myself to stay calm, and not to get upset by questions. I could see that the person I loved was trying to understand. Of course, each person will react differently. Your news could come as a total shock or it may be the missing puzzle piece that makes things fall into place for your partner.
In hindsight, it might have been easier if I had a written plan of what I wanted to say and the order I would have liked to have said it. Friends have told me they wrote letters and this worked well for them. It may not enable you to keep control of the conversation but it will give you some structure.
For me this next step was the most important one, the one that I have seen many friends get wrong and this is the point where relationships so often stumble and fall. I gave my partner time to process and think about things. I’d had years to do that but this was new to them. I couldn’t expect them to wrap their head around it in a day or two.
Partners may want to read up on things. They may feel betrayed (I understand from what I have read and what my friends have told me that this is very common). I explained that I wasn’t just keeping secrets from them but myself as well, that I was still the same person they fell in love with on the inside, it is only the outside that I needed to change.
It’s only natural to feel eager to start your real life, but for me it didn’t feel right to make any major visible changes, just yet! I felt it was important to check in with my partner to see how they felt about the changes I had in mind. Time is everything, I had waited years to make these changes so I knew a couple of extra months wouldn’t really make a difference to me, but they could make all the difference to my partner. At this stage I started considering and researching any treatments I might want. Engaging with the community also really helped. The important thing for me was not to rush my partner.
Even a couple of weeks helped to bring some clarity for us. We were open and honest, nothing was off limits, and I tried to keep calm. Of course there were huge emotions involved in the situation, but we kept talking. I answered all of my partner’s questions truthfully. For me it was as much about being honest with myself as it was about being honest with my partner.
Then we allowed a short time for things to settle…
I read recently that 55% of marriages survive a partner coming out as trans. My own experiences have taught me that with time, talking and honesty on both sides, you can continue this journey as a couple but I also know that it isn’t always possible.
The next step was to tell our close friends and family. We agreed a timeframe for telling people and that we would present a united front, with neither of us telling anyone without the other’s knowledge. We came together as a team, conscious of the fact that we would only get one chance at a first telling.
We started with our immediate family and we did this in person. It was decided that it would be better if my wife told her folks without me present. Yes, it is scary but we felt that close family and friends, who might be affected by our news, deserved time (a week or two) to prepare as well.
When it came to telling my parents, I was given one amazing piece of advice by a friend: Prepare for the fact that they might need a little time to grieve for the son or daughter they thought they had before they can embrace the child they actually have.
We messaged everyone else that we wanted to tell personally, a couple of days in advance. This helped us to get our thoughts in order before sharing the big news.
Then, when you have prepared as much as possible, and both you and your partner are ready, write your announcement. We kept our announcement clear and warm, sharing as much detail as we were comfortable with, then we pressed send, closed the device, and went to get some sleep.
In the days following my coming out we got nothing but messages of support and love. Sure, we got asked odd (possibly dumb) questions such as ‘Are you getting your bits chopped off?’ and my partner was asked ‘Does this mean you can get a boyfriend?’ (yes seriously!!) We answered the questions politely without getting upset, some even made us laugh, and we explained why some questions just aren’t appropriate.
I was the first openly trans person that my family and friends had ever knowingly met. But, with increasing visibility, the chances are I won’t be the last. That makes me a trailblazer.
So what did the whole experience mean for my relationship long term? It meant I could finally be myself and it made us stronger as a couple.