How To Support People on National Coming Out Day and Every Day

How To Support People on National Coming Out Day and Every Day

Six years ago today, I publicly came out as trans in a pretty big way. I did it on Wired. Up until then, I had attempted to come out multiple times. Each time was unsuccessful, resulting in either being pushed back into hiding because people refused to accept it or the loss of relationships. That changed with the support of my partner.

I look back at the words I originally wrote with some regret. I wrote things that I’d never write today; things that were written as the result of internalized cisnormative ideas of how this is all supposed to work. I misgendered myself. I deadnamed myself. I gave information that has been used in coordinated attacks against me and my family.

Thankfully, there are a handful of people in the community who understand there is a period of adjustment that we all go through after coming out; a period that involves dismantling all of the internalized bullshit heaped upon us by a cishet society. It is also perpetuated by people within the community because it is difficult to acknowledge certain things without feeling shame and guilt.

Everyone has participated in upholding systems of oppression. Those in positions of power carry the burden to dismantle it because those who are oppressed have to behave in particular ways in order to survive, or they’ve never had the benefit of someone advocating for them and calling out the bullshit. More often than not, it isn’t safe for the oppressed to challenge the status quo. Every time, it places them in a position to be harmed.

Every day, I have to make decisions about whether or not I come out. Because for me, it’s not a one-day event, but an ongoing process. Every time I go to the store, or access government services, or go to the emergency room, or talk on the phone with a variety of service providers, and the list goes on, I am misgendered. I have to do an internal safety check — both physical safety and mental health check — and decide: Is this situation safe?

There are some people who would say, “You must be out and loud and proud!” Bullshit. That is a statement made from someone with enormous amount of privilege. A queer person’s first duty is to their own well-being. The burden falls on society and people in positions of power to make sure they are actively creating environments that make it safe.

When this is compounded with yet another week full of trans erasure in conversations about healthcare and mental health, the burden falls even harder on the cis het people who want to claim allyship while actively participating in harming the queer community.

I don’t know how many times I have to say this. I don’t know how many more times I need to subtweet about this. I don’t know how many times I have to actively call out specific individuals, watch them say “I’ll try to do better,” only to immediately participate in the erasure once again. Then, to see them today saying they support people on National Coming Out Day when every thing else they do makes it impossible for queer people to safely participate in society… It’s a bunch of performative nonsense is what it is.

I can’t count how many times I’ve had to say the above and what is to follow. I can’t count how many times other queer people have said the above and what is to follow. After six years of open trans activism and seeing the same people over the last six years not change their behaviour at all, it makes me wonder why I even bother. Sure, I’ve helped to change laws, regulations and write policies from the local level right up to the federal level. But when society, including people who claim to be my friend and ally, are still doing the same things over and over, it just further reinforces: National Coming Out Day is performative and it’s not safe.

If you honestly want to help make it safe for queer people to come out, then the burden is on you, if you are both cis and straight. Gay people also have to do some work in making it safe for trans people to come out, but today is about the entire queer community.

There are some really simple things that you must do, especially when queer people are under attack from the US government and other government around the world.

  1. Stop assuming someone is straight and talking about relationships in the default cis het binary.
  2. Stop assuming someone is cis. This includes not ma’am’ing or sir’ing people. Use singular they/them/their until you know someone’s pronouns.
  3. Stop speaking in terms of binaries.
  4. Ask everyone you meet, “What are your pronouns?” Normalize this!
  5. Stop gendering healthcare. Don’t RT articles or tweets that gender healthcare without adding a TW for trans erasure, ESPECIALLY if you TW/CW every thing else.
  6. Don’t out people, ever. You don’t get to say things like, “I have a [insert queer label] friend named _____” or “_____ is [insert queer label]. Not only have you put that person in harm’s way, but you’ve taken away their personal agency. Only the queer person gets to decide when, if, and how they come out, especially when they have to do it every day because society defaults to a cis het binary.
  7. If you know a trans person, don’t discuss their transition with other people. It’s no-one’s business unless that trans person is willing to discuss it. This also means don’t ask a trans person about their transition. It’s none of your damn business.
  8. Pronouns are retroactive. Names are retroactive. Don’t deadname people or misgender people.
  9. Don’t talk about a queer person’s past. Again, you are putting them in harm’s way and taking away their agency.
  10. If you are white cis het, call out people when you see them participate in any of the above.
  11. Don’t tell queer people how they should react when they are being marginalized. You’re victim blaming.
  12. Stop saying, “It gets better.” It doesn’t. You learn to cope and survive in a society that loves to perform but is unwilling to do any of the necessary work to change.
  13. Stop pressuring people to come out. Days like today put an extraordinary amount of pressure on queer people and increases suicidal ideation because they are made to believe they must come out in order to be valid.
  14. Listen to queer voices. Don’t talk over them or speak for them.
  15. Amplify queer voices, after making sure it’s okay to RT/share. If there is some queer news item going around, search out the queer voices and amplify those instead of sharing your hot take about issues where you are part of the problem. Do this especially if you are following queer people. Take a couple of minutes to do some actual work.
  16. Give queer people space and room to work through all of the internalized bullshit they have to unpack. Stop acting like a white cishet saviour.
  17. Don’t RT queer people who are in positions of power who say things like, “It’s safe to come out. Look at me.” See point 13 and every point about personal well-being must come first. It also enables victim blaming.

There are a lot more things you need to do. But these are things you should already be doing but you’re not. These are things I’ve seen “allies” do in the last couple of weeks, only to celebrate National Coming Out Day, followed once again by an action that is harmful to queer people. Do better.

Once again, I’ll point you to more reading:

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