Antonia D'orsay

Coming Out: Trans

Filed By Antonia D'orsay | April 09, 2010 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: coming out as trans, coming out of the closet, transexual, transgender

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 a-gender person I reference above.

But I can at least explain what coming out for someone in a situation like mine -- a transsexual woman -- is like in general, because for trans folk, coming out is much, much more complicated...

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.

Narratives

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 friend 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.

Coming out for trans people is when you step out of that long dark tunnel.

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.

After The Tunnel: Smudges

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.

Coming out is good for everyone.  That wiping off is what we call stealth or blending in or woodworking or any of a dozen other terms borne up through the years.

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 as bisexual was about as hard as writing the words and saying them.


Recent Entries Filed under Transgender & Intersex:

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.


A very moving piece. I agree the terms "closet" and "coming out" aren't entirely apt for trans people and I think it's a over-simplification to apply them to trans histories. I don't want to erase the complexities and dangers inherent in GLB cissexual people coming out but it is a drop in the bucket compared to what trans people have to deal with.

Btw, I have a blog entry about Amy's story in Glamour which gives a slightly different perspective on it:

http://skipthemakeup.blogspot.com/2010/04/transitioning-as-feminine-hygiene-ad.html

I love some of the observations you make. THey are very accurate, and I was sorta chuckling.

However, the key is dealing with people who are not as familiar with such depth stuff and we have a hard enough time getting even a facile positive thing out there that I was glad to see it.

It's getting better, bit by bit, and I suspect that a strong part of the reason for it is people like you standing up and speaking out.

Allison Sinclair | April 9, 2010 3:52 PM

Many of us have come out to ourselves much longer before we had come out in public for fear of being umemployed. I had taken that risk and lost. When I finally came out to family, friends and my employer. I had sacrificed dearly, it was either that or being very unhappy for the rest of my life. I lost family, those that I had as friends for many years were never really friends to begin with; because a true friend does not abandon you and is there to support you. My employer had immediately terminated me and living in a right to work state did not help matters, since they can use any excuse to terminate your employment and save face. It was a difficult time being unemployed for a tad over a year and going into debt just to survive from being homeless, you make many sacrifices. Fortunately, after a year I had gotten the break I needed and that was being employed by a Federal Government entity. Many of us go through this cycle and it is not a easy path to walk. After going through all of this, you reflect back and think to yourself, "I did this" . It is like a huge burden lifted off of your shoulders, mixed with euphoria and you think to yourself that you accomplished one of the most difficult things in your life and that was to transition

I think that our experience in transition is what makes us so "fierce" when we speak out on our own behalf.

That part of the reason for our tenacity is that we know what we've done and had to go through. Toss in things like sexual assault, racial issues, sexism, and more, and you get a group of people who you cannot readily tell to mind their own place, because the act of Transition itself is saying, to any and all in the world, and to all the powers that are there, that you will not do that.

That you will be yourself, first and foremost.

This got me teary-eyed. So true. How nobody believes it so saying it doesn't do much, and especially how it makes coming out as bi soooooooooooo freakin' easy by comparison. When I told my family that's pretty much how it went: "I have something big to tell you: I'm really a girl. *huge gasps* Oh, and I guess I might as well say, I'm bi."

My family told me they wished I was 'just gay,' that would be so much better and they could perhaps take *that*. Too bad I didn't get to choose which underisable way to be, I just *was* that way...

Really, you prolly could have said, "Oh, and I guess I might as well say, I killed 10 ppl and ate them," and it wouldn't have mattered. If they included rapists, murderers, and cannibals in those polls where they compare acceptance of ethnic minorities, cis-gay ppl, and trans ppl, we would prolly still come out at the bottom.

Renee Thomas | April 9, 2010 8:14 PM

Initially my family (mother to be exact) suggested: "perhaps it would be better if you went away and never came back" followed shortly thereafter by my personal favorite, "your children would be better off if they'd never been born." This from the woman who brought me into the world - pretty monstrous huh? I couldn’t help but think so at the time but kept my mouth tightly shut and avoided saying something to this woman that I could not take back.

Well in time she thought better of her comments, I forgave her and we worked through it.

Those of us who make it through similar gauntlets can be fairly thought of as “resilient” which is really just a polite euphuism for really goddamn tough and thus unlikely to suffer fools . . . or bigots gladly.

One of my sisters said to me outright, "Couldn't you just be gay?" I guess I'm just more ambitious than most :P

A lot of people don't realize what it means to come out as transsexual and what we have to do to complete our transition. It is incredible.

I went in front of the University Council at the University of Pennsylvania about a week and a half ago to urge them to consider adding transsexual related treatments, procedures and surgeries to our insurance policies. It was very well received and a lot of people didn't realize what is involved.

I posted the notes I read from on my facebook if anyone is interested.

http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=421943963992

"I am under no delusion that I pass as a female and I am painfully aware of this as I take public transportation, walk through the city or even walk across campus. I experience many things that most people will not experience. People stare at me everywhere I go. Some are just curious but some laugh at me which really hurts and also makes me very nervous that my safety is in jeopardy. Often people will call me sir and it reminds me that I don’t currently belong. Simply going to the restroom can cause great anxiety for me. A bathroom incident off campus could turn into a serious situation for me and one of my biggest fears is being put in jail. I would be held as a male because I have not completed my journey."

I like this post. I've felt for a long time that coming out as trans was not like coming out as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, but I haven't really been able to put it into words. I'm glad you've done so.

Dyss, it's at times like this that I'm aware that I'm different.

Let me explain. I've been asked to give pep-talks to freshmen female engineers, along with other female academics in the department. The old "girls can do anything" bit, how they can be Rocket Scientists, Astronauts, the next Bill Gates etc.

I regretfully refuse, because I didn't get the "glass ceiling" effect as a teen, and as an undergrad. I was part of the privileged class, and didn't even know that. OK, I had my own difficulties, but they were different ones. More akin to those of any trans men amongst them.

Not everyone knows my history. I don't keep it secret, but I don't advertise it either.

I'm forcefully reminded that I'm different every time I see my endo. When I can no longer forget I'm not the standard human, not even the standard trans woman. My endocrine system is anomalous. Every time I go to the pharmacy, and there's a new person on duty, they *have* to cross-check the dosages I'm prescribed. They're not just out of tolerance for post-menopausal HRT, they're way out for transition too.

But it's here, when I read your article, that I get reminded yet again of my difference, and in a way which does not reflect well on me.

My cowardice. I did not transition of my own volition. Now it's not a choice for anyone, not really, but before embarking on it, a transitioner has to do a lot of soul-searching, and to engage in a supreme act of willpower. To enter that tunnel.

I didn't. I didn't jump. I fell.

So while I give myself full marks for intellectual flexibility, even for courage once the process had started, unlike every trans person, I did not have the courage to be myself. I don't deserve the kudos for that. I failed the test - but due to a mistake in marking, got an A anyway.

I'm getting that "sick in the stomach" feeling reading some of this. How can any one group self exalt and pretend to compare difficulty to another group of socially disaffected people?

Jumping off a 1 meter board may be more terrifying and emotionally difficult for one person than doing a triple somersault off the 10 meter tower is for another.

What gain is there to a trans person to take the position that he or she faced more difficulty than a Lesbian? How can a broad shouldered 6 foot 3 MTF say that she faced more in challenges than a fat ugly 5 foot 8 Gay man? Wouldn't it be better to simply recognize that every disaffected group within a society is composed of great diversity and some in each group have it easier than others?

Please explain to me why it is necessary to create a difficulty hierarchy. I'm a Ditz. I just don't get it.

The difficulty hierarchy exists whether we acknowledge it or not.

When was the last time anyone came out as Gay, and their anguished family said "Why couldn't you have just been Trans???"

Yet it's so common it's almost a cliche that the reaction to Trans people coming out is "Why couldn't you just have been Gay??".

When were "Gay Licenses" issued, that cost $30,000-$120,000 up front so you could de-closet without fear of arrest?

It must be intensely maddening to hear "Oh, you're not Trans, you wouldn't understand." That comes over as arrogance. Maybe if you read Norah Vincent's "self-made-man" you might gain some understanding. The latter is about a lesbian who lived the life of a pre-transition trans woman for a year. She ended up in a psych ward. Couldn't take it.

First read her less than sympathetic views at The Village Voice:

The Board of Supervisors' decision to insure transsexuals means not only that dubious and pernicious postmodern conceits have seeped out of the academy and into the minds of public officials and other average folk, but that they have translated themselves into unfair fiscal policies. As a consequence, the unfavored "normal" majority is financing the self-proclaimed entitlements of the newest ordained minority—transsexuals.

Now see this interview:

Advocate.com:What was it about living as a man that pulled your psyche apart at the seams?

Norah Vincent: It was emotionally exhausting to be an impostor, and also an impostor of the opposite sex. That’s what most transsexuals feel before they make the transition. When I started, I’d thought that gender had to do with costumes and haircuts. I didn’t understand that there was some mental component of how you view yourself in terms of gender that’s deeply embedded in your brain and that you can’t just pull that out and not expect trouble.

She gets it. Oh boy, how she gets it. I wouldn't recommend repeating her experiment yourself though. Voluntarily induced Gender Dysphoria drove her to mental collapse after just a year. Before, she believed there was little difference between being a pre-transition trans woman pretending to be a man, and a butch lesbian. Now she knows better - and why the suicide rate is so high amongst those who can't afford treatment.


Speaking as a trans woman who's come out as bisexual and later lesbian, I found that coming out as both was a lot simpler and less complicated than coming out as trans, and required navigating fewer negative, hostile, and outright wrong assumptions.

This doesn't mean coming out as lesbian isn't without its own problems. It also doesn't mean that there's any kind of moral or ethical superiority to coming out trans, but the process is different for coming out trans than it is for coming out as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

So, if I can reflect on what you said the first coming out was your most difficult. That may have also held true if you had first come out as Gay, then Bi, then Trans and finally as Lesbian. Just as a hypothesis it may be that in your specific case the first hurdle into the "variant world" would have always been the most difficult. Perhaps I am wrong.

Well, this is about reactions from other people - mostly a lot of resistance, assumptions that I was lying, that I was misrepresenting myself and was really gay, assumptions about what supposedly really means, a lot of objectifying and misgendering stuff that didn't happen when I came out as bi or lesbian.

I did catch resistance, deconstructions of my massive amounts of straight privilege and how I'd hide in relationships with men to avoid homophobia and other exciting and frustrating assumptions about bi women when I tried to participate in the local LGBT community. I spent a lot of time defending what I felt was my orientation because people had a lot of ridiculous prejudices about bisexual people, and perhaps particularly bisexual women.

And coming out of lesbian came with yet more, different resistance and objectification, to the point that I simply stopped even talking about orientation with most guys I knew, although the hardest part about being lesbian for me was being a trans lesbian, and dealing with some pretty epic levels of transphobia in the local lesbian community - and to be fair, also some pretty affirming acceptance.

So was it ever easy? No. Were they all different? Yes. Did I catch the most trouble for being trans? Oh yes, and being trans complicated the later coming out.

Did coming out as trans make it easier for me to come out as bi or lesbian? Yes, I'd already done a lot of the processing I needed to do in order to be able to come out without having huge panic attacks. Did this really have an impact on how people react to transness vs. being lesbian vs. being bi? I don't believe so.

The pitcher winds up and here comes the fast ball!
Antonia D'orsay looks the pitch over! She swings! She hits! The crowd is on thier feet! Homerun! Out of the Park by a mile! Thank you Antonia D'orsay for this post!


Hey everyone:

At it's most basic, having been a lesbian and now a trasnguy, I've often said that I feel there's a basic difference in the coming out process.

When I came out as a lesbian, I was correcting a basic misperception...namely, that I was heterosexual.

Now that I'm male, and people can see it upon meeting me, there is no basic misperception to correct. So I'm not sure if "coming out" is the right concept to use.

My mother disagrees with me. We've debated this, and she feels that, due to need to educate people about how wonderful trans folks are, I need to step up and correct the "mistaken" impression that I was born male.

My mom has not been around for most of my transition due to geography, so she has not been able to grasp the difficult/awkward/unsafe positions that could well put me in.

Lincoln

For what it's worth, I sometimes relate more to coming out stories from trans people than gay people.

But I don't know if that's because a lot of gay people skip over the gender non-conforming parts right to the realization that they're gay part because that's like the final piece. If a gay person was a sissy in their boyhood or tomboy in their girlhood, coming out as gay validates that all that wasn't just a phase or dream.

A lot of gay people romanticize coming out too.

Tammy Thomas | April 10, 2010 7:04 AM

Deena if I may I believe you may have missed the point of the article. The tunnel analogy could describe many different situations in life. As to your comparison of a Male to Female Transperson and the Gay man. I would like to explain by using my life experience since I could closely fit both descriptions, at different points of time.
Most of my earlier life I was always in a relationship with a woman, so that to the outside world I was normal. Although I would find sex with men more normal to me, even I would ever be able to admit myself. I was safe in the fact that no one knew that I was bi, no one on the bus could see it, my employers never knew, and I kept my true feelings locked up in that castle tower of my own building.
Unlike yesterday as I was coming home from work on the bus and watching as the little girl whispers to her mother her thoughts of me. I could see the anger in that girl’s eye, as she would glare at me because I was not her conception of a woman. Going into my sixth year in transition this is just one of the examples I could use.
I believe the point I am trying to make is that no matter what my sexual orientation is unless I express it out in public no one could tell. Whereas being Trans some can only see me as a man with breast, and that will never change for me. There is no hierarchy in difficulty or as I prefer to call it Fear, we all must walk through it and eventually take hold of that hand of someone willing to help bring us out of the tunnel.

Tammy perhaps you are correct. On the other hand my point was that the GLBTQ "coalition" is not served well by having one or another category of Drama queens drawing lines and inferring that one process is more difficult. I kinda like what Bil said. Everyone should get a PTSD certificate. Let's stick with that concept for just a moment. I know a discharged soldier who is a paraplegic who shrugged it off and got on with life. I know another one who lost one leg and is a basket case. Which had the most difficulty? Different, yes. But...... a true measure of difficulty goes directly to the character of the individual not the wound or affliction.

I'm just staring my journey. I'm androgyne, and still trying to find how I want to live, what I want to look like, and how to ease my husband thru this very difficult process in a town that has no resources for transgendered people at all. Not even one lone therapist that deals with LGBT! While I've know for years that I wasnt the same as other females, and I never thought of me as a female, I didnt understand until lately just what I was. After figuring it out I felt a wave of freedom that i dont think i've ever felt. And then the heavy foot of reality hit, and things have gone down hill from there.

Thank you for such a wonderful post, I will be saving this one to re-read many times!

You know, no matter what you come out as: gay, lesbian, bi, trans... We should all get a complimentary Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and a government check to make up for our "disability" each month that society has caused.

Renee Thomas | April 10, 2010 11:15 AM

One might think of it this way:

. . . And while it's not true for all, it’s true enough for most to merit mention . . .

We transpeeps become aware, very early on, of just how far outside the mainstream being trans puts us. We closely observe a bi-gendered world that we despair of being a seamless part of - yet we are each meta-aware of its hold on us . . . every minute of every day.

That process inculcates an intense sense of shame and a dread of discovery. Thus, we become expert at hiding what we are. No sissy boy "she" - I was never discovered until the day I stepped out into the light. To date, that day ranks as the most terrifying moment that I hope to never experience again.

But in being such expert liars, when we do come out to our families it is often to their thunderstruck reactions of; "dear (g)od just who the hell are you?!"

"Did I ever know you?"

I responded with a wan - "I was trying desperately to be the person that you wanted me to be but was terrified that I would fail and disappoint you." It was in that fear that I faced the looming prospect of being rejected by the very people that I most loved in the world. Some indeed were to reject me. A baser kind of “human nature,” asserts itself in those cases. You get to learn up close the real limits of love and friendship.

Coming out as trans is different. These days who you love is a concept that most can wrap their minds around. I think it is because that reality is most fully expressed between you and your lover, behind closed doors. That fact gives most people a kind of intellectual and social distance on it. As for violating the boundaries of gender? Now that is another matter entirely. That happens nakedly, right out in front of (g)od and everyone. We each have a stake in it because, and it pains me to point this out, Judith Butler was right. We do perform, and thus construct our genders. It’s a grand game of social consensus building that we repetitiously engage in with each human interaction.

To those who might suggest a virtue in "living your authentic self," you often don’t really know what you’re suggesting. I council other transfolk considering a plunge into that tunnel, be sure - be goddamned sure, because losing everything is still a very real possibility. While it’s true you can and will survive, it can often be a very lonely walk. Whatever strength I may have gained in all of this I would gladly give back to again rest peacefully in my former partner’s embrace and proudly revel in the accomplishments of our children first hand.

I don’t fundamentally regret that I transitioned –I’ve just achieved a kind of brutal clarity as to the price tag.

I am one of the fortunate ones. I came out in my early 40s to my very conservative family. They were completely accepting and supportive. Health insurance covered part of my GRS. And I managed to get through my transition without many bad side effects. About a year ago, I got laid off along with 5000 of my closest co-workers. I've been jobless since. Unemployment will run out soon and I've had to withdraw money from my 401k. Thankfully I had that to fall back on.

Right now, I'm preparing to go to graduate school to study social work and become a gender therapist. I intend to go into that tunnel many, many more times to help others.

I'll probably be in debt for the rest of my life, but that doesn't matter. It's something that I feel is right for me.

Renee Thomas | April 10, 2010 4:10 PM

Deena,

I pose to you the rhetorical question

In your heart of hearts, would you have we "drama queens" as a part of your "coalition" if you were empowered to make the call?

But to the issue on the table today-

Is coming out as trans harder (or inherently more “dramatic”) than coming out as gay? As it's such an individual experience, "different" as opposed to "harder" is perhaps the more apt descriptor. Apt, because who you fuck is not as threatening to straight folk (and many assimilationist gays) as what you are vis-à-vis the rules for gender-norming.

Oh absolutely Renee. I love drama queens. I try my best to not discriminate against anyone, not even straight heterosexual females many of whom are drama queens.

I think you are correct that there are differences in everyone's experiences. What I am trying to point out (perhaps ineptly) is that the difficulty is not in any specific set of hurdles but rather in the minds and character of the person going through the process. Therefore no one should take an attitude of "I faced more" than a "so and so" did. When someone assets a superior attitude is when I say "wait just a minute because you haven't walked in their shoes".

I hope this is not offensive to you. To me one of the keys I have found in life is to look up to and respect every person while at the same time not letting anyone look down or deprecate another person (including you or me). Please remember that I am a total Ditz and sometimes state things in ways that do not easily convey what I intend.

the difficulty is not in any specific set of hurdles but rather in the minds and character of the person going through the process. Therefore no one should take an attitude of "I faced more" than a "so and so" did. When someone assets a superior attitude is when I say "wait just a minute because you haven't walked in their shoes".

Except a lot of us have walked in many shoes. I'm a trans woman who's been out as bisexual and is out as lesbian. I know other trans women who came out as gay, bisexual, and/or genderqueer before transitioning, who came out as bisexual or lesbian afterward. There seems to be an assumption from several commenters on Bilerico that "LGB" and "T" do not intersect at all, as if T is an orientation, rather than about gender.

I also find that real world hurdles have a real impact, however you come out. How many LGBT teens are kicked out of their homes by unsympathetic parents? How many suffer harassment and bullying? I don't think any of this stems from mind or character. I think this is the stuff that keeps people in closets.

Lisa your points are certainly valid and I never said impacts were not real. All those real impacts are handled in many different ways and my point was simply that there is no way for any sector of GLBTQ to assert that their hurdles are greater than those of others. Even your own use of the term staying in the closet validates the impossibility of any adequate measure of suffering because some do stay while others facing very similar sets of hurdles come out. Nothing but arguments and divisions will result if various components of GLBTQ try to claim their hill is steeper to climb. Just my observation and I hope you understand that I am not arguing against the points you made.

Tab Hunter’s Ghost | April 10, 2010 4:59 PM

Antonia, thank you for this story. Although I have struggled to find commonality with you and other trans posters here before this story provides me with common ground.

I came out as a gay men in a very small town 34 years ago, at the age of 15. As a result of that decision I lost my academic standing at school. I was kicked out of 2 churches that I dearly loved and faced religious condemnation and harassment for years until I finally gave up on church altogether, leaving a deep hole in my life. I faced continual discrimination in my chosen field of work, up to the point of a vicious witch hunt and legal investigation. I was raped, at knifepoint, twice. I was beaten up and threatened more times than I can tell. My mother told me she wished I’d never been born, then that she wished I would die, and then that I needed to go away and never come back and that I caused the deaths of several beloved family members who died in shame over me. I faced horrible discrimination from medical personnel during a surgery episode. I cared for and buried most of my friends during the AIDS crisis and watched countless others commit suicide, either directly or indirectly through drug abuse, alcoholism, and unsafe sexual practices. Being a gay man is no parade and no bunch of roses for many of us, believe me!

I have always been rather feminine, which I later found out was caused by low testosterone/high estrogen levels and I developed breasts at the onset of puberty, which my father insisted be “fixed”; I resisted. Gender presentation was always a part of the discrimination I faced and still face. I was forced to undergo psychological testing and treatment against my will. I was rejected by the mainstream gay men as too feminine and I endured forced loneliness and isolation to the point of suicidal thoughts. I am still an object of derision in my hometown and an object of embarrassment to some of my family members; my life is invisible to them and they keep it that way although we have overcome much of the hostility.

The only differences I have seen in your story and your comments are that I do not have to rely on doctors, surgery, or medications to maintain my identity as a gay man. But my journey was not easy either and it carried great risks as well. I am not a wealthy, self-centered urban gay man. I still work in a profession that would fire me instantly if I came out in the area where I now live. This forced closet has cost me most of my friends and pretty much eliminated the possibility of forming a meaningful relationship so I am constantly alone. For now.

As I approach retirement age I realize that my life is my own and that my attempts to make everyone else happy and comfortable came at a great price to me and now I am ready to change the focus. Your story helped me see what I have, up until this time, been unable to see: we are more alike than different and we have more in common than not regarding our experiences in the world. Although I am not trans in the sense that it is presented here at Bilerico and I remain a gay man, I hope that this kind of dialogue can continue and we (and others like us) can openly and honestly work towards the goal of a better world for both of us.

Tab Hunter’s Ghost | April 10, 2010 5:00 PM

Antonia, thank you for this story. Although I have struggled to find commonality with you and other trans posters here before this story provides me with common ground.

I came out as a gay men in a very small town 34 years ago, at the age of 15. As a result of that decision I lost my academic standing at school. I was kicked out of 2 churches that I dearly loved and faced religious condemnation and harassment for years until I finally gave up on church altogether, leaving a deep hole in my life. I faced continual discrimination in my chosen field of work, up to the point of a vicious witch hunt and legal investigation. I was raped, at knifepoint, twice. I was beaten up and threatened more times than I can tell. My mother told me she wished I’d never been born, then that she wished I would die, and then that I needed to go away and never come back and that I caused the deaths of several beloved family members who died in shame over me. I faced horrible discrimination from medical personnel during a surgery episode. I cared for and buried most of my friends during the AIDS crisis and watched countless others commit suicide, either directly or indirectly through drug abuse, alcoholism, and unsafe sexual practices. Being a gay man is no parade and no bunch of roses for many of us, believe me!

I have always been rather feminine, which I later found out was caused by low testosterone/high estrogen levels and I developed breasts at the onset of puberty, which my father insisted be “fixed”; I resisted. Gender presentation was always a part of the discrimination I faced and still face. I was forced to undergo psychological testing and treatment against my will. I was rejected by the mainstream gay men as too feminine and I endured forced loneliness and isolation to the point of suicidal thoughts. I am still an object of derision in my hometown and an object of embarrassment to some of my family members; my life is invisible to them and they keep it that way although we have overcome much of the hostility.

The only differences I have seen in your story and your comments are that I do not have to rely on doctors, surgery, or medications to maintain my identity as a gay man. But my journey was not easy either and it carried great risks as well. I am not a wealthy, self-centered urban gay man. I still work in a profession that would fire me instantly if I came out in the area where I now live. This forced closet has cost me most of my friends and pretty much eliminated the possibility of forming a meaningful relationship so I am constantly alone. For now.

As I approach retirement age I realize that my life is my own and that my attempts to make everyone else happy and comfortable came at a great price to me and now I am ready to change the focus. Your story helped me see what I have, up until this time, been unable to see: we are more alike than different and we have more in common than not regarding our experiences in the world. Although I am not trans in the sense that it is presented here at Bilerico and I remain a gay man, I hope that this kind of dialogue can continue and we (and others like us) can openly and honestly work towards the goal of a better world for both of us.

THG,

Thank you for that. :D

Simple truth is, most people aren't self centered white gay men. Even self centered white gay men.

They are a convenient "grouping" that exists primarily because the majority of people who have historically been a problem (and not just for trans people) are, well, gay people who happen to be men and who happen to be white and who happen to have a reasonable sum of money and who happen to be self centered.

And, in that sense, one aspect of what we are seeing, in terms of a socio-political change, has a parallel in terms of history: the shift in feminism from white, culturally euro-centric viewpoints to one that is broader and inclusive of women of color and from backgrounds that are culturally different.

Yet all share the same thing: they are being oppressed by societies and cultural institutions that are oblivious or hostile to their lives.

In my previous column, one commenter said that we had nothing in common.

I questioned them on that -- for in my experience, we have everything in common with the LGB.

Deena, above, questions the way in which it *seems* like a hierarchy is formed, but it is not. This is not a competition, this is not a structured and systematic force with will and impetus of its own.

We face the same challenges, and part of what defines a community -- part of what makes one -- is the world within which that community exists and how it is seen by that wider world.

Because that is one of the things that are held in common.

Identity is great stuff -- but identity is based on what one has in difference. Community is based in what one has in common.

To those who do not feel commonality, I say either look harder, or ask more, or acknowledge that you are, in fact, not part of the community.

I present Trans as I described it previously here: http://www.dyssonance.com/?page_id=911 (which is also found here at Bilerico but I had that one open, lol).

It is not based on how one identifies, but instead on how one is seen and what one has in common with others.

Since Trans people are gay men and lesbian women and bisexuals of both and then even more, they go through all of that as well.

We are told in dog whistles -- even here at Bilerico -- that we are separate, that we are not a part, that we do not have anything in common.

Which is a lot like telling a straight person they have nothing in common with LGB folks. They do.

We can, in the end, choose to see the commonality or the difference.

I'm an inveterate sociologist. I tend to look at both, and weigh them carefully.

This:

Identity is great stuff -- but identity is based on what one has in difference. Community is based in what one has in common.

Is why I find the term "LGBT community" problematic. It's trying to define a community by immediately pointing out that we're different.

Although, it was coined by lesbians who felt they were invisible in the term "gay". Obviously gay men and lesbians have differences because males and females, and men and women have differences. But butch women and femme women also have differences. You can cut the cake anyway you want, but it's still a damn cake.

Which is a lot like telling a straight person they have nothing in common with LGB folks. They do.

On this I feel like the gay media and marriage rights movement is over stressing what some gays have in common with straight people to the exclusion of a lot of gays. Which I find irritating.

I give up.

You tell me what I am, and tell me how easy it's been.

Age: 19, 1996. http://www.twitpic.com/1eo885

Brianna Harris | April 10, 2010 11:18 PM

Antonia, I could not help but shake my head in agreement with all of what you said here. Coming out as trans is such a different experience from coming out as GL or B. For one, coming out as trans is a VERY public thing. One can be GL or B and live quietly behind the scenes with a partner for years with a very good chnace that noone may be the wiser. When you come out as trans, and especially after beginning Hormone Replacement Therapy, it is virtually impossible to hide the changes that are taking place. These changes eventually force your hand and make it absolutely necessary to come out to family, friends, work...everyone. It simply is unavoidable. Sooner or later everyone WILL know and your entire life will be lain out totally exposed for all to see and you will feel totally powerless to prevent it. WRT going stealth, I've always likened this to moving from one closet to another. You start out in the pre-op closet...scared to death that someone will find out that you believe you are something other than what you appear to be. so you come to the realization that your only option is to transition. But then you decide to live in stealth. So you move to the post-op closet and then live the rest of your life in fear that someone may find out about your past...who you used to be and that you will be exposed as a "fraud", something less than a "real" man or woman. Personally I came out so that I could shut the door on my pre-op closet and live authentically without the fear of being found out and another closet is the last place I ever intend to be. So stealth just does not make sense to me....but that's just me....

One can be GL or B and live quietly behind the scenes with a partner for years with a very good chnace that noone may be the wiser.

Except, if gay people just stayed home there would be LGBT rights movement. There would be no ENDA, there would be no Matthew Shepard Act, there would be no community.

For a lot of gay people, coming out means having to come out repeatedly. I don't want "no one to be the wiser" because that's not being out...that's being stealth...that's the closet. And most gays have recognized the importance of being out. It's not just because being closeted leaves you in a place of vulnerability, but being out means being part of the community. Being out means doing what's ethically right for your community because it makes it easier for other gay people to come out.

The entire LGBT rights movement is built on gay people coming out. You know, society didn't just evolve to becoming more accepting of gay people all on it's own. We fought for it. And there are plenty of people that would like us to go back and live quietly.

Gay people took bullets, rioted, chained themselves to fences to be where we are today...just to come out. During the AIDS crisis we had a President who couldn't even say "AIDS" while it was killing our community. Society didn't give a crap about AIDS as long is it was just killing gay people.

When I came out, there were still people wearing "AIDS Kills Fags Dead" t-shirts for crying out loud.

Thanks Antonia- Just thanks. I figured this out late, and I'm still struggling with how to live full time, precisely because of those "coming out" issues you speak of early in the piece.
We just wanna be happy.
Just thanks.

One can work super hard at slealth including GRS,FFS, hormones, hair removal, getting all your paper work in order and THEN YOU HAVE A CT FOR LOWER BACK PAIN AND THEY ASK ABOUT THE PROSTATE!Real stealth is a fantasy when you get arthritis really bad. Oy do I know.