You’ve learned something important about yourself and now you want to share this with your family, friends, or other people. Or you might not feel like sharing right now.
It’s normal to wonder about coming out (telling people that you are a member of the LGBTQ+ communities).
You might feel relief that you finally get to be your true, authentic self. But you probably also think about how your world could change if you do share: How will people react? Will the people you tell spread the word to someone you’d prefer didn’t know? Is it safe to come out?
There are lots of reasons why people choose to come out. Here are a few:
- They’re ready to start dating and want close friends and family members to know.
- They don’t want people making assumptions about them or gossiping.
- They’re tired of hearing other people use stereotypes or negative labels.
- They feel like they’re living a lie or not acting true to themselves and want to feel accepted for who they really are.
There are also plenty of reasons why people decide not to come out, such as:
- They’re not yet sure about who they are or how they feel. They’re still trying to figure things out for themselves.
- They’re afraid they’ll face bullying, harassment, discrimination, or even violence.
- Their families, friends, or community don’t know, and they worry about what might happen if people found out.
- They live in a community that has not being very accepting of LGBTQ+ people.
Coming out can be more complicated for teens who depend on parents or other adults for care and well-being. Some people who come out live in places where being LGBTQ+ is accepted. They’re more likely to get support from family and friends. Each person should consider their own situation. It’s different for everyone.
Most people come out gradually. They start by telling a counselor or a few close friends or family. A lot of people tell a counselor or therapist because they want to be sure their information stays private. Some call an LGBTQ+ support group so they can have help working through their feelings about identity or coming out.
Things to Keep in Mind
Coming out is a big and personal decision. You won’t know how people will react until the time comes.
Sometimes you can get clues about how people think from the way they talk about LGBTQ+ people: Are they open-minded and accepting, or negative and disapproving?
You can get an idea of how people think by bringing up LGBTQ+ issues. Listen to how people respond when you ask questions like these: “I’ve been reading about gay marriage. What are your thoughts on it?” Or, “My cousin’s school is raising money to help a transgender student who is homeless. Is that something you’d donate to?”
Even when you think someone might react positively to your news, there’s still no guarantee. Everyone responds based on their own situations: Parents who accept an LGBTQ+ friend may be upset when their own child comes out. It could be because they worry their child might face discrimination. Or it could be they struggle with beliefs that being LGBTQ+ is wrong.
Here are things to keep in mind when you’re thinking of coming out:
Trust Your Gut
Don’t feel forced to come out by friends or situations. Coming out is a process. Different people are ready for it at different times in their lives. You might want to be open about who you are, but you also need to think about your own safety. If there’s a risk you could be physically harmed or thrown out of the house, it’s probably safer not to share. Instead, call a helpline like the GLBT National Youth Talkline to get advice and support based on your situation.
Weigh all the Possibilities
Ask yourself these questions: “How might coming out make my life more difficult? How could it make things easier? Is it worth it?” The Trevor Project’s Coming Out Handbook has lots of tips and things to think about. If you’re thinking about coming out to anyone at your school, consider reading GLSEN’s Coming Out at School guide first.
Have a Support System
If you can’t talk openly about your identity, or if you’re trying to figure out if you should come out, it can help to speak to a counselor or call an anonymous helpline, like the GLBT National Youth Talkline.
Having support systems in place can help you plan how to come out (or not). Support systems can also help you cope if any reactions to your coming out aren’t what you expected, or if you need emergency shelter.
Let Go of Expectations
People you come out to might not react the way you expect. You will probably find that some relationships take time to settle back to what they were. Some might change permanently. Friends and family members — even the most supportive parents — may need time to get used to your news.
Identify Peer Pressure
Coming out is your decision and your decision alone. Even if other people you know have come out or if you’ve come out to some but not others, no one has a say in when, how, or who you come out to.
Think About Privacy
You might have friends who are mature enough to respect personal, private information and keep it to themselves. But whenever you share information, there’s a risk it could leak to people you might not want to know.
Therapists and counselors are required to keep information you share private — but only if they think you won’t hurt yourself or others. If a counselor thinks you might harm yourself or someone else, they are required to report it.
It’s a Lifelong Process
Coming out is a lifelong process. If you choose to come out, that’s important to remember — and not be discouraged by. You will make new friends, family, meet new partners, and join new companies throughout your life. If you choose to come out, then you will have to do it countless times.
It may get easier as you become more confident and social attitudes progress, but sometimes it may be as scary as the first time. Always put your safety and well-being first.
Coming out is a personal choice. Take time to think about what’s right for you.
It’s one of the well-meaning comments San Diego mom Kathie Moehlig heard over and over from strangers after her son, Sam, transitioned from female to male when he was a teenager.
“I’m like, of course he looks like a boy, because he is,” Moehlig tells NBC News BETTER.
Transgender youth and their families are often bombarded with unsolicited comments from strangers, family, and friends related to the teen’s gender identity. These comments range from well-meaning advice to intrusive questions and even accusations of child abuse, according to Diane Ehrensaft, the director of mental health at a gender clinic in San Francisco and the author of “The Gender Creative Child.”
“All of a sudden, because you have a child who says ‘I’m transgender,’ now people look at you funny and wonder ‘Why are you letting your child do that?’” Ehrensaft says.
In the United States, 0.7 percent of youth between ages 13 and 17 identify as transgender, according to a recent report from the Williams Institute UCLA School of Law. More and more of America’s youth are identifying outside the male-female binary: 56 percent of Generation Z kids know someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns, one survey found, and New York City joined four states in allowing gender-neutral birth certificates.
For many people, adjusting to a young person who is transitioning or using new pronouns may seem challenging. Experts who work with these individuals and their families say there are a number of do’s and don’t’s to keep in mind when interacting with these youth and their families. The first step, these experts say, is to not question the young person’s identity.
“Some of the recent literature that’s coming out is demonstrating that all the ills that we have known to be associated with transgender youth and adults as in anxiety, depression, self harm, even suicidal thoughts, drug and alcohol addiction in later life, risky sexual behaviors, go way down when there is social support for a person to be a gender that feels authentic to them,” says Ehrensaft.
Here are some of the most common misconceptions about sex, gender, and gender identity, according to experts and parents interviewed for this story.
Misconception #1: Sex and gender are the same
People often conflate “gender” with “sex,” but they are not the same, according to Ehrensaft.
Whereas “sex” refers to a person’s reproductive system, “gender” refers to one’s personal sense of oneself as a man or woman, she explains.
“Your gender lies not between your legs but between your ears,” Ehrensaft says.
The term “cisgender” refers to anyone who identifies with the gender assigned to them at birth.
As a parent, there’s nothing you wouldn’t do for your child. If they get sick, you take them to see a doctor. If they express interest in a particular activity, you help them find ways to get involved.
So what if your child tells you they’re not actually the gender they were assigned at birth? That’s the question facing parents of gender-diverse youth, a broad term used to describe a wide range of gender identities including transgender and nonbinary people.
While the best way to support your gender-diverse child is different for every family, rest assured, there are simple ways you can do this and resources available to help you.
“Just as you educate yourself about parenting, you can also educate yourself about gender identity and sexual identity, so it’s not such a foreign topic if it comes up,” says Dr. David Inwards-Breland, an associate professor of adolescent medicine and pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine and medical director of Seattle Children’s Gender Clinic.
What it means to be transgender or nonbinary
Part of that self-education process is learning what it means to be gender-diverse.
Traditionally, gender used to be thought of as two distinct categories based on your anatomy at birth: male or female. There are also intersex individuals whose anatomy or sex chromosomes don’t conform to either traditional gender stereotype. Now we understand that gender is actually a spectrum and isn’t determined by your reproductive system.
For someone who is transgender (trans for short), their gender identity — aka their internal sense of gender — doesn’t match the sex they were assigned at birth. This is different from cisgender individuals whose gender identity matches their assigned gender.
For example, if you have “female” listed on your birth certificate and feel comfortable with this as your gender identity, you’re a cisgender person. But if your child was born with “boy” on their birth certificate and now identifies as female, she’s a transgender girl.
According to a recent report, 1.4 million adults in the United States and about 150,000 youth between the ages of 13 and 17 identify as transgender. In Washington, those numbers are around 57,000 adults and 4,500 high schoolers.
There are also individuals who feel like they don’t belong to either traditional gender category and may describe themselves in a number of ways, such as nonbinary, genderqueer, agender or bigender.
No matter where someone falls on the gender spectrum, it’s important to take note of and use that person’s preferred gender pronouns. A transgender girl may want to be called “she” while a nonbinary youth might ask to be addressed by a gender-neutral pronoun like “they.” It’s up to them, so pay attention and respect their request.
Being transgender or nonbinary is not a “phase”
Let’s be honest: You probably didn’t expect your child to come out as gender-diverse. Despite your surprise, though, it’s crucial not to be dismissive of this as just a passing thought.
“A huge misconception is that it’s a phase or something trendy that kids want to be,” Inwards-Breland says. “Parents should understand that this is something that they need to take seriously and understand where their kid is coming from.”
The key, he explains, is to understand the difference between a young child who is still discovering who they are from a child who is trying to tell you a deep, personal truth about themselves.
One way you can do this is to watch out for consistent, persistent and insistent messages from your child. In essence, if your child is regularly and emphatically telling you that they’re a certain gender identity, it’s important to listen up.
Your kid or teen may not tell you outright either, so pay attention to other ways their gender can manifest like how they choose to dress, conversations they’re having with their peers or pronouns they’re asking to go by.
“Parents wonder, ‘What if they change their mind?’” Inwards-Breland says. “There’s not a lot of evidence where this happens. And if it does, there are very few who do. If you look at research, most gender-diverse adults knew when they were a kid or a teenager or even younger.”
How to support your transgender or nonbinary child
If your child does come out to you as trans or gender nonconforming, the first step to showing your support is to confirm that you love them. It may seem like a simple thing, but one study shows that trans youth who are supported in their gender identities have better mental health outcomes.
“Tell them that you accept them, then ask them to educate you about it so you can find a way to support them,” Inwards-Breland says.
Hearing how your kid realized their true gender identity allows them to not only share their journey with you but also allows you to understand and learn more about your child. Remember, their being trans or nonbinary isn’t about you or your parenting — it’s about who they are as a person.
You should also seek out additional information from support groups and medical professionals like your child’s pediatrician or family medicine doctor. This lets you hear from trusted individuals who have personal experience raising or treating gender-diverse children.
Aside from showing your acceptance and making an effort to learn more, you can also ask your child how they would like you to support them. Do they want you to be with them while talking to extended family about pronouns? Should you have a conversation with their school? Let your child tell you what they need, so you can figure out how to best be there for them.
Treatment options for gender-diverse youth
After your trans child shares their gender identity with you, they might ask about gender-affirming medical treatments. While anything involving medication or surgery can seem daunting, it’s important to discuss options with your child and your child’s doctor to make an informed decision.
Medication options fall into two main categories: pubertal blockers and cross-sex hormones.
Pubertal blockers are most effective when someone is just starting puberty. These signal to the brain that it’s time to stop producing sex hormones like testosterone or estrogen. Usually, they’re given as a regular shot every three months or an implant that can last up to a year.
Cross-sex hormones are doses of testosterone or estrogen that can help patients who have already been through puberty. These are commonly administered as injections, a patch, pill or gel.
Then there’s gender-affirming surgery, procedures that physically align anatomy with that person’s gender identity. As with any medical procedures, Inwards-Breland notes, patients usually must be the age of consent or have permission from their parent or guardian. It’s also important for you to consider potential risks as well as long-term benefits before making a decision with your child.
“If you look at those who are transitioning, there’s evidence that shows that they have better mental health outcomes and better quality of life,” he says. “Ultimately as a parent, you love your child, so find a way to understand what’s going on and figure out what’s best for them.”
Your high school and college years are all about figuring yourself out—not an easy task by any means. And for those who don't identify as straight and make the decision to tell their friends and family, it's one more step in the growing-up process. Teen Vogue spoke to girls and guys across the spectrum for the best advice on how to be there.
Do understand that coming out is a process.
Brenna Kiser came out to her mom and her friends when she was 18. "I just couldn't hide or lie any more. Being in the closet is lonely, confusing, and frustrating," she says. "Deciding to come out, though, can be very scary, and I didn't know what would happen. I didn't know if my parents would be OK with it, or if people would be mean or hateful to me. It's stepping into the unknown."
As 21-year-old Arabelle Sicardi explains, although coming out is usually portrayed as one big event, it's actually something that has to be repeated a number of times with different people—and each time involves anticipation over how they're going to react. "It's not like something you do just once and then it's all fine," Justin Whaley, 23, adds. "First you have to come out to yourself, which is the hardest thing to do. And then you come out to whoever else you decide to after that. I came out to my friends first. The first time feels so freeing, but it's a repeated process you have to keep doing and doing and doing. It gets easier, obviously, but it's just annoying."
One way to show your support is to offer to help your friend rehearse their "coming out spiel," says 24-year-old Mitch Hankins. Justin had a friend with him when he mailed a coming out note to his parents: "Having her there when I dropped the letter in the mailbox really helped because one, it gave me a full grasp of how important the situation was, and two, it made me do it. I could easily have just chickened out."
The coming out process can even necessitate evolving identities and changing labels. Mitch came out to his parents at 18 when he was Michelle and identified as a lesbian. Six years later, he realized he was transgender. "Sometimes you come out with different labels over time, because sexuality is a process like that," echoes Arabelle. "I first came out as bisexual in high school, after being questioned in middle school as to whether or not I was lesbian. Then I declared myself pansexual. Then lesbian again. Then queer."
Don't put pressure on your friend.
"Nobody was pressuring me into coming out, which was really good," explains Justin. "I have met people who are like, 'Just come out already' though—you have to let everyone do it on their own terms." Brenna told her mom she was a lesbian by writing it on a napkin in a restaurant. Mitch came out twice: He told his family in-person he was a lesbian when he was 18. When he came out as transgender, he wrote a script for himself and called his family who lived out-of-state.
It's also (obviously) important you don't out your friend yourself. "Right after I came out, I was so mad because one of my friends at the time told a couple of our other close friends," says Justin. "Granted, I'm sure they already knew, but the fact that she did that to me really, really hurt. That was something I needed to do—something I wanted to do—and these people were important to me. I felt like it almost invalidated my coming out since it was from a second source."
Do realize that not everyone is as accepting as you are.
"The world is a tough place for a young LGBTQ teen," says Brenna. "Even if you as a straight person think that people won't care, it doesn't seem like that to someone who's in the closet. LGBTQ people are still discriminated against, fear physical violence, have to listen to demeaning comments, worry about keeping jobs—they worry about their future. When I was younger, I couldn't picture living as a gay adult. I didn't know if it was possible to be successful, happy, and out because I didn't have those role models available to me until I was older. Things are getting better now, but we still have a long way to go to make the world feel safe and accepting—not just tolerant—of LGBTQ people. Keeping all of that in mind, when your friend comes out, all of their worries and fears are very real. Be there to listen, defend, support, and find resources for them."
Part of that support means you shouldn't question their decision either. Remember that your friend has spent countless hours thinking about, and in many cases, really struggling with, their identity. "People need to understand that realizing you are—and coming out as—transgender is an enormous life decision that isn't taken lightly," says Mitch. "The individual coming out has most likely weighed all the pros and cons, done endless amounts of research, wrestled with this for an incredibly long time, and understands the risks and the fact that it's going to be a long road and a huge undertaking."
Don't de-individualize your friend with your reaction.
"I know people mean well when they say, 'I love gay people!' but I hate that I'm lumped into this huge category with those who are often nothing like me," says Brenna. "How am I supposed to respond? 'I love straight people?' It's a nice gesture, but it ultimately strips me of my identity as an individual and also makes it sound like the gay community is a genre you can choose to like or dislike, like punk music or Chinese food."
Instead, be casual. "I think the best reactions you can get are when people say, 'I'm really glad you felt comfortable telling me. You're still awesome. Do you want to talk?'" Brenna continues. "This makes it clear that the person cares and is there to listen, but ultimately realizes that this is someone they care about who hasn't actually changed. They've just decided to open up about who they are." And if you're not comfortable with what your friend tells you at first? Play it cool. "If you need to take a little time to process it, that's OK, but be as kind and calm as possible. If you're freaking out, think about how your friend must feel. Your reaction will only make him or her feel worse."
Should you come out as a LGBT teen? Whom might you tell, and how?
Erin Oliveri started to realize she was a lesbian when she was about 13. “We’d be playing kissing games at parties and I didn’t want to kiss any of the guys,” she says.
For the next few years, she struggled with figuring out her sexual identity. Growing up on Staten Island — a short ferry ride away from Manhattan but light years apart in terms of attitudes toward homosexuality — she went to a small, Catholic, all-girls’ high school where everyone knew everyone. “It wasn’t the most welcoming environment. I was very worried about telling people,” says Erin, who’s now 23 and works in public relations in New York.
Coming out as gay, lesbian, bisexual ,or transgender can be tough at any age, but teens have a lot more to think about. Is it safe to come out at school? Will your mom or dad reject you? Will you be kicked out of the house?
Erin knew her family loved her, but she decided to come out in baby steps. “I came out first to a friend from a different school when I was about 15. I definitely knew she was gay,” she recalls. “Then, one of my good friends just kind of knew, and she was really open and almost asked me, so I knew she’d welcome it.”
Next, she told her older sister. “She was the cool one who’d let me hang out with her friends,” Erin says. “I knew she’d be OK with it, and I thought maybe she’d give me some pointers and help me figure out how our parents would react.”
That was the biggie. Erin’s parents are conservative, and always preached against things like sex before marriage. So when at 17, she decided to tell her dad during an Outback Steakhouse lunch after one of her soccer games, Erin was almost shaking with anxiety.
“I said, ‘Dad, I’ve really been wanting to tell you about something. I didn’t want to say anything until I was sure because I didn’t want you to think it was just a phase,’” she recalls. “I looked down at this point and he knew what was coming next. I led off with, ‘I have a girlfriend, and I’m gay.’ I looked up and he had tears in his eyes, and he said, ‘Yeah, we know.’ He looked sad, but he said, ‘You’re Erin, we always love you. It doesn’t matter.’”
Erin instinctively took a wise approach in many ways, says Colleen Logan, PhD, coordinator of Walden University’s Master’s degree program in marriage, couple, and family counseling. Logan specializes in gay, lesbian, and transgender issues. “Everyone’s coming-out experience is different, but there are a few common things that can make the process of coming out easier for teens.”
So if you’ve spent the past few months or years figuring out that you’re gay, bisexual, or transgender, you may want to tell someone else. You want to be true to who you are. How can you do that safely and with support?
Get Comfortable with Yourself First.
“You need to be firm in your own identity and work through some of the issues you might have with your sexuality first,” says Regina Hund, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Pace University Counseling Center in New York. “It’ll be easier to allow other people to go through their process of understanding if you are comfortable with yourself first. You’ll be less vulnerable to rejection.”
Find a Safe Person.
“We want you to have a success early on,” Logan says. With “That’s so gay,” and “That’s so queer” as common expletives, you’re probably hearing lots of negative messages, no matter how accepting a community you live in. “So if the first time you come out can be a successful, welcoming experience, that’s huge, Logan says.
Like Erin Oliveri, many teens come out first to someone they already know is gay, Logan says. “Think about who’s safe. A school counselor? A trusted friend? A cool aunt or cousin?”
Take Your Time.
Don’t feel forced or pressured. Erin Oliveri waited about two years from the time she told a gay friend until she finally came out to her parents. “Your sexuality isn’t a choice, but the when, how, and who of coming out is,” Logan says.
And if you don’t feel safe, sometimes it’s best to wait to come out either at home or at school, or both, says Kathy Belge, former director of the Sexual Minority Youth Resource Center, Oregon’s largest program for LGBT teens and the author of Queer: the Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens. “You may want to hold off until you are out of the house and not financially dependent on your parents,” or if your school is not supportive, Belge says.
Choose Your Moment.
You may be tempted to respond angrily to someone’s anti-gay slur with “Oh yeah? Well, I’m gay, so shut up!” But that’s not likely to get a good reaction.
Pick your time and place carefully. “I don’t recommend giving a monumental dissertation at a holiday dinner. It tends not to go well,” Logan says. “Instead, try for a relaxed afternoon that doesn’t have a holiday or a big event tied to it.”
She suggests writing down what you’re going to say first, and role-playing with someone else who already knows.
Choose Your Person.
Logan says that most LGBT teens choose to come out first to their mom, but her research shows that coming out to the opposite-gender parent is often most successful. “Boys coming out to their moms tend to get a better reaction than boys coming out to dads, and girls coming out tend to be more successful with their dads,” she says. “It may be because the same gender feels like you’re rejecting their parenting.”
That happened with Erin Oliveri. Although her father was emotional, he immediately accepted her declaration that she was a lesbian. But her mom took longer, at first protesting that Erin was just going through a phase, like when she tried the guitar for a few months.
Of course, you don’t have to come out to everyone. Just because you’re out at home doesn’t mean you want to or have to be out at school, or at church.You need to feel comfortable about how the person may respond. “People need to earn the right for you to come out to them,” Logan says.
Remember, it probably took you awhile to adjust to the idea of being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. “Have empathy for parents if their reaction is shock and not immediately embracing,” Belge says.“It was a process for you. Your family and friends haven’t necessarily done that process yet and they need an adjustment period, as well.”
Find Your Tribe.
You’re not alone. There are literally millions of other kids out there who’ve been where you are. You need to find them and help each other.
Look for a high school gay-straight alliance or a local chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG, www.pflag.org), or the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN, www.glsen.org). If there’s nobody local, you can find support online through communities like PFLAG, GLSEN, the Trevor Project (www.thetrevorproject.org), and Lyric.org.
Erin Oliveri, New York.
Colleen Logan, PhD, LMFT, counselor, Walden University.
Regina Hund, PhD, clinical psychologist, Pace University Counseling Center, New York.
Kathy Belge, author, Queer: the Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens, Portland.
With the coming out of Caitlyn Jenner, the lauding of actress Laverne Cox, shows on ABC Family and Amazon as well as many, many other things, transgender people are in the middle of a truly historic moment. They are moving from the fringes of society to front and center—ready or not. You have to be very brave and courageous to show the world your true self. However, all these positive news stories doesn’t mean that some people aren’t still confused or angered by what it means to be transgender or what it means for their own gender identities. They need to find true understanding through authentic stories and personal experiences. Twenty years ago, when I was in college, someone I’d grown up with transitioned from female to male. I was puzzled at first, mainly by the mechanics of it and how it would all work, but I realized that it actually made complete sense. He’d always seemed more male than female to me anyway and now his outside was just finally going to match who he was inside. I couldn’t begin to imagine that and so in the end it was very easy for me to accept him.
Teen literature spends a good proportion of its existence taking on tough topics, shedding light on what it means to be different and how we strive to become our most authentic selves. So it should come as a surprise to no one that teen lit has been showcasing the courageous, true and fictional, stories of transgender teens, teens struggling with gender identity and teens interacting with transgender friends and family members for years. Here are just a few (as in a lot) of what I found on NYPL shelves. As you read, remember this quote by poet e. e. cummings,
“To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”
Alex as Well by Alyssa Brugman
Raised as boy and on hormones, Alex is actually intersex (someone whose anatomy or genetics at birth do not correspond to the typical expectations for female or male). When he starts a new school he decides instead that he is going to live as girl.
Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher
Living a smal Missouri town and still reeling from a bad break-up, 18 year old Logan finds love and connection with Sage, a new girl in town who has a big secret.
Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kriston Mills-Conn
Gabe is a boy who was designated a female at birth. As he struggles to come out to his family and friends about his true self he finds acceptance behind the mic as a radio D.J.
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin (nonfiction)
Interviews with six transgender and gender neutral teens as they speak openly and honestly about their experiences and journeys. Includes several NYC teens.
Convict’s Candy by Damon Meadows
A transgender teen is arrested and sent to federal prison one week before a scheduled sex reassignment surgery. Still classified as male she ends up being housed with male inmates.
Every Day by David Levithan
Every morning A wakes up in another 16-year-old body. Sometimes a boy. Sometimes a girl. Every race. Every sexual identity. A has learned never to get too attached. Then A falls in love with a girl—but how do you build a relationship when every day you occupy a different physical self?
Freakboy by Kristin Clark
Told in free verse and three points of view, we get Brendan, a high school wrestler struggling with his gender identity, his girlfriend Vanessa, a fellow wrestler struggling to be accepted by the boys on the squad and Angel, a transgender college student who tries to help him find acceptance and understanding.
Happy Families by Tanita Davis
Twins Ysabel and Justin share their conflicted feelings as they struggle with their father’s decision to live as a woman.
I Am J by Cris Beam
J, born Jenifer, has never felt like a girl and wants to live as a boy. When his best friend rejects him and his parents struggle to understand him, he runs away to begin a new life and try to become who he really is.
Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde
When her mother abandons Elle in a NYC apt, she is befriended by her neighbors Frank and Molly. Elle promptly gets a crush on the kind and wise Frank but learning that he’s transgender turns her world upside-down.
One in Every Crowd by Ivan Coyote
Stories and autobiographical essays about growing up, struggling with family, gender identity and all told in a funny, matter-of-fact voice.
Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger
Grady was a “never-quite-right” girl so he changed his name and started living as a guy. As he attempts to live his new self he struggles with varying degrees of acceptance from his friends, family and classmates.
Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition by Katie Rain Hill (nonfiction)
Katie grew up a boy in Oklahoma but always felt like a girl. In high school, she began her transition to female and began living as a girl. She recalls all the pain and bullying that followed as well as the joy she felt finally living as her true self and making new friends who accepted her.
Some Assembly Required: The Not-so-secret Life of a Transgender Teen by Arin Andrews (nonfiction)
In this memoir, 17 year old Arin recalls his journey of transitioning female to male. He discusses learning what being transsexual meant, his suicide attempts and finding acceptance and love with his girlfriend Katie Hill (see above).
Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince (nonfiction)
Liz refuses to conform to a single gender identity. She’s a girl who likes to wear what boys wear but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t identify as a girl or is a lesbian. She just is who she is.
Transgender Lives: Complex Stories, Complex Voice by Kristin Conn-Mills (nonfiction)
Along with honest interviews with transgender teens and adults, the author explains the language, history, insurance issues and politics of being trans and what it means to be a part of the transgender community.
What Happened to Lani Garver by Carol Plum-Ucci
The new kid on Hackett Island defies description. Who is she? Where does she come from? Is she a boy or a girl? Does it matter? Lani is tormented and bullied by classmates but Claire decides to befriend this intriguing new person and it’s a friendship that will change how Claire sees the world.
This is the twelfth feature in a series that aims to elevate some of the transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals who have played a significant role in the ongoing fight for trans and queer liberation. Check out the previous features with CeCe McDonald, Kate Bornstein, Laura Jane Grace, Buck Angel, Calpernia Addams, Ts Madison, Amos Mac, Candis Cayne, Tiq Milan, Caroline Cossey and Andrea James.
Long before Laverne Cox appeared on the cover of TIME magazine and the publication claimed our culture had reached the “transgender tipping point,” a little girl was making waves on a national level simply for living as her authentic self.
Jazz Jennings, star of TLC reality show “I Am Jazz,” has had a very public relationship with her transition beginning in 2007. The world was first introduced to Jennings, who was just six at the time, when Barbara Walters interviewed her for a “20/20” special on transgender children, and she has continued to educate and inform individuals about gender-variant children and what it means to be transgender ever since.
According to Jennings, none of this could be possible without the endless support of her family, who has encouraged her to embrace the things that make her happy throughout her childhood, regardless of gendered social expectations. In this interview with The Huffington Post, Jennings, who recently released her memoir Being Jazz: My Life As A (Transgender) Teen, reflects on her transitioning ― and growing up ― in the spotlight, the role her family has played throughout her journey and the responsibility she feels to other trans and gender-nonconforming children as she begins to navigate her teenage years.
Many transgender people choose new names to go by before, during, or after their transition to their true gender, whether it’s because their dead name (given to a person at birth) is too masculine or feminine, too binary, or just doesn’t fit them anymore.
The legal name change process, depending on the state, can be tedious and frustrating. It requires financial resources to pay court fees and physically get to bureaucratic institutions, and much more. It also requires a lot of emotional energy to undergo the process, especially when you haven’t gone by your legal name in years. There are bumps in the road that someone might encounter even after they've changed their name legally.
But even before you go about changing your name on legal documents, you need to achieve the first step: actually picking a name. Of course, you don’t need to change your name legally in order to start going by a new name, but for many, changing your name is a huge step in affirming your gender identity.
And sometimes, a new name isn’t just a new first name; it includes a last one, too. Changing your surname can represent a new type of independence, especially for transgender people who have been rejected by their families due to their identity, but most importantly, it represents who a person was always meant to be.
So how do you even begin to pick a name you’ll go by for the rest of your life? Teen Vogue asked 16 transgender people about how they chose the names they go by today. Some used baby name books while others were inspired by deeper meanings and translations behind their names. Here are their stories filled with self-love.
Elijah Emerson Buchanan Doss, 20, Pennsylvania
The name Elijah is deeply rooted in me. As a child, I hated my dead name and always wished for a more masculine name. In 7th grade, my best friend and I decided to give one another “boy” nicknames. I chose the name Elijah because of a book I was writing at the time with a character named Elijah, he was everything I really aspired to look like. The name was lovely to me. When I came out as transgender at 18, I went by Emerson, which is my now middle name. Some significant others told me the name Elijah did not fit me. After those relationships ended, I chose Elijah as my first name. I never looked back, the name is home to me.
Violet Edgar, 36, California
I got my name, as many of us do, by pretending to be someone online. In my case, it was from role playing an original character of mine — technically a gender swapped version of my character, who was originally male — in a certain fandom. I named it after her hair (purple — my favorite color) and, when I started meeting my online friends at conventions, I needed something to go by. I hadn't planned for that to become my actual name, but I discovered I had gotten used to people calling me that — and I rather liked it a lot. So, when it came time to choose a name for myself when I came out, it was really the obvious choice.
Lucas, 22, Illinois
I chose my name by going through lists on baby name websites and finding ones that I felt fit with me, and then I narrowed it down to a list of about five. I carried those around in a notebook for awhile before doing anything about it. Eventually, I stood in front of a mirror and said them all a bunch while i looked at myself to see if they fit with me as a person. I chose the one I did because it felt right, I liked the meaning, and it was not ambiguous (in regards to gender). I chose my Hebrew name because of the meaning and because of the loving, queer relationship between David and Jonathan.
Salem Kentish, 21, Georgia
I actually stopped going by my deadname before I even realized I was transgender at the age of 17! I went by Babydoll for a year until I started having indescribable gender feelings. Being genderflux, the road to realization was difficult for me At 18, I knew that I was transgender and needed a gender neutral name. I was reminded of the name Salem through Tyler the Creators album ‘Wolf’. There’s a character throughout the whole album named Salem who I oddly resonated with. ‘Wolf’ was an album I felt like I embodied somehow, it was dear to my heart. And I felt like what people usually associate ‘Salem’ with and how I personally related to it, was a perfect description of who I am.
Kai, 17, Germany
When I noticed that I was trans I was fourteen years old. For about two years I went by a shortened form of my birth name, but after a while it began feeling more and more uncomfortable and wrong, so I filtered for gender neutral names on baby naming websites, until I found a few I liked. I then tried them out in failedslacker's pronoun dressing room, until I found the name I'm currently using. I was very happy and felt relieved, having finally found the perfect name, that is so very "me."
Alaina Leary, 25, Massachusetts
Alaina found me. It was the name of someone I was close to in middle school, but she always disliked her name and went by a nickname. I often used her name when I was writing fictionalized versions of myself in stories. The name has Irish origins, which I loved because both my parents are Irish. When I tried the name on, it just felt right. It felt like me.
Dakota Grey, 25, Pennsylvania
I came out when I was 20, within a year after moving out of my small hometown. Coming out was part of a healing process from an abusive relationship; I needed to put myself first and take care of myself. Coming to terms with being trans was part of that. I decided to change my name as my previous name was fairly feminine and I felt like an imposter using it. I gave myself a set of rules to decide on a new name: had to start with a hard consonant, like a D, T, R, 2-3 syllables, gender neutral but leans to the masculine side, something fairly uncommon but not hard to spell, something not of anglo saxon origin, and finally, no names of anyone I’ve ever been been romantically involved with. I compiled a short list, most of which I’ve forgotten now, and over a few nights would look at myself in the mirror and call myself by a name off the list. I would try introducing myself to my mirror image by that name, did it sound right? Did it feel real? Did it feel like home? Dakota was the first name that I said and it felt right, and it stuck. It's a Sioux word that means “friend” or “ally.” I decided on a color for a middle name as it followed my dead name and it was something I had in common with my younger sister. “Grey” eventually won out. I started introducing myself as Dakota in the spring of 2013, and in the fall, I sent in the paperwork to have my name legally changed as a birthday present for myself. On my 21st birthday, I went to the DMV to have my license changed. It was the best present I have ever given myself.