In honour of tomorrow’s National Coming Out Day, I have a message to everyone: Don’t out someone. Ever. It’s not your job, regardless of where you may be in the various spectrums, to decide for someone else how and when they will disclose their status.
That’s the TL;DR version.
For today’s message, I’m going to ignore the issues I have with the term “coming out,” and simply focus on a very important and simple rule.
Tomorrow is National Coming Out Day, a day where some people feel empowered and supported in their decision to finally disclose their LGBTQ+ status. If that is the case, that is fantastic! I’m happy you feel personally empowered. For others, it’s a day where they feel an enormous amount of extra pressure to come out in a way that is not of their choosing.
No-one should ever feel pressure to come out. It is their lives; their sexuality; their identity, whatever the case me be. It is their autonomy. No-one has the right to violate that, gay or straight, cis or trans, or anywhere in the spectrum of sexuality and gender identity and expression.
And, if someone has disclosed their status to you, that does not mean they are ready to disclose it to everyone. If someone has disclosed their status to you, always ask before disclosing it to someone else, and never give any extra information beyond the permission you have received.
I’m going to use my status as an example of why. This is my personal preferences. I share them to help you to understand. You must ask people about their own personal preferences. Always. Then, respect them.
On October 16, it will be three years since I disclosed my trans identity to the public. “To the public” means that I wrote a post about it on a high-profile website. Prior to writing that post, I had only come out to a handful of individuals. Each time—with the exception of my partner who helped support me when I came out publicly—ended horribly.
Three years later, despite writing about being transgender on multiple websites and my personal blog, I’m still choosy about how I disclose my trans status.
Sure anyone can find the information if they look for it online. But many people I deal with in my day-to-day life will never find that information. When I’m misgendered and ridiculed when asking that my medical record be updated when picking up a prescription—as just one example of the daily occurrences—I’m not comfortable stating, “Hey, I’m a trans man! Just update my bloody medical records!” Especially when there is a line of people behind me. Besides, I shouldn’t have to. No-one should ever have to. If they want to be stealth, I support them! Plus, disclosing one’s status can also makes people feel “othered.” (Othering is a post for another day.)
Yes, I’ve been out for three years. But, coming out to everyone is still an ongoing process.
I’m the Workshops and Panels Manager for GottaCon. This year, we’ve decided to use masculine pronouns in my bio for the managers introduction announcement. All other managers and staff have been trained on how to deal with my transgender status with guests, attendees, vendors, etc. I’m completely out in that workplace, instead of just to a handful of people. I have to say, everyone who works at GottaCon has been amazingly supportive in so many ways, they’ve nearly caused me to cry a few times.
When a longtime attendee and guest of GottaCon saw my updated bio, they said to one of the owners, “You made a mistake with the pronouns.” The owner did the right thing. They asked me how I want this type of situation to be dealt with. I told them, “If someone at GottaCon asks about it, simply tell them that I’m transgender and those are the correct pronouns. If they have any other questions, they can come and ask me.”
That is the end of that. Aside from telling someone I am transgender and those are the correct pronouns, anything else about my status as a transgender individual is not up for discussion from anyone other than me. And permission was only given within the context of GottaCon.
Beyond GottaCon, they again need to ask permission. Why? Simply, this is my identity. My life. My body. My safety. My children’s safety. My well-being. My family and I are the ones who will be put at risk if my status is disclosed to the wrong person in the wrong way. I already face daily risks, receive death threats, threats to my children’s safety, regular DDoS attacks, and more. But, I should haven’t to give any reasons because, again, this is my life. I already feel enough pressure as it is without you adding to it.
The reasons why someone may choose not to disclose their status is also none of your business. You’re not entitled to know. If someone decides to tell you any of their reasons for disclosing or nondisclosure, you should feel damn lucky because it means that person trusts you. Don’t break that trust. It’s sacred and difficult to achieve. You should cherish it.
The above is especially true of fellow LGBTQ+ people. At least, in my mind, it’s the worst betrayal because you should know better. It’s great that you feel “out and proud.” It’s great that you feel mostly safe to be visible in your world. That is not the reality for many of us. Especially trans women of colour.
A few months ago, I was heartbroken and angry to hear about a trans pal of mine whose only online identity is that of their true self, without trans being part of their true self. Someone else, who was also trans, took it upon them self to out my trans pal by making reference to the identity assigned to them at birth. Later, when my trans pal asked them privately to never do that again, my pal not only got scolded and lectured to for not being an “out and proud trans person,” but they also lost what they thought was not only an understanding ally, but a friend.
We are policed by cisgender people—many of whom claim to be an ally—telling us how we should feel, or how we should create our safe spaces, when our feelings should be upset, and more. We are policed by fellow LGBTQ+ who should know better.
Don’t be that person. Respect our autonomy. Respect our person. Don’t ever take it upon yourself to tell us how or when we should disclose our status. And never never do it for us.