I want to preface this post, as I think that there are those who would seek to tell you differently and it isn’t fair to you, my dear readers. To believe you owe someone the time that ticks away our few moments upon this earth. You are not required to come out to anyone, it is your choice. You are not required to conform to any standards that may be set by others, how you present or don’t is your choice. We get no choice in being transgender, but we will damn well own how we deal with it. You are valid and immune to the gatekeeping of others. And if there is ever a time where you might find yourself bereft of strength, I believe in you.
Coming out isn’t a singular event for anyone in LGBTQ+, especially not for transgender people. But while we now have the advantage of increased public knowledge, that knowledge can be a burden and some will fight against its weight. I have been coming out for 4 years or so now, and I am still not all the way out. Life is complicated and it is interwoven with the people who come into your life and those who go, creating a web of connections and frayed ends. I would, if it were possible, live in stealth. Which means I would try to be unable to be detected as anything other than a cis woman. Not everyone wishes to live this way, but it is the way I would like, though stealth isn’t something I’m likely to attain. Even in stealth, you may find yourself in a position where you are coming out again. An old friend, or a colleague, distant family, it will eventually happen. Coming out never truly ends for us, it is taken one moment at a time and when it is least expected you will be confronted with a time where coming out is needed again. It is frustrating and wearing, but it can also be liberating and uplifting, finding the good in this could be your salve upon bitterness.
When I first came out I did it with my wife and children, face to face. I wanted them to hear my words, and to be able to answer any questions. I did the same for my best friend, though over the phone because he is hundreds of miles away and my youngest brother because he is also far away. I didn’t prepare anything for any of them. I told them what was in my heart, I took my time and didn’t rush my words. I did find that for my brother, there were questions I hadn’t foreseen and I didn’t have a ready answer or I stumbled through them. So after this, I decided that writing letters to those I wanted to come out to would be a better way. This allows them to read at their pace, to re-read and to absorb my words. It also gave them time to accept and get over the shock, while it gave them time to form questions that weren’t reactionary.
I wrote email and facebook messages for most, as many were on facebook and oddly snail mail felt like it might seem like I didn’t particularly care about them getting the news. It actually helped to do it this way, because they could reply when they liked, or not at all. Almost all replied back and all those that replied, even those of the most conservative and stringent devout in my life, they were accepting. I did get a non-reply from my middle brother, which wasn’t fully unexpected but disappointing. I love my brother, so I had hoped he would come around, three years later and he still won’t talk to me. Not every coming out is a win, sometimes we must take solace in the positive ones to make up for those that are negative. I was very lucky in that I only had a few people who didn’t respond well or at all. It doesn’t go this way for everyone, and it’s not based on my personality because I am not a lovable person, often harsh and demanding. I am lucky in that my friends and family are mostly kind and sweet and compassionate and accepting, in other words, I don’t deserve them at all.
Of course, the writing of emails and all were the first step to the process. After that, I made sure to contact them, phoning them if I could, to speak with them in a more candid way. Now, I allowed questions of any sort, I don’t have issues speaking about surgeries, etc. I did warn them that while I am oddly open this is not the case with the majority of transgender people and that it’s not appropriate to ask certain questions. But with me pretty much anything was open to question. It was still the usual, surgeries and sex. A lot of questions were how my wife and kids are taking it. I tried not to answer for my wife and kids and told them only what I could say from my perspective, but referred them to the individuals for those answers.
During the coming out process for each person, there is the possibility of what I call “backlash”. Where they were initially accepting, but then you never hear from them again or they have since become less inclined to talk or be seen with you. There are a lot of reasons why this may happen, and it stings every time. But ultimately this is about their issues and not yours. Just be aware that it can happen. Case in point, my youngest brother was initially supportive but since that phone call he has stopped all contact with me. It isn’t great, it sucks in fact. But I can’t change what other people do, I can only keep going and try to be a better woman than I was the day previously.
Most times your coming out will seem to them like it is out of nowhere, as in my situation. I was 45 years old when I came out. I gave no indication of who I was because they didn’t see inside my mind my entire life, only what I let them see. And I was a very good actor, wearing the mask so long it was fused to my soul, leaving a scar. So when I finally ripped the mask away, they all saw someone else standing there entirely. This duality is a bit much for some, they are unable to process that the core of you is the same, still that person they knew but the mask had added some things that weren’t truly a part of you. It takes time for some to come to that acknowledgement, and there is nothing for it but to give them that time. It’s not “rapid onset” anything, except to the person viewing it from the outside. A lifetime has passed while I was tormented by who I am and who I pretended to be. I haunts me still and I rejoice in those young children who are armed with knowledge and don’t have to hide for 45 years before being themselves.
Coming out can have ramifications in your life beyond the personal, there is also your livelihood to consider. Being able to afford a house or apartment, food, etc. is a very real reason for not coming out if you think it is all at risk. Perhaps you even love your job, like those lucky people in Aaron Sorkin TV shows. Coming out can be tricky when it involves workplace associates, for you know them at work and probably don’t know them as individuals outside of work. Or you know their politics and general outlook, which makes you worry over coming out. This is my situation at work, I know of several avid right-wing hard-liners who I will have to deal with in upper management. But I made sure to work closely with our HR manager, who is supportive and inclusive. I got lucky there, I know. I haven’t come out at work yet, waiting only for my name change to come through. I don’t want them to have any reason for deadnaming, and I don’t want my work email and business cards to retain my deadname either. Of course there is also the possibility I will lose my job due to others machinations, so I am prepared to look for another job if it comes to that and lucky again, I live near Asheville NC which is one of the few bastions of inclusion in this area. So new employment may not be impossible.
Being in “the bubble” is a common way of saying that for a time you may become preoccupied and self-involved with your coming out and transition (if you choose to do either). Try to be aware that you are doing this, so that you don’t lose sight of others. Your feelings are important, but it is equally important to pay attention to those you care about. Understand that they are going through many of the changes with you, include them in your thoughts and let them be a part of it. When I started transitioning, I had to buy clothes. I didn’t buy everything at once because, my god the expense of women’s clothing are outrageous. But I took my daughter or wife shopping, not just buying me clothes but taking the time to find nice things for them as well. Or if I bought cosmetics, I checked to see if they needed any as well. I tried not to make it all about “me me me”, but to make it about us. I seek their opinions, with them knowing that I will listen even if I don’t always take the advice. I make time for them, for their needs as well, because my bubble is big enough for others. Being a team that is on the same page and that roots for you is much better than just “me” against the world. I’m not saying we don’t have problems, every family does, but it’s not because of “the bubble”.
Coming out, if you choose to do it, never truly ends. But it doesn’t have to be hard and it doesn’t have to be tragic, be wise and kind to yourself and others. You cannot make others accept you, but you can accept yourself. You may lose some friends and family along the way, but you also may gain friends and find new family. I am speaking from some positions of privilege, so I understand it is harder for some unfortunately, I wish it wasn’t so. But dealing in positive ways can make the difference in a bad situation for anyone.