Trans Summer School: Say My Name, Doc, and the Administrative Side of Coming Out
So you’ve come out. Now what? Today we’re all about logistics, because coming out, and socially transitioning, is an ever-evolving process. First, let’s head to the schoolyard.
Socially transitioning at school
Depending on where you are, you may have a school that’s very trans-friendly, not so with it, or actively hostile. It really helps to have your parents or another supportive adult in your corner when you approach the school to discuss your transition, because sometimes some heavyweights are needed.
You may find it most helpful to draft an email to the school explaining the situation and outlining what you need. You can say that you’re transgender, state the name and pronouns you use, and request that these be changed in school records and communicated to school staff. You may find it helpful to forward our guide for schools, which has a lot of information educators can use when they’re preparing to accommodate a transgender student.
Some things to think about: Would you like to announce your transition in class, or allow the information to spread organically through your friends, allies, and the rest of the school? Would you feel more comfortable sharing a bathroom or locker room with people of the same gender, or would you prefer a single-stall bathroom and private changing area? How would you like the school to handle bullying and harassment incidents if they occur — do you want your parents called, or would you prefer that the situation be handled at school? Does your school have a uniform, and if it does, is there an option for you, including a gender-neutral uniform that would allow you to wear clothing that makes you comfortable even if the school refuses to acknowledge your gender? If there’s a dress code, does it revolve around gendered norms (“boys can’t wear skirts”) or is it focused on basic behavioral standards like “shorts must be at least six inches long”? Students are often interested in dress code reform, and if the dress code discriminates against trans and otherwise gender nonconforming students, your peers might be interested in challenging it with you.
Does your school have any LGBQTA+ student associations? Are you willing to start one if it doesn’t? (You’re not required to!) How about LGBQTA+ modules in English, History, and other classes? People are often cruel to trans and gender nonconforming people because they don’t know very much about us, or because they’ve never met an out trans or otherwise gender nonconforming person in real life. Having books by and about trans people in English, or discussion of major events in LGBQTA history in history, can help students get to know you a little better.
Are you on any sports teams? You should discuss the situation with your coach and find out more about the district rules for transgender athletes — if you’re transitioning in a masculine direction, you could be at a disadvantage when compared to cis guys because of their tendency to have higher body mass, while if you’re transitioning in a feminine direction, you might be considered unfair competition for cis girls you compete with. If you’re nonbinary or otherwise gender nonconforming, it will be difficult to find a sports team with people of the same gender, so you’ll have to talk to your coach about picking the one that works best for you, or exploring sports that are not gender segregated.
If you experience discrimination at school, you may be living in an area where you are considered a “protected class” — someone the government considers vulnerable to discrimination. If you are a protected class, the law may govern the school’s activities, especially if it receives government funding. You can potentially apply pressure to the school to resolve the problem, including, potentially, a discrimination suit against the school or district. Depending on the specifics of your situation, a legal organization may be interested in offering you pro bono (free) or discounted services.
Socially transitioning at the doctor’s office
Even if you never plan to pursue medical transition, you should communicate with your doctor’s office about your gender and needs, because you deserve to be treated with respect. Additionally, if you’re thinking about medical transition at some point in the future, it helps to establish your interest early. As with the school, you can submit a letter to the doctor’s office explaining that you’re transitioning, asking that your new name and pronouns be indicated in the office’s records, and requesting that you be referred to a trans-competent physician if your doctor feels unable to care for you.
When it comes to primary care providers, there’s no reason a general practitioner can’t treat you, because cis and trans people alike get colds, need vaccinations, and require physicals. Your body isn’t suddenly magical and mysterious just because you’re trans or otherwise gender nonconforming, and you should be able to stick with your current physician. However, if your physician is transphobic, it’s better to know now than later, and unfortunately, some doctors aren’t very tolerant of the trans community.
You may want to consider counseling, in which case you should see a trans-friendly therapist, because likely gender is very much on your mind. Some doctors explicitly list themselves as working with transgender patients, while others may rely on word of mouth for advertisement. You can ask around in the trans community or check out therapist’s websites, but one really great way to find a therapist is through a gender transition clinic. Seeking therapy through a gender clinic doesn’t mean you’re going to be pressured into medical or surgical transition options — therapy is just one of the many services they offer.
If you are interested in medical or surgical transition, a gender clinic can work with you to find a care provider who specializes in trans youth. A growing number of children’s hospitals have gender clinics, and some clinics handle trans and otherwise gender nonconforming people of all ages. You can read up on their websites to learn more about the services they offer and whether they’d be a good fit for you.
Socially transitioning in your community
If you live in a small town where everyone knows your business, all you really have to do to announce your transition is whisper it into the shrubs outside your house and it will be all over town by dusk. If you live in a larger community, it can be more of a challenge. As you transition at school, kids may bring home news to their parents. Beyond that, you’ll likely have to come out repeatedly to people as you explain that “oh, it’s actually Katherine now” to people who call you by the wrong name. Don’t worry — as children's author Alex Gino told me when I talked to them about the experience of coming out in the late 1990s, when nonbinary people weren’t very well-known, it really does get easier each time as you develop a polite script to rattle off. Don’t be afraid to gently suggest that people visit the internet to learn more about the trans community! You don’t have to perform Trans 101 in the produce aisle.
You can also encourage your parents, if they’re supportive, to do some education and outreach of their own. One set of parents actually took out a corrected “birth announcement” to celebrate their trans son, which was a creative way of doing it, but putting an ad in the paper isn’t necessary (and it could make you uncomfortable). Your parents can reach out one by one to people in their social circles, alerting people to the situation and informing them about boundaries like not using the wrong name, using the correct pronouns, and not asking intrusive questions.
If you attend church, temple, or another religious organization, your options for social transition are quite varied. You may be concerned about acceptance from members of your religious community, and it can be helpful to meet with your priest, rabbi, imam, pastor, or other head honcho, with parents in tow, to explain that you’re transitioning and request assistance. You might be surprised by who’s welcoming! You can discuss whether you’d like to make an announcement at services or in a community newsletter, if you’re prefer to come out to people individually, or if you’d like to discuss it with your youth group or club and let things percolate out that way. Trans-friendly, and transgender, religious people exist all over the world, and many of them have drawn upon their faith during transition. If you’re worried about conflicts between your faith and your gender, you might want to hunt around online to see what trans people are saying.
As you go through social transition, you’re likely going to get a lot of those questions, and I’ll tell you a little secret straight from Miss Manners: When someone asks or says something extraordinarily rude, you don’t need to play nice. You can raise an eyebrow and say “pardon me?” You don’t actually have to be polite to people who are being rude, and you can put them on notice with a “pardon me?”
Changing your name
When it comes to changing your name, you have a lot of options. You can start by just having people call you by your new name. However, if you want to legally change your name and/or gender marker, the process varies wildly by region. You may need a court order, you may be able to use deed polling, you may need to provide proof of transition, you may need a doctor’s letter. Trans people in your area will know the ins and outs, and you should search for resources like the Transgender Law Center’s exhaustive name change guide, which provides tons of info for people in the United States.
If you decide to legally change your name, make sure to change it everywhere. You’d be surprised by where it turns up — unlike me, you might not have utility and credit cards in your name, but you might have….
- Student loans
- Bank accounts
- School and medical records
- A Social Security or other government identity card
- A driver’s license or other photo ID
- A passport
- Insurance cards
- Vehicle registration
- Membership cards for various groups and social organizations
- Other licenses and permits in your name (hunting, fishing, etc)
- Memberships on various websites, including profile names on services like Netflix
- School identification
- Academic test records, like your SAT or AP scores
- Social media handles
Five years after I changed my name, I was still finding random documentation under the wrong name, and that was after I organized everything I could conceivably imagine. Some of these documents will require fees to replace, as for example with passports, which are commonly reissued as an entirely new document, not a renewal, when you change your name and/or gender. They may require differing levels of documentation to change, too: Sometimes you need a copy of your court order, sometimes you can change it yourself, sometimes you need to fill out a form. Generally, it’s a good idea to change government ID first, since that’s often what people ask for when changing the name on other accounts and documents.
Previously on Trans Summer School: Let's Bust Out of This Closet!
Coming up next time: The Magic of Hormones