An Article on Timing

Photo by Rayne's Avante-Garde
Article By E.S. Wynn

Coming out as trans (or as anything else that there might be a social stigma attached to) can be a real challenge, and it can take a lot of support from friends and family to get through it. Even so, when it's over, there can be this feeling of “well, now that everyone knows, what's the big deal?” Which can lead to the question: why didn't I come out earlier?

Instead of following that thought down the dark road of self-criticism, I think it's important to explore the reasons why it can take so long to come out. Because my own experiences are the only experiences I really have to draw from, I'll discuss my reasons for waiting thirty-three years to come out as trans in this blog post.

Fear, and a lack of information. I'll just come right out and say it. Fear and a lack of information about what it means to be transgender are the reasons I waited so long to self-identify and to be open about it. Even still, I get little twinges of doubt and worry about what people will think, about the hatred and weirdness I've read about other trans people having to deal with during the course of their everyday experiences. Even still, I think about my friends and family, and worry (only a little now) about whether or not my being open about who I am might drive them to distance themselves from me. I've been destitute in the past. I've been abandoned suddenly by those I cared about, and there's a fear, indeed a deep terror that, when I do something as simple as painting my nails or putting on a wig, I'm sewing the seeds of my own destruction, of my fall back toward homelessness and heartbreak.

But, you know what? It's all illusion. I live in a time, a city and a community that celebrates diversity, and even if I express my inner feminine side openly, I haven't sabotaged anything. In fact, all of the most important people in my life (including my work life) have been incredibly understanding and supportive since I've opened up. It's who I am, and it's common, human decency to accept people for who they are.

The fears still come and go, though, as fears are wont to do. They're there to keep us safe, to keep us keen and on guard against threats that could (literally) kill us. They've protected me, but they've also been like a concrete brick, slowing my growth toward the openly transgender individual I am today. Part of the reason for the fear came from my own aforementioned lack of knowledge about what it means to be trans, and it's that lack of knowledge (and the fear dynamic within it) that I'm going to talk about next.

When I was a teen, sexuality was social credibility. If you were gay (or suspected of being such) you would be the target of constant abuse (physical and emotional) from the other students. Every day on campus was a fight to defend myself from attack and prove that I was not gay by acting "like a man," which usually involved using my fists or backpack as a weapon. Homophobia was so rampant that no one used the school's extensive shower facilities after P.E. class, and those very few (one or two) kids who did were ruthlessly teased for it with lines like "oh, you want to smell good for your boyfriend?" Fistfights would break out in the locker room over accusations of one student looking at another student's "junk" during changing. Some of us avoided all of this as much as possible (myself included) by just changing in a stall in the bathroom. Despite this and other precautions I took to avoid caustic situations, I was still repeatedly slammed against lockers for being “queer.” I denied the label vehemently, but children (and teens) can be ruthless in enforcing the social pecking order, and "fag" was the label most easily wielded in that place and time.

The funny part is that I've never found myself attracted to men. It's a heteronormative idea that all women (including those who were born male but who identify as female) must be attracted to men. I can attest, (as can many other trans individuals) that gender identity is a completely separate concept from sexual preference. Trans individuals, no matter how they identify (as male, female or something else entirely) have the same range of preferences as any other group of individuals. Some are attracted only to women, some only to men, some to both, some to neither, and some are pansexual, meaning they are attracted to every kind of gender configuration out there, or nearly so. Assigning a sexuality to a gender is as silly as assigning a race to a creed. You wouldn't assume that Catholics are always Caucasian. There is a rainbow of races within Catholicism, just as there are a rainbow of sexual preferences under the trans umbrella.

It has taken years to work past the flawed programming of my childhood that kept my own gender expression firmly in check. For decades, my mind was filled with horror stories and twisted images of what it meant to be gay and what it meant to be trans. For me, growing up, trans was synonymous with gay, and as a label was applied to only two people: RuPaul and Rocky Horror Picture Show's Doctor Frank-N-Furter, and I found them both to be absolutely terrifying. I wanted nothing to do with that world, and so I shunned it. The woman within me grew and matured, and though I often found myself wishing that I would wake up in a world where I would be living my life as a female, complete and accepted, I never sought to express it on the outside. I didn't want to be the third name in some kind of trans trinity that included RuPaul and Frank-N-Furter.

What I didn't know was that neither RuPaul or Tim Curry are transgender. In his/her own words, (RuPaul is comfortable with either pronoun) RuPaul has said that “drag is really making fun of identity. We are shapeshifters. We’re like ‘okay, today I’m this, now I’m a cowboy, now I’m this’. Transgender people take identity very seriously – their identity is who they are." And so it is with me, and with all of the self-identified trans people I know. We have an identity, a feeling inside that is very important to us. It has always been a part of our lives, our experience and it colors and defines everything we see, do and the very way we live, whether we're out of the closet or not.

So who do we rally to then, as Trans individuals? What heroes do we hold up as ideals to aspire to? Well, let's look to the media. LaVerne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner are well known and probably the first two who come to mind, but where are all of the other voices? The transmen, the bigenders, genderfluid and genderqueer individuals? As a demographic, trans people face the same problems that all minorities struggle with: the problem of representation, and that's where the lack of information comes from. We have precious few suitable role models to look to, and a host of bizarre, fetishistic caricatures (like Frank-N-Furter) that are applied to us against our will as examples of what we “must be” if we feel a certain way. Like so many others, I wandered lost for decades because, to me, even feeling very strongly female inside, I refused to consider that I might be transgender simply because I wanted nothing to do with men getting off on wearing women's underwear. I'm not that kind of person. I have no interest in wearing anything “sexy” and I never have had such an interest. The woman I am is not a neglige woman. The woman I am is something harder, edgier. Something real, something else entirely.

But again, that's where representation becomes important. Trans people aren't all beautiful super models. We aren't all female, and we haven't all transitioned, nor will some of us ever choose to transition. As LaVerne Cox herself says, "The preoccupation with transition and surgery objectifies trans people" and I think that is such an important thing to remember. Transgender literally means someone who transcends the binary of gender, someone who doesn't fit neatly into the box of boy or girl. There are as many ways to be transgender as there are ways to be human, and that is one of the main reasons why I am writing this, why I am openly identifying as trans. It's the reason why I encourage my trans friends and family to write about their experiences, to put their perspectives into poetry and sing about who they are, about what it is like to be trans. By increasing our visibility, both as unique individuals and as a community, we make the world safer for others like us.

When it comes to the fear and the bad programming and the lack of knowledge, I blame no one. I don't blame my parents, and I never will. They did the best that they could given the tools and the knowledge at their disposal and I am incredibly grateful for the wisdom and the values that they imparted to me. If it wasn't for my dad, I wouldn't be the man that I am today, and if it wasn't for my mother, I wouldn't be the woman that I am today either. If anyone is to blame, I blame myself for being afraid, for lacking the confidence to even research gender identity or explore my own feelings more than I did within the confines of my mind. I blame myself for thinking that trans-ness was fetishistic and involved nothing but gay men putting on panties and getting turned on by the taboo of it. I blame myself for not talking with anyone about my inner woman until I was thirty, for being so secretive that even my ex-wife knew nothing about it during the course of our entire five year relationship (I'm sure she'll be very surprised if/when she finds out!)

More importantly than any of that useless blaming, though, I have to say that I forgive myself. I forgive myself not just because I was young and very much invested in being as male as possible for survival's sake, but also because I'm not hiding who I have always been anymore. I'm standing up, I'm opening up and I'm explaining what it means to be trans (for me) in the hopes that by doing so I can increase awareness and create a safer world not just for myself, but also for all those who are still locked inside the closet, unable to express themselves for fear of social or physical injury.

So if you're reading this and you're thinking about when the best time to come out might be, or how you might go about it, I can tell you that the only right time is when you feel safe and right about it. If you're curious about something, research it! If you feel like you might fall within the transgender spectrum, look for the youtube videos, podcasts, blog posts and articles filled with the voices of people who are openly trans. Listen to what they have to say about their experiences. Take the good with the bad, explore it, and proceed toward your own highest self, whatever that looks like for you. There's no such thing as too much knowledge, so keep exploring.

If you have a story about your own experiences as a trans individual or would like to be interviewed so that you can share your perspectives as a trans person with the readers of this blog, please feel free to contact me through the contact form here: [link] Make sure you have javascript enabled or the form will just display a blank page. I’d love to hear from you, and I’d love to share your perspective with our readers. Thank you!

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