Challenges of My Transcape #2: Coming Out
When I was a young teenager (as in around 27 years ago), I was sitting watching the ABC (that’s the Australian public broadcaster ABC) and a news report came on about transgender people and the gay community. I was immediately intrigued because, known only to me, I REALLY identified with these “transsexual” people. I remember one of the gay activists being interviewed saying he had the utmost respect for trans people, calling them the “suffragettes of the queer community” because most trans people couldn’t go stealth (ie. blend in with the rest of society & conceal any queerness to avoid negativity). It’s a phrase which has stuck with me ever since.
If you’re trans or you know a trans person, no doubt you know all about the mistreatment trans people are prone to receiving. Sometimes it’s from complete strangers, sometimes their co-workers, their customers, sometimes their employers, even their family and friends. Literally as I started writing this post, I read a news story about a trans woman not being offered any more work as a casual teacher after she began presenting female. As with much of the discrimination against trans people, the argument put forward by this teacher’s superiors was “a lot of people have understandable misgivings”.
I’ve heard this argument before. Not from an employer trying to justify no longer offering me employment (which would have been an awful experience), but from a family member genuinely trying to be helpful. She suggested that I should somehow come out to people slowly & cautiously, allowing them time to process this change in the way I present my gender identity.
On one hand I understand this, I mean I have spent decades of my life burying my gender identity within myself (see My Transcape #1) and only slowly, cautiously – GLACIALLY – coming out, both to myself and others. I know this approach is easier to digest for people than a sudden, full-time change, but we also have to weigh up how living and presenting in a way we ourselves don’t even recognise is affecting us. For me, to a certain extent I can take it – I’ve been presenting androgynous for years (even before that my style was called “eccentric”), so the idea of being referred to using either male pronouns or female pronouns doesn’t really bother me (though I do feel better hearing she/her). But I’m not everyone. I know others may not deal with being misgendered nearly as well, and so I equally understand the other point of view which is: who gives a fuck what other people think about what I’M doing with MY gender identity? This is me. Deal with it.
Though it’s a concise argument and one I’m rather fond of, the counter is strong and terrible. Quite aside from the parents who disown their trans children, brothers and sisters who stop speaking to their trans siblings, children who disown their trans parents, the friends who cut all ties with trans people the moment they come out and (as above) the employers who terminate the employment of trans employees, there are some vile people who don’t give you the option of caring or not caring about their opinion because they’re too busy abusing you, hitting you, kicking you, stabbing you, shooting you or legislating against you to pay any attention to what you care about. Though the hostility toward trans people is reducing as the general public become more educated about transgender issues, depending on where you live, there could still be anything from none of these people to hundreds of them and online the more vile people seem to bunch together.
It’s into this hostile environment which all trans people cast themselves when they come out (or as many trans people might put it: go full-time).
So why the hell would anyone transition?
Well I did (and am). Gradually, over 20+ years, but I did (and am).
If you’ve read Transcape #1, you’ll know that I started out trying to “release” my gender identity by cross-dressing very early in my life, but by the time I’d gathered enough courage to reveal to anyone that even I cross-dressed, I was already 21. And I only told one person then because we had started a serious relationship and I didn’t want any secrets.
At the time I had established, from extensive reading of incorrect studies and opinions, that I was “just a cross-dresser”. The crux of the argument made by most of these fine resources was that if I did not want to immediately remove my male bits in order to escape depression and/or suicide, then I was not trans.
“Oh,” thought I. “Well, that’s a relief then. All of this fantasy about actually being female and presenting female must be just caught up in this cross-dressing thing. Great! Guess I’ll never have to face all of that anti-trans hostility then!”
And that was that. Right?
Spoiler alert: So much of no.
At 21, I was so fortunate to have met and fallen for someone who really didn’t seem to care about my dark cross-dressing secret. She was actually quite amused by the whole thing. Some of you may have heard of her – online I refer to her as Co-Consul or CC (yes – the very same, the very first person I confided in).
After this initial (and honestly TERRIFYING) confession and the resultant…well…ambivalence, I gradually came out to more
and more people because the idea of being able to more regularly present myself the way I WANTED TO made me so happy. My idea was that I wanted to make my “closet” as large as possible. Having been a pretty selective person when it came to friendships (bigot: nope, don’t want to talk to you; arsehole: nope, not you either), most of my friends were either encouraging, amused or ambivalent. Considering the expectation I’d had, it was a generally positive experience for me.
During this time of self-expression, I ended up kind of being forced to also come out to my parents and siblings (something I would not have chosen to do).
I’d been out with friends, you see, drinking heavily (as we did) and I arrived home, very drunk, to a sleeping house and decided to spend some time on the computer dressed the way I had originally wanted to go out (but hadn’t because terrified). Anyway, the hangover I awoke with made breathing & moving feel like an extreme sport. I was in the bath robe I’d hastily thrown on after getting out of bed and
I was carrying a coffee from the kitchen, intending to sit down & stare at it while I worked up the courage to ingest anything. My older brother breezed into the room andspotted the bra I was apparently still wearing under my robe. Being a shy, retiring type, my brother snort-laughed and immediately demanded to know what this was all about. My hangover-soaked reaction of “I…I just can’t deal with this right now” was clearly not going to be a long-term solution.
So later that day, after much coffee, vitamin B pills and bacon, I explained to my siblings and my parents that I was “just a cross-dresser” (because the internet told me so). Though it was daunting, I had made so much ground in coming out to my friends that I did not want to let the fear control my life anymore. You know, because fuck it.
My parents reacted pretty much as well as I could have hoped for: they didn’t get it, they didn’t like it, but equally they didn’t kick me out on the street.
So I was pretty much completely out as a cross-dresser. My concept of having the world’s largest closet seemed to be working rather well.
Then I entered the workforce full-time and from that point, the course of my gender expression became substantially influenced by the culture of my employers.
My first full-time role was working the night shift for an ISP which just happened to have a night-shift demographic of about 50% gay or lesbian to 50% straight. It was the most open, hilarious, welcoming environment you could imagine and so I started wearing skirts, dresses and heels to work because nobody gave a shit. It was awesome. I did pretty well in that company, but found my IT skills were in high demand in the marketplace, so I moved to an insurance company closer to home for more money (win/win). Though it was certainly hilarious and welcoming, the insurance company was not nearly as open and it quickly became clear that my gender identity would have to remain in the wardrobe with all my dresses, skirts and heels.
Over the next several years, I kept my female attire and my gender identity locked away, unleashing it for costume parties only, until a few weeks after I had decided to become full-time carer for CC & my newborn and had handed in my resignation to the insurance company. There was a formal event where I attended presenting the gender I felt. Once again, because of extensive ground-work laid years before, it was a great night and there was next-to no negativity. But once it was over, I went back to presenting male.
For the next 3+ years I was a full-time carer for our children and (foolishly) decided to re-train as a teacher. I knew if I wanted to be employed and survive my first years as a teacher, my gender identity needed to be further concealed, so I hid myself away even deeper, going so far as to delete forum posts, change online usernames, I shut down my website and removed any online content which hinted at being anything other than a cis male and could realistically be linked back to me. Judging by the experience of the trans teacher from the news story I linked above – this was a smart move.
Well…It WOULD have been a smart move if only I’d been able to find any work as a teacher.
In the end even as a cis male I couldn’t find teaching work any closer than 2 hours drive from my home (with 3 very young kids, a 4-hour daily commute was not an option), so in the name of being able to eat and feed our kids, I gave up & went back to the IT industry.
This was a pretty dark time for me. We had just had our 3rd child, I had become seriously stressed after 3.5 years as a full-time carer (not realising that part of it was the fact that I’d been suppressing my gender identity almost completely), my “dream career” as a teacher was dead in the water and I was having to take ANY entry-level IT job just to bring in some money. Every IT recruiter I spoke to had the misconception that 3.5 years out of the IT industry meant I had been left behind (“Oh – that’s like an eternity in IT. Everything’s changed now”).
I truly felt like I’d failed in almost every aspect of my life.
As it turned out, the first “entry-level” job I landed was hugely challenging and rewarding. Within 12 months, I had been promoted and I was training the people who were coming in to do the work I had just been doing (teaching degree came in handy for something at least)…(also – take THAT, recruiters! Turns out the basics don’t change & even the advanced stuff doesn’t change much in 3.5 years). Despite all this renewed success, for whatever reason, I still wasn’t happy. In fact I seemed to be getting angrier and angrier – particularly with my kids. I’ll never forget one night, I completely lost control of myself and was yelling, red-faced at my two youngest – who were terrified – and all because they were playing silly buggers instead of getting ready for bed. It was ludicrous.
There were several times when I was alone, I broke down and cried because I didn’t think I could handle it anymore. They were probably the only times I’d cried in ten years. I thought of leaving, just up and going – take my anger away from the kids. But I could never do that to my beautiful family. I could never leave them. Somehow I just had to do better.
Some weeks later, alone in the darkness of CC and my bedroom, I decided I would try being who I felt I was inside and see if that helped with my anger.
Why did I decide to start to transition? Because I began to find burying myself unbearable. Because continuing to bury who I was no longer hurting just me.
Over the next year I did calm down. I booked in to see a counsellor because I felt I needed help working through everything and though I ended up having only around ten sessions with the counsellor, I think it did help. In the months following my resolution in the dark, I gradually presented more and more female. I took to wearing a hat all the time to cover my male pattern baldness, but otherwise I wore whatever I felt like on the day. I eventually bought some wigs to wear instead of hats (because what? It’s just LIKE a hat!). I’m not perfect, I still get angry with the kids, but haven’t lost it like that night again and I have a LOT more patience than I had before.
Over the past six months (yes, only six months!) I’ve transitioned fully at work. My swipe card has my preferred name, my email address has my preferred name and I am COMPLETELY accepted as female at work. I cannot speak highly enough about my current employer. Becuase I’m still a bit privacy-oriented, I will not (at this moment) reveal which company it is. Rest assured I promote them very well in my professional life as an inclusive employer of choice for pretty much anyone (because they are).
I told my parents what was happening with me and initially it seemed as though they were confused, disappointed, but accepting. But recently it’s become clear that “accepting” is not a word I could use to describe their attitude toward my gender transition.
These days, I present as myself doing drop-off and pick-up for the kids, at the shops – you name it. I am very fortunate (or perhaps geographically selective…or both) to live in an extremely open, friendly area and I have (thus far) had nothing but support, curiosity (which is COMPLETELY FINE FOLKS!) and concern (which is usually also fine). I have actually only really explained what’s going on to a few folks, the rest I’ve just let work it out as I show up at school or pre-school presenting as myself. For most people it’s not been so much of a surprise and as an explanation to my historical style choices.
I’m still not truly full-time. Or perhaps I just don’t feel like I’m full-time. Perhaps after decades of slow progress, I don’t even know what “full-time” means anymore. I also don’t know what my own endpoint is. At this stage I’m happy working toward a goal of being accepted presenting the end of the gender spectrum I feel. Perhaps at the moment, that’s my goal and perhaps, as with many things in life, there really isn’t an endpoint, just an ever-changing experience.
Whichever way, coming out to people in any capacity has usually scared me, but since I finally allowed myself to accept it, I haven’t let fear hold me back. The challenge involved in coming out is not related to the act of telling people I’m trans – I totally prefer that people know I’m trans! Rather the challenge for me is holding myself back, ensuring I move slowly – glacially – enough to continue facing my biggest challenge of all.
…but I’ll leave that for another day.