More and more people are coming out as transgender these days.

Transgender is a word that means that who you are doesn’t line up with the gender that was assigned to you.

It’s pretty common to hear cisgender folks (especially if they’re older or conservative) calling this a trend.

But I recently heard a much better word for it: it’s an exodus. An exodus from a corrupt framework of existence.

Many of us have been constricted our whole lives by an enforced gender binary that doesn’t fit us. And when we hear about other people escaping it, we realize that we can escape, too. We don’t have to play a part that feels fake. We can be ourselves.

If you’re cisgender, this “trend” wouldn’t appeal to you at all. The only way it would appeal to you is if your assigned gender doesn’t fit you. In which case, you’re not buying into a trend—you already are transgender. You’re not being convinced about becoming a certain type of person. You’re just recognizing people who are doing something to make their lives better, and it empowers you to make your life better, too.

More people today are fighting gender dysphoria by seeking medical treatments that help set them free. More people are breaking out of the arbitrary social roles that limit us. It’s inspiring. We don’t have to resign ourselves to misery, pretending, and isolation. We don’t have to play along with rules that were made to keep funneling power to the people who already have the most.

We can be true, and real, and bring our honest selves out of the shadows and into this world that we share. Because who we are is good. There’s nothing wrong with us, despite what we’ve been taught by a repressive society. We’re just different. That doesn’t mean we need to hide.

We also know that this can come at great cost, because many people hate to see the status quo being threatened. Violence against trans people is a known problem—19 trans people have been murdered so far this year alone in the United States.

Many people react to us with hostility—especially when they’re the ones who have the most power under the current status quo. Many people withdraw their love and support. A lot of the things most people take for granted become harder and harder to get.

I tried to act like I wasn’t transgender for a long time, because I was aware of the risks and the cost. I thought I could keep flying under the radar. There were countless signs that the gender everyone thought I was didn’t apply to me at all. I knew this, but it seemed easiest to just keep passing myself off as a weird cisgender person.

The word “transgender” scared the living sh*t out of me. I couldn’t use it for myself—even though it was true. Saying “I’m transgender” felt like painting a huge target on my back. It was foreign, and scary, and there weren’t people in my life that I could talk to about it. I was afraid of being attacked and mistreated. I was raised in a conservative evangelical environment, and had good reason to expect that if I went looking for help trying to figure out how to deal with my lack of gender, my life would get a whole lot worse.

It took someone close to me directly asking me if I was nonbinary in my 20s to admit it to anyone. (At the time, they used the word “genderqueer.”) They brought it up in a way that demonstrated that if I was, it was OK with them. I’d never been able to imagine anyone being OK with it until that moment.

Even though it led me down a really challenging path, I’m so glad that I was given the opportunity to admit who I was to another person in that moment. Because I don’t know how long it would have taken me to ever feel safe enough to bring it up myself.

My life has changed a lot since I was asked that question—it’s had to, because it was the turning point at which I decided I wasn’t going to keep living as someone I’ve never been. I decided to embrace the risks and be open about who I really am.

Everyone has their own path and their own timeline, so I would never pressure anyone to rush their coming out process. But being asked this question helped me, and I want to give you a chance to answer it yourself if you feel ready for it.

Are you transgender?*

Whether the answer is no, yes, or I’m not sure, it’s OK.

It’s OK if it takes you some time to wrestle with the answer. It’s OK if your answer is “yes,” but you’re not sure if you ever want anyone else to know.

Just know that whoever you truly are inside, it’s OK—and I promise you, I’m not the only one who thinks so.

***

If you’re a safe person for someone to come out to, share this post and let your friends know that they can tell you, and that you’ll accept and celebrate them (and keep it secret if they don’t want anyone else to know). You never know who’s in the closet and has never felt safe to tell anyone about who they really are.

*In this article, I ask the question “are you transgender” in a general sense. I highly recommend against specifically asking individual friends this question. This can make people feel singled out and targeted, which is probably the opposite of what you’d intend.