Occasionally I get hit with a message from someone feeling hopeless and pleading for advice about coming out as transgender. I love that my voice and the message I try so hard to spread allows others to feel comfortable enough coming to me for help with this kind of issue. Coming out can be one of the most terrifying experiences you'll ever have to endure in your life. I know it was for me. When I came out, I didn't have anyone and I barely knew what the word "transgender" entailed. I just knew I needed out of this body I was trapped in before it was too late. Feeling like I was walking alone in my journey when I had first come out was, honestly, pretty scary. I felt like I was second guessing everything I did because I had no examples of what to do or what not to do. This is only speaking from my personal experience with opening up and coming out as transgender, but if this can help just one person feel more comfortable and confident, then I've done my job.

The first person, and the most important person, you need to come out to is yourself. Self-acceptance is the first and most crucial step to living an authentic life. At the end of the day, the only approval you need does not come from your parents, your loved ones, your friends, or anyone else. The only approval you need comes from within. If you accept you, it won't matter who else will. For too many long and grueling years, I refused to accept the fact that I was transgender and needed to transition. I was embarrassed and thought something may be wrong with me, so I kept it bottled up. Something so extreme should never be kept inside. It will just eat away at you until you can't take it anymore. It took me so long to realize that being transgender was nothing to hide or be ashamed of. Being transgender didn't make me any less of a man, it just meant I would have to fight a little harder than cismen to get there. More importantly, being transgender doesn't make you any less of a person. Look at yourself in the mirror, say it out loud, have no shame. Own it. When you accept and believe it for yourself, no one can take that away from you.

As I said before, when I was first coming out, I didn't have anyone. I didn't know or talk to any other transmen and I felt like I was free falling alone. I had no one to tell me the things I wish I could go back and say to myself before taking the plunge. I felt like skydiving without a parachute or a chicken running with its head cut off. It's so important to reach out! An amazing thing about being transgender is the new family and new community you're welcomed into with open arms. The connections I've made with other transmen, who I consider to be brothers, are irreplaceable and their experiences have helped me feel better about my own. Although you'll feel like it, you're never alone. No matter what your situation, there is always someone who has braved that storm just as you will. It's not weak to admit you need help. Don't be afraid to lean on someone.

The time when you come out to friends and family is the most nerve-wracking. If you have to, rehearse how you'll come out and what you'll say. Find the person in your life that's the most supportive of you and come out to them first. For me, it was my best friend via text message, which was still extremely terrifying. If it's easier for you to come out in an email or letter, that's perfectly okay too. Once the first person knows and it's out in the open, it makes telling the rest a little easier. When you come out to someone and you're unsure of how they'll react, bring up the topic of something transgender-related in conversation to see how they respond to it. Know that when you finally do come out, everyone is going to bombard you with hundreds of questions. Do some research prior so you're prepared and those people will take you seriously. When you're feeling ready to come out, do so in confidence.

This will show whoever you're coming out to that this isn't a joke. It's important to remember to give people time with this new information. Being transgender isn't just a huge adjustment for you, it's huge for everyone involved in your life as well. You need to allow them to take in what they've just been told, time to think it over, and time to try to understand what you're going through. Sometimes, it takes people a bit of time to get used to calling you by different names or pronouns, that doesn't mean they're doing it on purpose. Be patient and appreciative of their attempts of trying, it just takes time. However, if someone is misgendering you or calling you by your unpreferred name on purpose, this isn't someone you should be concerning your time with. That's just plain disrespect and you cannot waste any of your energy on people who refuse to accept you for who you truly are. Relax, not everyone will react negatively and don't go into situations thinking they will. Often times you'll be pleasantly surprised with the outcome of these conversations, you don't always need to be on the defense.

I can't promise you that everyone will accept this "new you" with loving arms, you have to be prepared for some not-so-positive reactions. Not everyone is going to understand right away. The hope is that those who know you the best will realize you're being true to yourself. People will try to tell you that you're confused, really it's them who are confused. I've found that a lot of the time, the people who respond to me in a negative manner are simply uneducated on what it means to be transgender, these are not people you should pay any mind to. Don't let them see you sweat. Further down the line when those around you see how much more comfortable and confident you are since transitioning, they'll realize that this was right for you. If they don't, maybe they're not worth being in your life. It's a hard pill to swallow, but you're going to lose people you never thought you would over something as trivial as transitioning and staying true to yourself. It's their loss, never yours.

It isn't just other people you need to remain patient with, it's yourself. When I came out, I wanted to snap my fingers and magically wake up the next morning with all my surgeries done and over with. Testosterone coursing through my veins, all my documents changed and legalized, and my transition already completed. The truth is, your transition will never be complete. This is a life long journey you get to experience every single day. Not everyone wants to medically transition and that's okay. This is your journey and yours alone, you and only you get to decide the right paths to take. It can take someone months or even up to years to begin their medical transition. In the meantime, that doesn't make you any less valid than a transman far down the road in his transition. Getting my top surgery was the most rewarding and refreshing feeling and the greatest experience of my life. When I got my surgery date I would excitedly jump out of bed every morning and change the countdown I had written on a whiteboard. After surgery I couldn't do that anymore and didn't have anything transitional wise to look forward to right away, it was bittersweet. Don't wish it away, live in the present and cherish the milestones that are in your future.

Keep positive and don't lose yourself. Transitioning can be one of the most difficult and frustrating battles you face in your life, but it's one well worth fighting for. As tough as it's been, it also remains the greatest decision I've ever made for myself. I have no regrets and am finally so happy to be alive. Every tear shed, every painful injection of testosterone, every struggle and obstacle along the way has been far beyond worth it. Transitioning has made me such a stronger man, and for that, I'm thankful.