If You're Out To Some People But Not Others, Here's How To Stay Safe
A few months into my first year of college, a childhood friend came to visit me at school. I panicked the whole time about what to wear and what name to go by. Although I have always known that I am trans, college was the first time that I publicly used my chosen name and openly presented as more "masculine." Expressing your identity to the people around you is a lifelong process that looks different for everyone. And when you're out to some people but not others, it's natural to wonder how to prioritize your physical and emotional well-being.
"Different people have different responses and reactions to queerness," Chris Bright, director of public training for The Trevor Project tells Elite daily. "I might decide that [being "out"] just doesn't feel safe or comfortable in a particular community where I am. That doesn't mean I'm less authentic, or I'm not myself; it just means that I'm the one who calls the play, and I'm the one who makes it work."
Though queer people are a gift to humanity, we are still at high risk for violence, exclusion, and harassment. No matter where you're at in your "coming out" joinery, protecting yourself is important. And if you're "out" to some people, but not others, here are five ways to ensure your well-being.
1. Make the most out of the spaces you feel safe in.
Maybe being "out" around your friends makes you feel amazing, or you feel like you can really be yourself at rugby practice. Bright shares that taking what you can from the spaces you do feel safe in can help you feel strong and confident when you're not able to express yourself.
"The spaces that I can be 100% me are such a balm to my mental health," Bright says. "I feel energized knowing that, 'Hey, I'm about to go into another space where I can't fully be me, or express myself the way I want to, but I was just able to do that for a whole weekend, or at that party last night,' and that does sometimes help you keep going."
Don't get it twisted: Queer people are literally iconic, and the world is a better place with us in it. Though you deserve to be all of yourself at all times, it can be uncomfortable or even unsafe to be "out." As Bright shares, embracing the moments and spaces where you do feel safe and comfortable can help you feel strong and confident when you don't. "Make sure that you are giving yourself what you can get when you can get it," Bright says. "It's hard to find that self-care, and you have to fit it in the places that are safe to fit it in."
2. Observe & adapt in the spaces you're unsure of.
While everyone is different, Bright attests that being observational and adaptive in different or new spaces can also help you feel safe in your identity. "We sometimes gauge that a certain community, space, or person is going to be safe to talk to about these things, and then we also gauge that certain communities, spaces, or people aren’t going to be safe," Bright says.
If you're not feeling being "out" at school or you don't feel safe having your parents know about your identity, you never need to feel pressure to share it, and you're not "less queer" or "less radical" for doing what makes you feel safe. You get to decide when and where you feel comfortable presenting different parts of your identity, and you get to decide how it is you do that. "We sometimes have to flip a switch and say, 'Yes. I'm safe. I can talk about this,' and, 'Nope. I'm not safe. I can't talk about this,' and go about it in a bit more of methodical way," Bright says. "That's just the experience of a lot of queer people."
You are amazing, and you never need to minimize or reduce who you are. However, as Bright shares, knowing the people and places that make you feel safe, and moreover, the people and places that make you feel unsafe can help you prioritize your well-being.
3. Set boundaries with the people you do tell.
Coming out to the people around you can be a huge deal. However, you may not be ready to come out to everyone, or it may not feel safe or comfortable for you to be "out" all the time. In these cases, it can be helpful to set some major boundaries with the people that you do tell about your identity. "It's really important that we communicate our boundaries and that we share with folks because you can't expect someone to know exactly what concerns you have if you don't let them know what your boundaries look like," Bright says. "It's up to you to make sure the people around you know what your boundaries are, and then it's up to everyone around you to respect those boundaries."
Maybe you use one name at school or work and another one around your family, or you've told some of your friends about your new partner, but not others. As Bright attests, being as explicit as possible with your boundaries can help you feel safe and comfortable.
"Be completely transparent with them, and inform them that this information is personal, and you don't want them to share it," Seth Kaempfer, LGBTQ+ Equity and Inclusion Practitioner, M.A., tells Elite Daily.
4. Let the people who do know help you.
A not so gentle remind: You and your identity are not a burden or an inconvenience to others. Still, protecting yourself is important. If you're worried about your physical safety or ensuring your emotional well-being at school or work, Kaempfer suggests asking the people you are "out" to help you stay safe. "This could look like them helping to confront behavior or actions which could put you and your identity at risk," Kaempfer says. "Another is to look at policies and processes that could protect you; some places of work have protection in place for the safety regarding various identities."
Whether your bestie totally shuts down anyone saying homophobic slurs or your boss makes all the bathrooms gender-inclusive, you don't have to feel like you're alone, no matter how "out" you are.
5. Try to be empathic.
Although you never need to put up with harassment or cruelty, Bright shares that building empathy for others may help you feel safe and supported. "It's situational, it depends on your relationships, and your overall comfort, but I do think that sometimes 'saving face' involves being way more aware than we often like to be," Bright says. "It also requires an extraordinary level of empathy because you have to put yourself in other people's shoes and ask yourself, 'What might be going on here that I'm not seeing?'"
If your super annoying second cousin says something really offensive at your great uncle's post-funeral luncheon, it may feel more comfortable to excuse yourself from the table than to try to unpack all of their internalized queerphobia. (This has literally happened to me.) Additionally, if you're hanging out with your hometown friends that have never learned about the gender binary or you're visiting someone from another part of the world — remember that you may be speaking to someone who isn't trying to be offensive or harmful and simply doesn't know the affirming language to use.
While queerphobic language and behavior are never OK, understanding where others are coming from and empathizing with what people are going through may help you understand the best ways to stay safe in a given space. You never need to put up with harassment or cruelty, and it's never your job to educate others — being tuned in to other people may help you understand the best ways to navigate your own identity in certain spaces.
Whether you've only told your soccer team, your literal sisters, or your college therapist, Matt (shoutout to my college therapist, Matt), you get to decide who knows about your identity. If you're "out" to some people but not to others, try setting boundaries about who you feel comfortable telling. While you deserve to be all versions of yourself everywhere you go, taking what you can from the spaces that make you feel amazing can pump you up as you navigate less-affirming places. Though it may feel intimidating, asking the people who do know for their help can ensure your wellbeing as well. At the end of the day, you and your queerness are a beautiful gift and the world is better with you in it.
For more stories like this one, visit Elite Daily's Coming Out page.