Did you know that 42% of American adults say forms should offer over two gender options? Better yet, more than half of Americans ages 18 to 29 (53%) believe forms should include nonbinary gender options.
This progressiveness is a breath of fresh air. If you’re ready to come out to your loved ones as nonbinary, then you’re probably asking yourself whether now is the right time to do it.
If you’re like most folks, you’ll also feel a bit anxious, especially if you’re unsure of how they’ll respond. Within this guide, you’ll learn how to prepare, execute and share your truth. If you’re ready, let’s dive in.
1. Be Kind, This is Their “Beginning”
When coming out as nonbinary, it’s important to remember that you may have taken months, if not years, to explore and understand your identity.
Sadly, much of society thinks only two valid gender options exist. In part, this is because no one has ever taken the time to explain to them that an alternative exists.
The truth is that lots of variations of gender exist, as well as having no gender at all.
While you’ve had time to reflect on and learn about your nonbinary gender, the people you are coming out to might not have had the same luxury. That’s why it falls on you to approach them with patience and respect.
For example, you probably know that the flag below represents nonbinary people, but what are the chances that your loved ones know this yet?
2. Choose Your Communication Route
Coming out as nonbinary can happen through a variety of different methods, such as a conversation, letter, email, or a phone or video call (think FaceTime or Zoom).
For many people, a good place to start is a letter or an email. This is because it allows you to clearly and thoughtfully communicate your message, while providing the other party with time to digest your news.
With this approach, you’ll have the space to explain things the way you intend, uninterrupted, and free from the other person’s “knee jerk” reactions.
If you prefer to have the conversation in person, consider writing yourself an outline or rehearsing what you’d like to say with a friend.
3. Assess Your Safety (And Have a Plan)
Your safety is and should be one of your most important considerations. Ask yourself, will your physical or emotional safety be in jeopardy if you come out as nonbinary? If the answer is “yes”, then you’ll need to prepare a place that you can safely go.
Give thought to your job as well and assess whether being part of the LGBTQ+ community could put it at risk. If so, check whether your city has non-discrimination ordinances. That way, you’ll know exactly how to protect yourself from this type of discrimination.
With these things said, coming out has no perfect time. It’s not about having the perfect environment, but about being aware of what you might face and being prepared to handle it.
4. Explain Your Truth
If you’ve answered yes to the question, “Am I nonbinary?”, explaining it to other people can be tricky. You may feel overwhelmed and have no idea where to start.
It can be especially tough when the people you’re coming out to are old-fashioned and don’t know what nonbinary means.
Keep in mind that overloading these people with information means they’re unlikely to ingest or retain any of it. That’s why you must do what you can to keep things simple.
The nuanced aspects of your experience can come later, once they start asking and seeking to understand.
5. Focus on Feelings Over Identities
Gender can be fluid and ever changing. Knowing what labels and words feel right for you can be a long and difficult process. This can make expressing those labels to others extremely difficult.
If you’re not comfortable or able to put the right words together when it comes to articulating your nonbinary gender identity, then don’t. You shouldn’t feel any pressure to define your experience to others.
Instead, try focusing on expressing what you feel.
While the person you’re opening up to can disagree with you over a label or a term, they can’t disagree with you about your feelings. This is because your feelings are organic to you, which means only you can interpret them.
For example, if you are coming out as nonbinary to your mom, she may say that she doesn’t believe “they/them” are valid pronouns. However, if you share with her that you feel happy and loved by her when she uses “they/them” pronouns, she can’t disagree with that.
Using this approach will also help others know the intent behind your words.
6. “Coming Out” vs. “Inviting In”
Karamo Brown, the Queer Eye star, has beautifully suggested that we trade out the phrase “coming out” for “inviting in.” According to Karamo, the term “coming out” suggests that the other person has the capacity to accept or deny you.
According to Karamo, sharing your gender (or sexual) identity can be similar to inviting someone into your home. Imagine that someone knocks on your door and after being invited in, they decide that they don’t like it and would prefer not to come inside. In that case, you would shut your door and their visit to your doorstep wouldn’t impact the pleasure you’d feel back inside your cozy home.
Put simply, “inviting someone in” reminds us that the interaction is happening on our terms. As explained by Karamo, it prioritizes empowerment and self-care.
It reminds us that we have the power. It indicates that our choice is true, valid and perhaps most importantly, already exists.
Thus, the question becomes, are you ready to invite the important people in your life to better understand your nonbinary identity?
7. Explain What You Are (Or Are Not)
When it comes to explaining your gender, the interesting thing is that sometimes it’s easier to say what you are. Other times, it’s easier to say what you’re not.
For example, some people might come out as nonbinary by saying, “I am both a boy and a girl” or “my gender is fluid and changes day-to-day.” These would be statements about what they are.
On the flip side, sometimes its easier to say what you’re not. For example, you might express thoughts like, “I’m not a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’.” This would be a statement about what you are not.
Take a moment to reflect on which approach you’d like to use and focus your energy there.
8. Allow for Different Realities
Coming out as nonbinary is about one thing: expressing your truth.
It is also not about one thing: needing the other person (or people) to respond a certain way.
Let’s imagine that you told your dad that you absolutely love the color red. He might say back to you that he hates the color red, but loves the color green. When it comes to something simple like color, we readily accept that both realities could be true.
In this example, there’s a different reality for each person and these realities can co-exist.
When we’re talking about emotionally “safe” subjects, we intuitively understand that we don’t have to go to war with the other person to change their mind or get them to accept reality as we experience it.
That is, we allow another person’s reality to be valid without permitting it to impose on our own.
Unfortunately, when it comes to emotionally charged subjects, such as coming out as nonbinary, it is all too easy to forget that we have this capacity.
If you don’t get the response that you’d like, then remember that your nonbinary experience is valid for the simple reason that you experience it.
If you’ve authentically communicated your truth, then your conversation was a success.
9. Use Online Resources
It isn’t your responsibility to educate the people you’re coming out to, but it can be helpful to bring in third-party resources. For example, you can share our guide about the gender spectrum and how gender isn’t binary.
These things are powerful because your loved ones can read them at their leisure, when they feel ready.
Also, if they’re willing to accept you, they will most likely do some research on their own. Instead of letting them find questionable resources, point them toward reliable ones instead.
However, it’s not helpful to overwhelm them with a million resources, so start with a select few and go from there.
10. Get Actionable
As you move to conclude this conversation, you must be clear about your expectations. This way your loved ones will know what to do after the conversation is finished.
Think about giving the other person at least one important thing to work on.
This could be to practice new pronouns, use a new name for you, buy you ungendered gifts, or simply check in on how you’re feeling about gender a couple times a month. Or, if you’re feeling a little scared or anxious, you could ask them for a daily reminder of how much they love you.
What you want from them is up to you—and you alone.
Also, tell them how you’ll feel if they ignore your needs. This will make it easier for your loved ones to know what you need.
11. Embrace the (Ongoing) Process
No matter what you say, it is important to acknowledge to yourself and the other person that you’ll have more to say as you continue to explore and refine your identity over time.
Remember, your goal of coming out as nonbinary isn’t to perfectly educate everyone.
It’s to invite the people you care about into an ongoing conversation about your life and inner world.
So, take a moment to prepare them (and yourself) for additional conversations. If you want, you can even set a future date to come back together.
12. Prepare Your Aftercare
Finally, please plan some ways in which you’ll take care of yourself after having this coming out conversation. Do this even when you think it’s going to end well, because the event itself can be a complex and emotionally draining process.
Good options might be to plan time with supportive friends, listen to a favorite song, go for a run, or do an awesome workout.
Having an aftercare plan will allow you to relax and heal after encountering stress. If the conversation goes well, then you can enjoy them as celebratory activities!
If not, use your aftercare routine to release pent up negativity.
The Freedom of Coming Out as Nonbinary
As someone who is nonbinary myself, I can tell you that coming out as nonbinary to those you love can be a difficult and emotional process. Many people in your life, especially older parents and grandparents, may not understand this.
Of course, coming out as nonbinary can also be extraordinarily fulfilling. It’s a way to share your full self, your truest self, with those you love the most. After all, that is one of life’s ultimate accomplishments!