She opened the door of the apartment where we had made a life together, her eyes steady, but ready to fill with tears. She knew that I had something to tell her, but I had refused to say what in our phone call last night. I had separated the month before and moved into a friend's apartment. She had a pretty good idea of what was coming, but it was hard to believe. I could hardly believe it myself. My suit felt stiff and uncomfortable; my heart was lead in my belly. My mind was whirling with excitement and exhiliration. It was agony; it was ecstasy.
It was November 1997 -- Bill Clinton had been president for four years. The stock market had crashed days before because of a global economic scare, but had come back the following day to gain a record number of points and for the first time ever one billion shares had been traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Though our relationship was contentious, I loved my wife. I also loved my six year old son without reservation. How could I rip out their hearts?
Coming out of the closet is a process, not a moment in time. And yet, there are the moments. There was the ecstasy: times when I came out joyously and exultantly. There was the agony: times when I came out shamefully and against my will. Some of the moments are glorious, as when I went out into the street dressed in a skirt for the first time, rejoicing like a prisoner who had been let out of solitary after thirty-five years. Everything looked new: the steam escaping from the hot dog vendor's cart as he put the frankfurter on the bun, the construction workers descending into the manhole with monster-sized tools, even the stacks of commercial garbage on the curb awaiting the sanitation workers.
And there was the time when I landed my first job as a woman, knowing for the first time that I would not be going homeless. While I was working as a legal secretary, rather than a lawyer, at half the salary, I counted the loss as nothing for so many of my transgender friends could find no work at all in any capacity. Some people looked at me oddly, but so many were eager to be accepting in their corporate, buttoned-down way.
Some of the moments still make my heart pound with fear and shame, like the time that the restaurant worker kept saying "sir" in that loud, insulting tone and then laughed at me in front of the crowd. And when the man in the nightclub who wanted to dance suddenly stiffened and got a look of horror on his face. He was scary. The rifle, partially hidden, in the living room at my boyfriend's house. The doctor who refused to give me my medical records so I could change the name on my driver license.
My wife faced me on the beautiful teal leather couch. The skyline along the Upper East Side of Manhattan looked glorious, a crisp fall day. I looked down, unable to take my eyes off the floor. My heart pounded. I was leaving her. I was leaving our son. I was going to live as a freak. I would soon lose my job as a lawyer and be without means to support her or my son.
In a sense, I was not the only one coming out. She, too, would have to tell the story over, and over, and over again. And be the subject of many whispered conversations. My son would have to make up stories to explain where his father was. They would move 150 miles away to begin a new life. She cried. I cried. We hugged each other while we talked for hours. It was exhausting and exhilirating at the same time. She wanted to know everything, every detail. What had I done, what had I thought of doing, what were my plans. There were so many things to talk about and think about. I felt awful. I felt wonderful.
By the time I left the apartment, her dreams were shattered. Mine were just beginning.