This article was first published in PQ Monthly, Portland, in January, 2016.
Coming out as trans, starting with my own self-realization on March 26, 2013 was both terrifying and liberating. Of course I told Daniel first. A friend of many years, he is the one I call when things go bump in the night. We talk about everything, squabble like siblings, and laugh till we can’t breathe. Daniel was my first go-to for many awkward questions about being gay, and he was patient in my ignorance.
I confessed to Daniel that I thought I might be trans. I say “confessed” because it carried the burden of so much fear and shame, and was so hard to finally admit. I second-guessed myself. Was I wrong? Was I just trying to fit in? Was I really trans, or trans enough to be trans? Was it just in my head?
I told my roommate, Patrick, next. After an incredibly awkward pause, I started with “I’ve been looking up transgender stuff on the internet.” A few nights after I shared this new secret, we stayed up until three in the morning, analyzing why I felt this way. He shared his fears, and held me while I sobbed.
If only the me-of-today could share with the me-of-then what I have learned! I am so much more vibrant and authentic living out of the closet. I stand taller, and am more confident in my uniqueness. I am joyful, and understand why I never quite felt like I fit in.
Within a week of my confessions, I decided to cut my hair. For most of my life, my hair had been long. It is thick and naturally wavy, and I never really styled it. Daniel did want to give me big ponytails or “poof poofs,” but that wasn’t going to happen. I did the “wash, comb and go,” and it felt like a big fluffy triangle. I told myself I could always grow it back.
It was also time to broaden my circle of people-in-the-know and I decided to tell my friend Andrew next. In another story, I’ll tell you how his comment made me realize I am trans. But at this lunch, I didn’t know how to bring it up. I asked about his day, and dawdled over food choices. It felt shameful to admit. In my head, I was a poser and a wannabe. Maybe I wasn’t really trans, but just wanted to be cool. I finally got the words out, “I’ve been questioning my gender identity.”
He was not fazed or worried. This was not the end of the world, and he would always be my friend. After our conversation, I felt like maybe it wasn’t going to be that big of a deal.
However, for the next few months when I would come out to people, I still softened the statement by saying “I think I may be transgender.” It was a journey for me to go from considering the idea, to tentatively suggesting it, to embracing it. But that softened statement was also made out of fear and defensiveness. My logic was that if I expressed doubt, then people couldn’t attack my sureness.
I made the appointment to get my hair cut. I didn’t tell my other friends or my hair dresser what was really going on. I even brought pictures of women with short hair that matched the men’s style I wanted. I had to go back three times, each time getting shorter and closer to what I truly meant. When I finally came out to my barber, I finally got the man’s haircut I wanted. Authenticity really does pay off!
At first, I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror or in my reflection in windows with the short hair. It was unsettling. I began wearing jeans, a sports bra, and t-shirt regularly, but wanted to expand my male wardrobe. I am blessed with the best of friends who gave me their hand-me-downs to help me start out. Each step towards living as male just clicked and felt right.
But during those first few months, being in public scared me. I felt vulnerable and exposed in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. I vividly remember walking five blocks in my neighborhood in men’s shorts and a t-shirt with short hair. You’d have thought I was streaking through a priests’ convention the way I felt that I stood out! The places I felt safest were at my friend’s home or at gay bars. However, even there, as I felt more authentically me, I also felt I had made myself ugly and unlovable.
Two months after I came out, I got a tattoo on my right forearm: “Nothing can separate us” from a bible verse, Romans 8:38-39. It reminds me that nothing I can do will make God stop loving me. This reminder was critical in these first few months when I was filled with so much fear: fear I was doing something wrong, fear that people would be upset or hurt me.
I needed something permanent to remind me that God’s love is bigger than my fear, bigger than other people’s judgment, bigger than my own internalized transphobia. I needed this tattoo to remind me that I am still good, and whole, and worthy of love. I needed this tattoo to connect me to my faith, even when I was too afraid to believe.
TO BE CONTINUED…