Coming out often means fielding really personal questions then being judged.
It’s hard to describe the full impact of coming out to someone. Because of the positive mainstream media representation, the access to people’s experiences on the Internet, and the campaigning of activists in many places, the stigma of being gay has diminished. For this reason, I didn’t feel as though coming out as being other than heterosexual was a massive issue and it was relatively easy for me to do so—though I am fully aware this is not the case for everyone.
But coming out as transgender is a different kettle of fish.
We are starting to see a renaissance of transgender stories as people like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock are being taken seriously by the mainstream. But this renaissance is far from widespread, and, as such, coming out as transgender still isn’t as understood or as accepted as being gay.
To further complicate things personally, I do not identify in the gender binary. This means that while I don’t identify as a woman, I don’t identify as a man, either. I describe it to people in an analogy: Imagine women were in one giant city and men were in another giant city. I am walking off into the desert that surrounds them. This is fairly appropriate because while it is like a gender pilgrimage, it is also very lonely.
Because who I am and how I identify sits outside the overwhelming narrative of the mainstream, virtually everywhere I go, I will have to come out. Even in a lot of LGBTIQ+ spaces, the predominant narratives of trans people are often strictly male or female. Assuming trans people are even recognized by their appropriate gender. Many cisgender people in these communities are content to be bigoted toward us by either dismissing our genders, using slurs casually against us (then dismissing our anger), or defining their sexualities to specifically exclude us.
Coming out is a nerve-wracking process no matter who it is to. I am exceedingly lucky to have a brother who I know has been tirelessly educating both himself and my parents in my absence. He has asked for no reward or acclaim. He hasn’t even really spoken to me about the campaigning he has done in my family, he has just done it. Even when I thank him, he tends to downplay it. I cannot think of any better act of an ally than to take the burden of education off those affected.
Invariably that’s what people expect of you when you come out. For years I felt enjoyment identifying as a woman. I found enjoyment in playing the part of a woman even though often I lamented the fact that I wasn’t born a man. I was content in this category mostly because I had actively dismissed the fact that there might be other ways of being. I had bought into the perception that the media had fed me that transgender people were mentally unwell, strange, and dangerous. I didn’t see myself as “one of them,” so I never investigated it.
So when I came out, fielding questions was excruciatingly difficult. Often they were really personal questions that were followed by judgment. When I told an old lover of mine that I was considering getting chest surgery he told me that I didn’t want to do that. It was bizarre. Here I was confessing something deeply personal and being vulnerable in front of someone and he flat out negated what I was saying as though he knew better.
During these conversations I felt the pressure of needing to just “know,” 100%, that this was what I wanted. Part of me put it on for show to shut up any nay-sayers but it was destabilizing because I didn’t know what I wanted. All I knew is that I would know in time and I had to make peace with that. Only through talking to other trans people and finding out that this uncertainty is commonplace did I start to relax.
At my last job I came out because I wanted the office to use my preferred name and pronouns in the office. This was particularly stressful for me. While I wanted to come in from the initial meeting with this information so people wouldn’t have to break a habit later on, I was also walking into a new work place completely without context. I hadn’t signed any contract yet so I was aware that they could turn around and call the whole thing off.
My manager started to introduce me to a couple of people on the team and I interrupted him to ask if he and everyone could call me Fury and use the pronouns “them” and “they.”
One colleague flat out refused. “I speak the Queen’s English. Are we going to have a problem?” Luckily my workplace had measures in this situation and while I was whisked away, I believe the colleague was given a firm speaking to. This didn’t stop me from spiraling out and feeling numb from head to toe for the rest of the day.
I’ve come to expect these sorts of encounters. The accumulation of experiences end up being the things you have to weigh whenever you come out to someone. You end up asking yourself: How much energy do I have? How do I think this person will react? Is it worth telling them really, in the long run?
Working as an openly visible trans person can be rewarding. A different colleague approached me at work and told me that he was on a flight where he encountered someone who was traveling to a gender therapy session. This person assumed my colleague wouldn’t know anything about being non-binary but my colleague had a good chat about me and the workplace. In response to this conversation, this person felt reassured that they were making the right choice. After this story was relayed to me and my colleague left the room, I wept from the joy of it.
Even to this day I have slight pangs of guilt for not telling everyone that I’m trans. While I can rationalize that I don’t have the energy or the emotional capacity to navigate the potential minefield of responses, I still feel like I am letting my people down by not being visible and allowing the world to change around me.
I am just thankful for the people who approach the situation right. One hairdresser I went to ended up asking about my genitals. Another one, when I told her I was trans and used “them/they” pronouns just said “Cool, no problem” and didn’t ask for an explanation. She just totally accepted it and it made no difference to her. It’s people like this who give me hope for the world.
Fury is a professional writer who has been performing poetry and publishing articles for the better part of three years. They write poetry, articles and satire through the lens of intersectional feminism. Their work focuses on destabilizing the kyriarchy and existing as a non-binary trans person in a gender-essentialist world.