Coming out is a pretty important process.
And it is a process. For Trans people, coming out is made a little more complicated, and the degree of complication follows the sort of trans person they are.
For some Trans people, coming out is really and truly just a matter of wearing clothes that make you feel better about yourself.
For others, it’s about performing, about creating an illusion, about impersonation.
For even others, coming out is a monumental undertaking that once done, coming out as something else is easy.
I’m not qualified to speak about coming out for every sort of trans person. I don’t know the struggles that a genderqueer person has to go through, or a bigender person who is both, or a person for whom gender is meaningless and detrimental to a degree inversely proportional to the degree for which gender is of great meaning and beneficial to me.
Later in the year, there is a national coming out day. This is early spring, though, a time of renewal and growth and rebirth and newness, and I should probably point out that for me, personally, it’s very early in the new year, which started just a short while ago. Indeed, it’s still the first month. 12 and a half to go, not counting the holidays.
Which I don’t expect people to understand, any more than I can be expected to understand the agender person I reference above.
Some of you may be wondering “what? How can it be more complicated?”
Well, it’s kinda like this. Imagine coming out as gay and everyone laughing at you and telling you you were nuts because you are the straightest person in the world. And then they cite all the women or men you’ve been attracted to, all the incredibly heterosexual aspects of your life, and tell you no one will ever believe you are gay, and you’ll never get a date because you just don’t look gay enough or act gay enough or, well, *are* gay enough.
That’s what coming out as a transsexual is like. Those first few days, those heady moments when you are ready to explode because you’ve felt freedom in your veins and you can cast off that “lie”, all too often for trans folk they are met with scorn and disbelief (except by those who actually believe you, they often react with disgust and abhorrence). It’s “funny”. It’s “not possible”.
If you are lucky, you find a few people who aren’t that way — and each year, it does indeed get easier and easier, because so many have gone before us now, and there is talk of us in the news that isn’t wholly nasty. Sometimes they are and stay your good friends, as an Amy found out when she transitioned in Los Angeles, according to a recent Glamour magazine article.
Then again, Amy had come out Gay before, and only realized later that she wasn’t actually gay.
For many of those similar in what we trans folk call “narrative” to me, we knew it at a very young age, but we were kids and we were told that as kids we didn’t know very well, our elders knew better, and we longed for our parents approval and they usually expressed disapproval if we “misbehaved” or “acted out” or were “bad”, or else they worried about us and took us to doctors and had tests done and made sure we had appropriate role models (ostensibly lest we turn out gay, which, for them, meant not masculine or feminine enough).
So we walled it off inside us, kept it as a secret from the world, and did the best we could to “get over it” and be “real”, or “be normal“.
From Testosterone injections that would be considered malpractice today to forced participation in activities deemed masculine to protein powders and exercise regimens (I was expected to pass the Presidential physical fitness tests of the day), my childhood — which I will note was a good childhood, a fairly happy one once I surrendered and did the easy thing and buried my inner self — was a litany of activities intended to make me a man one day.
I took risks people called stupid. Put myself in danger. And, as I’ve noted, I had one hell of a violent and sometimes uncontrolled temper. It took less than a year at the various schools I attended for Bullies to learn you simply did not bully me. I was meaner, crueler, harsher, nastier, and far more dangerous than any ten of them put together.
Something like what Juin and Constance went through would have, for me, just been an excuse to push harder. Against authority, against establishment, against the way things are. Because that’s what my childhood experiences taught me. Those aspects are still with me today, as many have likely seen.
I was 41 years old before I started to come out. I almost did in my 20s, but gave up instead.
My “narrative” is different than many. I didn’t crossdress as an adult. I didn’t have urges. I wasn’t gay, so I didn’t go into that area. I had a succession of girlfriends from the age of 12 or 13 on. I was chaste until I was 18, and I have a great losing your virginity story that I get a kick out of. I also made up for lost time after that. I never talked about it, I never revealed it, and I only permitted it to come out twice each day, with the first thought, unspoken, of each morning and the last thought, unspoken, each night.
You might wonder what that has to do with coming out. Well, it’s foundational stuff.
Coming Out As Trans
When I came out, I said the words aloud to myself. That was it. That was all I needed to come out, to be out. I told others, and the reaction was of the sort I described above. MY wife told me I couldn’t possibly be such — I was the most macho man she knew — even more so than her father. One freind at the time, who was gay, told me I was cutting the most important thing off. Most other people just looked at me as if I was nuts, or smiled and nodded and figured I’d get through whatever weird phase it was soon enough.
So while I’d come out to myself, I hadn’t come out to the world. I could have jumped up and down and screamed and no one would have taken it seriously. I could have written a press release, gone on national TV, and the effect would still have been the same.
And it really is that way until that day that people see you dressed right. Until you “look like a transsexual“. Awkward, self conscious, kinda dazed, scared, hopeful, panicked.
That’s coming out for a transsexual. For some, it means months of effort, and lots of money. For others, it means hormones and surgeries and laser or electrolysis — all of it to get to a point where you can have “that first time out”.
For Trans people, coming out means going out. It means being seen, facing the world, challenging everything that everyone knows and thinks.
It also means danger.
When you are coming out, your head is filled with horror stories. You see drag queens and you weep because you do not want to be seen as a man in a dress, as a man pretending to be a woman or some butch lesbian or adult tomboy, laughed at when you try to hang with the guys. You worry about the self destructive ideal of “passing” because you know that if you “pass” then you will not be at risk, you might be less likely to end up headless or your skull bashed in.
You internalize shame and guilt when you come out as trans. It colors your perceptions. It affects your ability to make decisions about spouses, children, parents, siblings, family, friends.
Think about that for a few moments, please. Coming out, the process, suddenly places you into a situation where you internalize shame and guilt — the very things you are seeking to get away from by, well, coming out.
So can that, really, be called “coming out” for trans folk — for transsexuals?
I honestly question that.
There are social skills and quirks that need to be learned, confidence that needs be built up, a sense of self that needs to be found again — and that one is ever so hard, because when you change your sex, you change the things people look at you to see. It is not easy, not pleasant.
The Tunnel and the Train
I’ve used the metaphor of the long tunnel before. I know it is used often in a lot of things. THere is a great deal of literary history to the Tunnel and it’s actually more than a little mythic, as it symbolizes a journey to the underworld — or, for the less prosaic, it’s kinda like dying. and in this case, there’s a realness to that idea.
You start out and the entrance is still brightly lit, and you’ve been told there’s an exit but you can’t see it for the bend that’s many long feet up ahead. As you go further in, the fear begins to mount, the risks become greater, you realize that those really are train tracks at your feet. So long as you can still see the light behind you, it’s “ok”. You can always turn back, always run back and hope that things will be the same, even though they really aren’t. But then you hit that point where you cannot see the way back, and you still can’t see the way forward, and it’s so dark you can’t see your nose cross-eyed.
When I use that metaphor, I point out that at some point, you will see a light. And you will hear a noise. And you will realize a train is indeed coming. And for Trans people, you gotta let hit you, I say.
Sometimes you don’t have to hit a train. Sometimes you can just go right on through. Some people go in brave and get scared, others start scared and stay that way, still others go in scared and come out brave and there’s all sorts of different ways to be in there, and the only thing that many of us can do is hold out our hands and hope that someone is there to walk with us, to hold our hand, because it is always easier to travel that path with another, and always harder to do it alone.
And then comes the day when you see the light at the end of that tunnel, and you see the way Out.
And as you finally step into the light after so long in the dark, you can feel many things. For me, it was relief and joy and wonder and exultation.
But I’m going to take note of something.
After The Tunnel
It’s long after you’ve come out to yourself. It’s after you’ve hopped through the hoops that circumstance and medicine have placed before you, after the hormones and the money spent on clothes and the painful process of electrolysis (which some people say is what proves one is a transsexual, because that stuff can hurt like hell) and all the rest.
That’s when you Come Out. That’s when you reach the point that you can shed the internalized guilt and shame and sadness and privilege and prejudice.
That’s when coming out is for Trans people — when they’ve reached that point where they are seen as who they are, not merely what they are. That’s when people say “Oh, that’s cool.” Or “Wow, you sure look good!” or other such idiocies that still make you feel really damn good for a while but eventually do get on your nerves as you start to see them for what they are.
But it’s not over yet.
And once in a while, a few of us who have made that journey, we pause at the exit, and we look back, and we remember that horrible tunnel. And we know there are people still in it. Sometimes, like a panicked person who is drowning, there is a risk of being stuck in there again yourself, held back by their fear, their shame, their darkness.
Most of the time you help them out of that tunnel, holding their hand after you find it when they hold theirs out. And then, once out, they wander off into the world, and you never quite know if they are doing well or what happens to them — because you’ve walked back into that tunnel already to help another one.
Until you reach a point where you just can’t help anymore and you take that walk into the world.
And so you leave that tunnel’s mouth and you follow the road and you head around a bend and you are free of it. And there are people there, and you have a little soot from the tunnel on you, and you have a choice to make.
You can wipe that soot — that black mark, that stain, that stigma — off of you and just “blend in”, and talk about how you’ve no idea about what the tunnel is, and you can be just like them, just like everyone else, and not like those freaks in the tunnel.
Or you can keep the smudge, the stain, the black mark, and mingle.
Among transsexuals, that is a question that many ask themselves — do I hold onto that stain and be marked, or do I wipe it away? It helps if you look a lot like those people, and sometimes it doesn’t matter — no matter how much you wipe the stain off, people still choose to see it because you don’t look enough like everyone else.
It is very good for the person. Doing it reduces your risk of harm to yourself. Doing it means people don’t add more ill will, it makes th8ngs easier, it simplifies things. You become invisible, unseen, ordinary.
And there are some for whom that shame never really goes away, and they cling to that ideal the whole trip and the whole journey and they come out that’s what they do, joining the others they want to be like so much and saying bad stuff about those who still have that mark, who refuse to wash it off.
But that’s bad for the rest of them, that invisibility — it is something that one does for one’s self, not for the community.
So when you talk about Coming out, remember to talk about staying out. Remember that for Trans people it is not an easy thing, and it is painful and not something they can do without the help of others — therapists, surgeons, drugs and it takes a long time.
From the day I came out to myself, it took me two and half years to Come Out.
And after all of that, Coming out Bisexual was about as hard as writing the words and saying them.