A reader writes: “My question concerns coming out. I am a trans guy in my early 40s. I started transitioning medically about a year ago, and have started to have all the usual changes (voice, build, hair, etc.).
“While I’m no Lana Wachowski, I am a public figure. What I mean is, I have published books and other things under my female name, and in the small universe of my particular expertise, I am fairly well-known. So I have accepted that ‘stealth’ will never be an option for me.
“I have now ‘come out’ to everyone I can think of whom I care about personally, including people in my profession. But I have avoided making a public statement or putting anything on the web because a) in spite of everything I am a very private person, and b) even if I did want to make a change to my web presence, I can’t think of a simple, professional way to announce the change without making it into a big deal or draw unwanted attention.
“At the same time, the situation is getting critical: people who know me through my writing who meet me for the first time are getting very confused, and other acquaintances are feeling (I sense) confused and annoyed because they don’t know what to do with my obvious changes.
“Do you or your readers have any suggestions for how to come out as trans as a public figure with an established identity? Any suggestions for phrasing on a website or byline? Making a speech at the Academy Awards is not an option for me, unfortunately So I need to find a way to sort of ‘slip in’ information about my gender identity in as modest and laid back a way as possible.”
This is a great question, and I hope that readers have some good advice. I was not known publicly prior to my transition, so my web presence, my books, and everything else that I have done has been since my transition.
But I can say that it does reach a critical point when people start to become confused, annoyed, or even scared by obvious physical changes that they can’t explain. In my case, I didn’t come out at work until after I had made some major changes, and the rumor got around that I was dying of cancer (regular readers have heard this one before).
When I finally did come out, fearing the worst, my coworkers and staff were so happy that I didn’t have cancer that they were not at all upset by my transition. The most politically and religiously conservative of my staff – the person who I thought would be the most judgmental and might want to quit when she found out her supervisor was trans – said, “I’m so glad you’re not dying that I don’t care what you do.”
Now you are at this point – you have to say something. And this would be my recommendation:
Put up a small announcement on your website (and on your professional Facebook page, LinkedIn, or whatever professional sites and profiles you have online) saying something like this: “I am very pleased to announce that I am in the process of transitioning from female to male. This has been both a difficult and very exciting experience, as you can imagine, and I am happy to be sharing it with you now. Going forward, I will be publishing under my new name, John Smith, and using my new pronouns, he and him. As always, I appreciate your ongoing support of my work, and I look forward to our continued partnerships.”
Obviously, that’s my wording, and you will have your own. But I would make it brief, to the point, and upbeat. I would offer no type of excuse or apology, and I would not take a “victim” stance (“I hope you will still want to work with me.”).
If you are willing to answer questions, you could put that in your announcement (“If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me. I will try to answer them as best I can.”), but this is not necessary. You say you are a private person, and you might just want to keep it that way. And beware – if you do agree to answer questions, you might get deluged.
Your readers, contacts, and groups will generally take their cues from you about how to respond. If you are positive, they will probably be positive, too. If you act like it’s no big deal, they will be more inclined to feel that way as well (although it will be a bigger deal to some of them than they might let on).
After you have that announcement on your website for a reasonable period of time, and after you have changed everything on your website to reflect your new name (with new photos, if you have photos on your site), you can take the announcement down. Once you start publishing under your new name, you will probably have photos of your old books, under your old name, and your new books, under your new name, on your site, and new visitors can just figure it out.
If you are writing articles to be published in journals and so on, and you want readers to connect these articles to your prior persona and your prior publications, you could have something in the bio that appears at the end of the article: “John Smith, formerly Jane Jones, is the author of seven books, including How to Make Your Dog Love You and Animal Rights for All. Find him on his website at johnsmith.xxx.” (I made up the names of these books – I have no idea what you write about, and would not put it in here if I did.)
That would be my advice – keep it simple and upbeat. I hope we hear from readers who have actually done this and have successes and cautions to share. Good luck!