By William Alexander Morrison
Preface: Coming out is a very delicate issue for the LGBTQ+ community, as the threats we face on our happiness, safety, and lives are still ever-present. There is no universal obligation to come out, and no one owes you information about their identities. The right time to come out (if one chooses to at all) will look different for every individual. This article is only an account of how I navigate new relationships and my own philosophy when deciding whether or not to be out to someone. Also, for the allies and non-LGBTQ+ readers, DO NOT OUT PEOPLE. EVEN IF YOU THINK THEY ARE OUT. DO NOT OUT THEM.
I first came out to my mom as transgender when I was 14, and since then, I’ve come out to countless people. As the situations in which I find myself shift considerably throughout my life, my outness and willingness to be out has fluctuated. I am privileged in the sense that people usually assume I am cisgender unless I come out to them as transgender (which is a privilege due to the transphobic systems of oppression and violence that makes it unsafe for trans people to always be out everywhere).
When I first transitioned, I did not have a choice on whether or not to come out. My freshly hideous bowl cut from Walmart (they didn’t get in too many Asian guys) and my binded chest would never go unnoticed or unquestioned in my provincial school and hometown. In college, I found myself in a similarly small environment, but the minds were much less small than the ones from my hometown. I found myself no longer amidst a threatening, intolerant mob, but among a community of people who appreciated me and what I had to say about my experiences. I was still out to everybody, but this time it was my choice.
I’ve graduated since and moved away from such a supportive network. I still claim to be pretty open about everything, and while I do eagerly seek to educate and discuss matters of gender diversity, the truth is that nowadays, I don’t come out to everybody just because I don’t want to be out to everybody. The political climate of the mid-sized Texan city where I live now generally ranges from politically “apathetic” to staunchly neoconservative, making a coming out experience anywhere from socially/professionally uncomfortable to threatening. Anybody with curiosity, knowledge of how to spell my name, and access to social media could quickly learn about my trans status. I refuse to actively hide it. I’m writing on a public forum about my trans coming out experience, for crying out loud. Past experiences have reinforced my tendency to assume intolerance as a default among all I meet. Thus, I’m very selective about who I tell outright and when I tell them.
I’ve made a flowchart to loosely depict the most common situations in which I must decide whether or not to come out:
Perhaps one day, the logic that assisted in creating this flowchart, this survival instinct that keeps me from being completely out to everybody, will no longer be necessary. Perhaps it will be only after I move out of the South. Perhaps it will be when I stay and fight for social change. Regardless, until then, I exist with a high awareness of those around me, a patient temperament, and a pride flag in my heart.
William A. Morrison, a recent-ish graduate of psychology at Centenary College of Louisiana, currently lives in Waco, Texas with his ukulele and a gaggle of community cats. William takes great joy in discussing identity and its multitude of facets, intersections, origins, and impacts. In fact, he’s starting a podcast soon about this very topic! Follow him on Instagram @crossroadsthepodcast.