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Once you’ve decided to transition, you might start to tell close friends and family or post about it online. At some point, you might decide to tell the people at your school and wonder how to do that. Especially since a new school year is about to begin, it’s important to think about the transition process ahead of time.
While there isn’t a right or wrong way to come out or disclose your transition, it can help to map out your gender transition at school to ensure that you feel as good about it as you can. Read on to learn some important tips for how you can come out as transgender or nonbinary at school.
Assess the risk and trust yourself
You don’t have any obligation to anyone to disclose your gender identity. While it can of course be more affirming to be seen as your true and authentic self at school, many transgender and nonbinary people don’t come out at school for safety reasons.
Prioritize your safety first and foremost. For some, this might look like delaying transitioning to preserve physical safety. Conversely, for others, it might mean risking physical safety to preserve their mental and emotional safety. Despite the risks, some may find it more unsafe and personally distressing to remain closeted.
Trust your own intuition. Gender transitions aren’t linear and no one’s transition timeline is the same. Do what’s best for you. You’re in control of your own transition. There isn’t any urgency to come out. You have more time than you think. If you know that this is a step you want to take, but you’re not sure how to, that is okay, too. You may be feeling an array of mixed emotions, but make sure to put yourself first and practice self-compassion. Transitioning is an exciting life milestone, so make time to celebrate yourself no matter what stage you are in.
Develop a transition plan
Once you’ve decided to announce your gender transition publicly, being proactive can help you manage and process your emotions around the process. Planning ahead might look like creating a loose timeline for when and how you’ll announce your transition. For instance, you might plan to announce your transition by dressing differently in a more gender affirming way. Or maybe you will plan to come out to a classmate, peer, or teacher before you tell everyone else. You might change your pronouns before changing your name or vice versa.
Additionally, consider what kind of support you’ll be asking for if any. Consider what kind of support you don’t want. Once you identify what would and wouldn’t be helpful, you’ll be more likely to clearly articulate both to yourself and other people.
Garner your support squad
Find allies among your classmates, teachers, and/or peers that can support you in your gender transition. It can be a tremendous help to have someone on your side. That way, once you’ve announced your transition, affirming allies can help correct people when others misgender and/or deadname you, especially when you’re not present in the conversation.
Even if you do have allies to call on for emotional support, it’s critical to build a support network outside of school. This can include friends, biological and/or chosen family, a therapist, and/or community members. Let them know you plan to announce your gender transition at school, so they can support and check in with you throughout the process. Remember, you don’t have to do this alone. There are other people who will see you and respect you for your authentic self.
Change your name and/or pronouns wherever you can
Once coming out at school, you might be tasked with the process of updating your identifiers on documents and other means of communication. If you’ve chosen a new name, this could look like requesting a new email address or ID. It could also look like asking your teacher to refer to you by your new name and/or pronouns.
While many schools allow students to change their name and/or pronouns, be aware they can say no and emotionally prepare for this. No one should be told this, of course, but unfortunately, this is the reality for many transgender and nonbinary people at school. During difficult times, fall on radical acceptance and self-care. Lean into your support networks inside and outside of school
If you’re a FOLX member in need of assistance navigating name changes and changing legal documents, please contact Member Support at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wear some gender-affirming clothes and accessories
Clothes and accessories aren’t gendered by nature. However, clothes and accessories can still be used as a form of expression to affirm a person’s gender identity. If you find yourself wanting to adopt a new look as part of your gender transition, get your hands on some new attire.
If you can afford it, this warrants a fun shopping trip. Thrift stores can also be an easy and cost-effective way to shop for new clothes. If shopping in a new gendered section makes you particularly anxious, bring a buddy along with you. You can also check out community resources that offer free or discounted clothing. Many LGBTQ+ organizations offer clothing closets to help low-income trans and nonbinary people acquire clothing that matches their gender expression.
If your school requires a gendered uniform, ask for the uniform of the opposite gender. Of course, we recommend assessing your safety before making this decision and if you choose to, prepare emotionally for any backlash that may come with asking.
The first few days after coming out as transgender or nonbinary are critical for establishing expectations for how others will respond to your gender transition. While we cannot control how others treat us, we can control how we respond to how they treat us.
Unfortunately, because our culture is so steeped in the gender binary, those around you will likely undergo their own adjustment to using the correct name and/or pronouns. However, that doesn’t mean you have to accept misgendering and/or deadnaming. If you plan to be proactive about correcting others when they mess up your name and/or pronouns, correct them on day one unapologetically. Some appropriate responses include:
- I noticed you use [wrong pronouns]. Now, I use [correct pronouns]. When you refer to, I expect you to refer to me using [correct pronouns].
- It’s inappropriate of you to use incorrect gendered terms to refer to me. If you continue addressing me by the wrong gender, I will let our teacher know.
- I heard you use my old name to refer to me. I now go by [new name]. I expect you to use the correct name without having to correct you.
Be aware it’s not required, nor your responsibility, to correct others when they misgender and/or deadname you if you don’t want to correct them. Many transgender and nonbinary opt out of correcting others to preserve their emotional capacity. Know there is no one way to go about this.
Especially if you are the only transgender or nonbinary person in your class or school, your classmates, peers, teachers, etc. may look to your for guidance on addressing gender based on your lived experience. Though this can be an unfair expectation placed on transgender and nonbinary people, it’s your call whether to accept or reject this expectation. While this may be a necessary role for many, understand that accepting the expectation can lead to burnout quickly without the proper boundaries. Whatever choice you make doesn’t make you any more or less valid.
Be your own advocate
While it can be worthwhile to set expectations and boundaries, unfortunately either aren’t always well-received or respected. You may experience negative backlash for announcing your gender transition publicly. If so, self-advocate for how you should be treated. This can look like reporting harassment and/or discrimination to a teacher or superintendent. If you do choose to report, lean into your support network if you need encouragement or find an affirming therapist who can help you navigate these dynamics.
Wherever you are in your transition, approach navigating your transition with self-compassion. Your transition is a time of celebration, joy, and abundance. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.
If you’re interested in connecting with other FOLX members, sign up for INNERSPACE, our community platform exclusively for FOLX members only.