Coming out as trans or gender-diverse

The term ‘coming out’ often refers to lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people disclosing their sexual orientation. For trans or gender diverse people, coming out describes the act of disclosing a person’s trans status or gender identity to another person. There is no one standard story or way of coming out as trans or gender diverse. Coming out to parents as a young person, who lives away from home, may be different to having conversations about gender identity as a younger child.
Parents and carers we spoke to shared stories of their children coming out to them, but some also spoke about other ways of learning about their child’s gender identity.
In this section, you can read more about their different experiences. Some of the things parents talked about:
  • The way they came to learn about their child’s gender identity;
  • How they felt when their child came out to them;
  • Telling their partner or ex-partner about their child’s gender identity.

Parents learning about their child’s gender identity

For some parents of older children it was common to have their child come out to them as trans, either in a conversation, or by text.

Jan spoke about being aware that there was something going on for her daughter and described the experience of her daughter coming out to her as trans by text.

For parents of younger children, the process was often different and included conversations about things such as names, appearance and the body.
For example, one parent talked about her son wanting to be called by a boy’s name outside of the home when he was 7 years old. She considered that as his ‘coming out day’. Another parent described how she accidentally discovered that her child was looking at images of male bodies on the internet. This led to a conversation about how the child felt about their own body and the mismatch they felt between their ‘inside and outside.’ One mother said about her child that they have had ‘trouble with their gender identity’ since they were 4 years old. She said: ‘They’ve kind of said, on and off that they don’t identify with the gender that they were assigned at birth, They’ve said this to me. They’ve said this to their dad and they’ve said this to teachers at school, across the years, right going back to when they were four.’

Georgina talked about her son’s wanting to be called by a boy’s name outside of the home and how she felt that was the day he came out.

Lisa talked about finding out that her son was trans.

Even for older children, coming out was often more of a process than a one off event. For example, Ross said about his child’s experience: ‘it wasnt a specific time when they came out. They just started having issues.’ Ross felt that being able to identify gender issues allowed his child to move forward in their journey. He said that when his child was able to talk about gender issues with their therapist, it was like ‘flood gates had opened. And everything then started to fall into place.’

There was no clear moment of coming out as trans for Ross’s child, but they first explored gender issues in CAMHS appointments.

How parents felt when their child came out to them

Parents we spoke to described a range of feelings when their children came out to them. Some felt surprised, shocked and anxious, some spoke about feeling relieved, others talked about how they had been anticipating their child coming out as trans for a while. A couple spoke about how they could feel there was something going on before their child came out, but were not able to put their finger on it. One parent said: ‘Probably from around the age of 15, 16 we were aware that there was something going on, but we didnt really understand, as parents what that was.’ Some parents thought their child would come out as gay. Both Jan and Teresa said they were expecting that.

Teresa said she thought her daughter might come out as gay. She felt that her daughter coming out as trans was a bit of a bolt from the blue.

A couple of parents we spoke to said they had anticipated their child coming out as trans and were preparing for it. Lesley said that since her son’s early childhood, she had been ‘always anticipating it.’ Kate said: ‘For the last two or three years, we’ve expected that that’s where we would end up but we’ve only known from him for the last ten months.’ For Kate it was the way her son felt about his body and how he presented to the world that made her and her husband think he would come out as trans. Despite expecting her son to come out as trans, Kate still found it emotional when it happened. She said: ‘I wasn’t massively surprised, but I was still upset, And not because I wasn’t prepared, but actually everything that you think might happen has happened.’

Kate said the changes in how her son wanted to present to the world made her and her husband expect his coming out.

Lesley said she was anticipating her son to come out as trans since his early childhood.

Some parents felt surprised, or even shocked to learn their child was trans. Valerie said: ‘My daughter told us, four years ago now that she thought she was trans, but she was living away from home and so that did come as a completely out of the blue and a bit of a shock to us all.’
A few parents we spoke to had two children who identified as trans, and both times when their children came out to them it was a surprise. E said about their older child: ‘He was a little bit of a tomboy, we would not have said anything like this was on the cards.’ With the second child, E felt the surprise was even bigger. She said: ‘We wouldn’t have been at all surprised if he’d said, ‘Actually I am gay’ or something like that, But then, out of the blue, he suddenly said, ‘I think I’m trans. And we just, kind of knocked us for six and thought, what?!? Again? A second one. Cannot believe this.’
Adele said her son was gender non-conforming as a child, but she still felt surprise and shock when he came out as trans. She said she was glad he came out to her via text message, because she ‘kind of fell apart’ when she learned about it. Adele said: ‘I was kind of very upset and I was crying, I think from the shock of it as much as anything.’

Adele talked about her son being gender non-conforming as a child and how his coming out was a shock to her. She said she didn’t know anything about trans children and worried he will be bullied.

A sense of relief was another feeling that came up when people talked about their children coming out. Ali was relieved that her daughter trusted her enough to share it with her. She said it was also good to know what the concern was for her daughter, whose mental health was suffering at the time. Knowing that her daughter was struggling with her gender identity allowed Ali to plan how to help her more effectively. Lesley also spoke about a sense of relief when her son came out, but also about how she felt that this wasn’t ‘going to be easy.’

Ali felt relieved that her daughter could trust her enough to come out to her.

When her son came out as trans, Lesley felt a sense of relief but also anticipated that things will be hard for him.

Telling their partner or ex-partner about their child’s gender identity

It was common for the young person to come out to one parent first. This meant that the parent who found out first would sometimes be involved in telling their partner or ex-partner about their child’s gender identity. These situations could be stressful for the family.

Jan talked about telling her husband, her daughter’s father that their daughter was trans.

For children whose parents were not together, there was the added difficulty of keeping everyone informed and on ‘the same page.’ This sometimes meant that some parents felt left out. Mel, a stepmother to a trans girl said: ‘My husband and I were the last ones to know. So, we were way behind in terms of kind of getting to grips with what this was.’
Georgina talked about telling her son’s dad and how she suggested her son come out to his dad in a letter. She put her ex-partner’s angry reaction down to him feeling left out. She said: ‘I think, he does really struggle with the trans status, but the main reason was because he was the last to know.’

Georgina spoke about her son coming out to his dad in a letter and how she got an ‘earful’ from her ex-partner when he had read it.

Coming out can start a process of social transition.
Some people we spoke to shared experiences where their partner or ex-partner did not affirm their child’s gender identity.

Social transition

Social transition refers to a number of changes that can be made in a person's social life such as change of name, pronouns, physical appearance...