Messages to Sexual and Gender Minorities and their family - Coming out
What is transgender
Transgender, or Gender Dysphoria as an official term, refers to the mismatch between gender identity and the biological sex at birth. In other words, transgenders feel uncomfortable with and can’t accept their assigned sex at birth. Some people may describe it as if a body is displaced. Pursuits vary among the transgender people regarding their own gender issues. Some of them desire to complete a sex reassignment surgery or carry out a cosmetic surgery restricted to parts of their bodies. Others may decide to make changes on their dress-up and make-up or take hormones for the whole life. However, some may also give up making any changes on their appearance with considerations in different aspects of their daily life.
The emergence of transgender people and people with different sexual orientation also experienced the following three stages：
- Coming Out to Self
- Coming Out to Selective Others
- Coming Out in Public
Stage 1: Coming Out to Self
Most of the transgenders can tell their gender identity does not match to their physical sex when they are little. They like wearing clothes of another gender, while their gender is also different from cisgender. If they are not familiar with the concept of gender identity, they usually find themselves weird. In fact, most people know very little about gender spectrum or transgender. Therefore, some parents, teachers and friends may see transgenders as strange, pathological or even a pervert. Often treated as an of ridicule, criticism, punishments and corrections, many transgenders have an unhappy childhood. They get used to suppressing their own emotions and feelings, while attempting with various methods to fulfill the expectations of others. It hits many of them when they first get in touch with the information about transgender, realising that they are not weird or perverts but different only. Nevertheless, many of them truly understand the real self only after they have already become an adult, and some may even have to take a very long life journey to know the real self.
It takes a long progress for one to learn how to dress up and live like people with another sex. The bedroom is usually the place where the transgenders kick off the experience of changes. The Internet plays a great role as transgenders can buy clothes and cosmetics as well as watching videos and doing research on the Internet. After gathering the materials, they can attempt some preliminary changes in the little world of their bedrooms. Practices build up their confidence for them to hang out with a new look, but it may probably take years for them to make this step out from the bedroom.
People who live on their own may find it more convenient to attempt these changes. However, those who live with their family face challenges regarding the storage of the items and laundry of the clothes. In order to avoid being noticed by their family, they also have to think of a suitable time to experience transgender life at home. In the stage of coming out to self, some of them may also put on the underwear of another sex. It doesn’t mean that they are perverts. Instead, they just want to enjoy being themselves in the limited space they have.
Stage 2: Coming Out to Selective Others
Transgenders usually do not consider their family as one of the first people to whom they come out, since family members often react the strongest to their changes. Instead, they turn to transgender friends. Through the Internet, they can reach out to other transgenders and participate activities of sexual minorities, from which they obtain more transgenders’ information, tips being a transgender, as well as recognition and supports.
The second priority of the people whom most transgenders come out to may be their cisgender friends who are open-minded to transgender and willing to keep their secret. However, how can one distinguish a suitable friend for coming out to? We suggest striking up conversations about transgenders’ news or films with the friends so as to explore their attitude towards transgender. In this way, it will be easier and more secure to come out.
Stage 3: Coming Out in Public
Some other sexual minorities may choose not to disclose their identities to others for the whole life, but coming out in public is a must for transgenders if they have determined to pursue a complete change including their appearance. This may bring them enormous challenges and frustration.
Therefore, if you, being a transgender, try to come out to your family, you should avoid acting in haste. Instead, you may attempt gradual changes and step back and forth depending on your family’s responses. You may also consider coming out to the family members who are more supportive to you. If you find it difficult to explain to your family, seek assistance from social workers or doctors. Social workers will also provide counselling and other services if your family do not understand or accept you, or if there are conflicts and physical abuse making it difficult for you to live with them.
Besides, due to the general concept of gender binary, transgenders who are out in public also overcome challenges in different aspects of life. It can be an embarrassing time with a lot of inconvenience when they go to the washroom, swimming pool, hospital and bank. Transgenders who have just begun living as a new gender identity may also find themselves often stared at by strangers, since they are still green in how to dress up, speak and act as if another gender. Some people may spit out unfriendly words to them, while others may even sneak a photo of them and commence cyberbullying. All of these lead to severe sufferings of transgender people.
Transgenders also face challenges when they seek a job or a place to live since their appearance is not consistent with the social expectation on their physical sex as stated on their identity cards. Therefore, it is hard for them to seek a job or a place to live if the employer or house owner have little or no understanding of transgender people. If they fail to secure a job, they will be at risk financially, thus, be difficult to find a place to live.
Nonetheless, people become more aware of the needs of transgenders now with increasing public education. In some shopping malls and public service areas, unisex washrooms are set up. Some public service providers will avoid greeting with “Mr” or “Ms / Miss” when requested. Some employers also accept transgenders and are willing to keep their identities confidential. These changes are a good start.
In fact, gender identity is not a choice. In order to help transgenders live a life of their own, we should not stop them from making changes, instead we should eliminate the hindrances for them.
According to the reportMental Health of Transgender People in Hong Kong, publicised by Transgender Resource Center and Professor Suen Yiu Tong of the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2016, 60% of the transgender participants in the research had contemplated suicide, while about 20% of the participants had attempted suicide (Suen et. al, 2016a). Another research suggests that mental health problems of transgenders are caused by different reasons including their experience of social exclusion and being victims in crimes related to gender identity (Suen et. al, 2016b). In other words, mental health of transgender people is mainly affected by discrimination and harms from others. It is crucial not only to provide counselling and other services to the transgenders in need, but also to eliminate the discrimination by deepening the social understanding towards transgender.