Coming out to family and friends, for most of us, takes a lot of courage and thinking, if not full out planning. My friend Penny wrote a coming out letter for her family and friends. It’s is a great example of thoughtfulness, excitement and resoluteness. I’m publishing the letter, with her permission, as it’s just one example of the many ways of coming out. Penny’s coming out letter addresses her concerns in her very own way. We share many of the same worries though we all come out in different ways and with different considerations.


The Coming Out Letter

Penny wanted to write a coming out letter for her family and friends. She and her relatives had planned to get together for the 2021 year-end holiday season. This was a great opportunity for her to set the stage ahead of meeting in person. In the letter Penny chose to first present a concise message followed by a section for frequently asked questions. This is a version of the letter she shared with her loved ones:

Happy holidays!

It’s been long and I hope we see each other in person soon. Before we see each other, I’d like to share an important life update with you.

I’m relieved to tell you that I’m a transgender woman. My first name is Penelope, call me “Penny” for short, and my pronouns are she/her.

It’s lovely to finally relax and be at home with myself. You’ve known me for most of my life, but it’s been hard to really “be me” before because of what I thought I needed to keep a secret. This change is a huge step for me, and it means I can now truly and authentically connect with family and friends.

I’d like to thank my amazing sister, brother, and parents for their love, thoughtfulness, and incredible support through my self-discovery and transition. I’d also like to thank my wonderful life partner for her unwavering love and help along the way. I ask that you kindly direct questions or wishes about me, to me as I’m in the best position to answer them. I’m very happy to answer emails and instant messages!

Transitioning is a many-year journey and this announcement is just one milestone. I’m so happy to be able to share this and then be amongst loved ones and friends. I’m hopeful it will only change how we know one another for the better! Thank you for your kindness, love, and support. I can’t wait to see you again in person.

Love,

Penny

Q&A

Is this out in the open now?

Yes, this is out in the open and there’s no need to keep it a secret, thank you for the consideration!

I will update my Facebook account sometime in the next few weeks.

Did you choose to be transgender?

Certainly not. A person’s self-knowledge of gender is innate. For example, you would know your own gender even in a dream where you were floating and had no physical body at all. That self-knowledge and proprioception cannot be changed, it’s part of your identity that forms at the earliest stages of development. It’s the same for me, only my anatomy doesn’t match my innate sense of self.

When did you know you were transgender?

I knew pre-adolescence, although I didn’t have a word for what was wrong.

Why transition?

Like most transgender persons, I experienced gender dysphoria (GD). Gender dysphoria is a very uncomfortable state of being. I sought help for the symptoms of it and was diagnosed with GD decades ago, and was told the only known solution to GD was transitioning. In spite of this, I didn’t transition because I was afraid. I was afraid of judgment. I was afraid of losing the privileges that, unfortunately, are given in our culture simply from being anatomically male. I like privileges. I’m trans, not crazy! I was scared of losing my job, my friends, and worst of all, of hurting my family by coming out.

A person cannot change the innate gender of their identity, and I wouldn’t want to anyway. I wouldn’t be “me” anymore if my gender identity changed, doing so would effectively be killing me. Trying to change gender identity is a form of “conversion therapy” and is illegal in Canada because of the harm it causes individuals who undergo it. When people who would prefer to live in a world without trans people say that nothing can make a woman into a man, or vice versa, they’re actually right. Just not in the way they think they are because it’s our identities that are immutable.

Social transition is the only known treatment for gender dysphoria because gender is an attribute of identity, not anatomy, even if gender and anatomy typically correspond for most people.

Are you happy to be trans?

Thank you for asking! 😉 I’ve come a long way from internalized shame to a place of happy pride and acceptance. I am who and what I am. It’s not what I would have asked for, but it’s given me half a lifetime of unique experiences and I hope for another half lifetime more to come!

Transitioning isn’t easy, but it’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.

Coming Out Letter

Some Personal Thoughts

Everything about this letter makes me wonder and brings memories of my own coming out. I too believe Penny’s coming out letter also reflects what many people go through when coming out.

I feel it’s important to highlight that she thanks the support of her loved ones throughout the document.  Having the love and heartening from people we care the most is an incredible reassurance for anyone considering coming out.

I really like that she asks to direct questions or wishes about her, to her. Even though there is no way to control gossip, she make it clear she is the best person to address her experience.

The Contents of the Coming Out Letter

The format of the letter strikes me. The first part is very personal, and in one direction. Penny concisely and elegantly tells her loved ones what she wants to tell them. She never apologizes and any explanation is brief and to the point. The Q&A section is a dialogue between her family and her, but of course she is in control of the narrative. This part of the letter becomes a learning opportunity for the reader.

The Spirit of the Letter

The last sentence of Penny’s coming out letter summarizes the spirit:

Transitioning isn’t easy, but it’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.

Penny tells her family and friends that she is ok. The letter conveys excitement with a kind of pride when she says “I can now truly and authentically connect”. Penny get relief first by writing the letter and then by sharing her thoughts ahead of meeting in person. Everyone is aware of her by the time the gathering happens, so in a way it address the elephant in the room even days before entering.

There is a tone of resolution in her second paragraph where she shares that she is a transgender woman and leaves no room for questioning or wondering. Where she thanks for kindness, love, and support, in a way she tells the readers of her letter to bug-off if they are not supportive.

Penny’s Coming Out Letter Against my own Experience

When I lernt that Penny “had to write a letter” before meeting her family and friends my first thought was “no, you don’t have to”. My gut reaction was that she was caving in to some external social pressure. Once I read the letter a few times in its entirety it became clear to me that this way was best for her. The idea of writing a letter never crossed my mind when I opened up to my family. In Penny’s case it helped her so much because she preventively let her feelings off her chest before meeting her family. By the time they get together there is a pretty good baseline thanks to the letter.

Though I came out in a totally different way to Penny’s, we share a lot of commonalities. The excitement of finally opening up to then move forward is one. The concern of rejection, which she addresses by educating her reader in the Q&A, is something else we both shared.

Major Differences

As I read through Penny’s coming out letter there were a couple of spots that I personally did not relate. More specifically in the Q&A where she answers “when did you know…” her reply includes “I didn’t have a word for what was wrong.” It hurts me every time I read this sentence because I never felt anything was wrong with me and I knew the word, or rather the transgender concept, from an early age. Though in those days the words were very derogative and offensive. The sentence hurts me because I can only imagine what is like living with such feelings since pre-adolescence.

Another difference is how in “Why transition?” she shares a decades-old GD diagnosis and she didn’t transition for being afraid. In my case I had no such diagnosis and wasn’t afraid because I never ever considered transitioning. When I spoke with my family for the first time about my desires, I went in knowing what I wanted and was very excited to get going.

Conclusion

Penny’s coming out letter is just one example of one person, one way, and her unique circumstances. Still, it’s an amazing example of what we go through when we come out.

I asked Penny if I could post her letter because I think it helps anyone considering coming out. They will see the similarities and even if they come out in a different way, I trust they can get ideas of what could work for them. For anyone that has already came out, just like me, they may think of their own experience and see the similarities and differences.

Probably more important, for anyone that is an ally, Penny’s coming out letter offers a great overview of how it feels to come out. In many cases, at least in mine, there is a lot of thinking, anticipation, worries of rejection, and a great sense of relieve.

Lastly I want to thank Penny for allowing me to publish her very personal letter.

4 thoughts on “Penny’s Coming Out Letter to Family

  1. Thank you both for this! So many important topics, and delicate considerations – I appreciate Penny for sharing this, and am touched by your comments Franches.

    A number of items really struck me from Penny’s letter, and from your writeup. “For example, you would know your own gender even in a dream where you were floating and had no physical body at all.” This is such a gem! Remarkable. I never had thought about it, until a therapist brought it up – what gender I am in a dream. Now I pay attention! Though I’ve always felt like “me”, the already-transitioned me in my mind – I hadn’t even considered it as a question.

    This touched me so: “I didn’t transition because I was afraid.”, and Franches’ “Another difference is how in “Why transition?” she shares a decades-old GD diagnosis” Omigod – I can so relate. I was fervently “deciding”, standing in the mirror, from the early teens. I brought it up with my doctor in my early 20’s, and he couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t get over the fear myself either. So great to know that fear is a “thing” that we can put at some distance from the immediate, feeling, person that we are ourselves. Penny, I’m so glad you put that fear in its place.

    This – so good. Doing something for yourself. I love it! – “Transitioning isn’t easy, but it’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.” It’s really true, in the most essential way.

    “Wrong” – the same phrase really struck me. Though perhaps I’m in-between – I had to “decide” at age 15 that there was nothing wrong with me – and that guilt bought me exactly nothing – “It hurts me every time I read this sentence because I never felt anything was wrong with me.”

    Penny and Franches – thank you for this very emotional and touching piece. In a way, it’s a manifesto, “I shall now be authentic!”. Thank you, I love it 🙂 / Jo

    1. Jo, could it be that when you say you see yourself “already-transitioned” in your dreams, that it’s you always? I mean, pre and post transition woman?

      Yes, fear is not only a thing, is the thing! After years of thinking about everything that involves transitioning, fear is the strongest factor. Even, if you pay attention to life in general, fear is our worst enemy, even if it’s just a little bit of fear. Think about the last decision you made and have a little regret. Probably you chose not to do it for whatever fear. For example, maybe even the fear that a pair of socks you didn’t were too expensive. Just being aware of the fear helps control it, or as you say, put some at some distance from us.

    2. Thank you Jo! I’m hoping sharing this helps others. Ultimately, many of my worst fears about transitioning did not come to pass (although some did). Nevertheless, my feeling that this was a gift to myself, and a step of complete necessity remains.

      I hope fear is a thing of the past for you as well. 🙂 It is certainly a weight lifted for me.

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