Coming out as transgender at university can feel like a daunting task, especially if you only started to think about your gender identity during university. I came out as transmasculine at the end of my first year and I both regret and don’t regret the timing, which is a common feeling for those of us who come out during our time at university. It is never too late to come out, but it can be really difficult and scary for many of us. I would like to share some advice on coming out at university and share my own experience in the hope that it may help you come out and be able to live your life as your authentic self.
Safety Always Comes First
When coming out, there is always a risk that you may get some negative responses. When I came out, I received a few messages from old friends who did not accept me and refused even to try to use my chosen name and pronouns. It’s best to leave people like that behind, but sometimes responses can be violent, even in public spaces. If you feel unsafe on campus, most universities have gender-neutral bathrooms and LGBT+ societies that can offer safe spaces and support.
My advice would be to contact your university’s LGBT+ society and build friendships in the society. Most of the members will be able to help you through bad coming out experiences and may even be willing to open up about their own experiences to make you feel less alone. But they will also be some of the closest friends you will make as they will understand the importance of safe spaces more than your cisgender and heterosexual friends.
How and When to Come Out
There is no wrong or right time and way to come out. Sometimes I regret coming out so late and feel like my life has been delayed, but I am also thankful that I waited so long because I didn’t feel ready to come out until late into my first year of university. It is never too late or too early! If it feels like the right time for you and you do not feel pressured to rush into it, then that is the right time for you to come out. The right time varies for everyone, so don’t compare when you felt ready to when someone else felt ready; it will make only hurt both of you.
Similarly, there is no right way to come out. If face-to-face conversations aren’t your thing, you’ll be glad to know that this isn’t the only way to come out as transgender. When I came out, I came out to everyone through a Facebook post and sent a few much closer friends and family a message to explain what this meant and why I wanted them to know. At no point did I sit anyone down and nervously push myself through an uncomfortable amount of eye contact and questioning. Movies tend to portray coming out in one way, which is very emotional face-to-face scenes, which is a great way to come out if you want to, but it’s not the default way to come out. Many people like to write letters to come out and post them or leave them out for the recipient to read in their own time. This is especially great for people you think may need more time to understand what being trans means and need some alone time to let out any negative feelings before you talk to them about it. If you do choose to come out in person, make sure you are safe and remember that if you become uncomfortable at any point, it is okay to get up and leave.
Coming Out in a University Setting
The final boss, coming out to lecturers and tutors. While there is no correct order of who to come out to first, I left my lecturers and tutors to last. It’s a very scary moment for many. If a lecturer refuses to use the correct pronouns and names, the thought of being misgendered all semester is awful. But it can be so easy to quickly send them an email to come out. Checking your timetable for who you will be taught by and dropping them a quick email is a great way to do this, especially while teaching is online as face-to-face meetings are cancelled for most courses at most universities.
What if it goes wrong? What if your tutor or lecturer refuses to call you by your chosen name or use the correct pronouns? Contacting your student support centre or service is a good way to report lecturers and tutors who are not respecting your gender identity and reporting them sooner can help prevent other trans students dealing with a transphobic member of staff. For further support, your LGBT+ society may be able to take action to support you and deal with any members of staff who are transphobic.
Coming out is hard, and it’s something you will find yourself doing for the rest of your life as new people enter your life. But the relief you get from being able to live life as your authentic self makes it all worth it. If you consider this advice, have a strong support network of friends, and feel ready to come out, you’re all set to begin coming out as transgender as a university student!