To Be Or Not To Be
Every human who has ever lived, that had a secret, had to decide whether to share that secret with the outside. This conundrum is not exclusive to LGBT+ people, but that is what I want to discuss. My personal experience is with the T part of that initialism. Coming out is a deeply personal decision and one that everyone must make for themselves. Add in the issue of transitioning and it becomes even more difficult.
First a disclaimer, I would never make light of the struggle of the L, G, and B. Perhaps I am being naïve in this blog post. I have not had any of the experiences of a gay person coming out and living their authentic life. I do not know their struggle and I cannot know their actual journey and compare it to mine. There are many similarities, but I want to draw attention to one big difference. They can choose who they come out to, and they can generally walk in the world without drawing attention. They come out once to each person they choose to tell.
A Trans person has the same issues with regard to who to tell, but deciding to transition will mean coming out every time they step out the door. A gay person can come out to their family and still go into work the next day without worrying that everyone else will know. A trans person will come in to work looking very different from the day before, and they will be noticed. You can’t choose to tell just your family and close friends if you plan to transition.
So, that is what I am struggling with now. I’m sliding out of my mid-50s. I’ve spent my entire life playing the part of a man in society. It is all I know. I’ve been pretty convincing. I’ve nurtured relationships, and built a business in that guise. Coming out to family is doable, but transitioning and living as my authentic self has some serious potential pitfalls. I have no experience being a woman. I’ve known that I wasn’t right my whole life, but I didn’t get the opportunity to socialize and interact with the world as a girl. How am I supposed to do this?
The first is the fear of looking absurd. Some AMABs can appear very convincing when presenting as a woman. Not so much for me. First, I am 6’ 2”. While not impossible, that is way out of the norm. Second, I weigh too much, way too much. Even if I lost the weight, I am not a slight person. I will stand out. To put the cherry on top, I wear a size 15 men’s shoe. That is a hard enough size to find for men, women’s shoes in that size are rarer than hen’s teeth. Surprisingly women’s stores seem to do well for “extended sizes” and I can find stuff to wear.
So, assuming I got the clothes right. The hair, makeup, whatever. I’m still a giant presence and will never be able to blend into the background the way I have wanted my whole life.
The next fear is rejection. My wife knows and is broadly supportive. She does not want me to tell our kids because she is afraid it will emotionally harm them. We have a 28 year old daughter living on her own in NYC and a 23 year old son pursuing a PhD in Albany. They are both well educated and very liberal. My son has a couple of friends who are non-binary, so he is well familiar with the concept. My daughter gets along well with his friends as well as having her own LGB friends. My wife is particularly worried about our son feeling betrayed and abandoned by his male role model. That he will feel he has been lied to his whole life. At first I didn’t think that would happen, but now doubts are creeping in and my wife’s worry is eating into my psyche.
Then there is my father. He is 93 years old now, still going strong, but won’t be around forever. He and I have built a business together over the past 28 years, so we see each other every weekday and get along well. One positive is that one of our clients confided in him that they have a grandchild who is trans. Then his, I guess you would say, girlfriend has disclosed that she too has a grandchild who is trans. So, he knows it is a thing and it does not repulse him. He is definitely confused by the phenomenon.
When he told me about these two kids, my reply was that they just needed love and support and they would do fine. I didn’t make a big deal about it, but inside I was screaming, We have a part time secretary/assistant who has worked with my dad for 40 years. I overheard the two of them talking over lunch and her saying that she was so glad they were past the stage where they have to worry about these things. I gave a little internal chuckle at that.
I have lots of thoughts about telling him and how it would play out. You see, when I was about 12 or 13, he walked in on me dressed in women’s clothes. I had snuck some of my mom’s stuff. He demanded to know what I was doing, and as a terrified kid, I said, I don’t know. He told me to take it off and then he came to my room and again asked and I again said I didn’t know. He said don’t do it again and don’t tell your mother. And that was it. Needless to say, it didn’t stop the feelings and the desire to dress. It continued on and I was just more careful.
But from that day on, I lived in fear of that coming back to bite me. Fear of him saying something. I knew it was wrong, weird, and perverted. I was terrified of messing up, making a mistake and him bringing the incident. I have likened it to the sword of Damocles, hanging over my head. It wasn’t until recently that I was able to work through the trauma associated with it. I can say that EMDR worked amazingly well for me.
So, what do I imagine would happen if I told him. I think he would believe me. I think I would break down. I worry that he would feel guilty about the incident, if he even remembers it. Since he is aware of the “condition”, I don’t think he would be hostile. I would like the chance to discuss it with him and explain what I was dealing with growing up, but I don’t want to blame him or make him feel guilty. I know he already regrets traveling for work so much and not being home all the time. I hold no ill will, my parents did the best they could and it was pretty good.
He is 93, still very healthy, but age is most certainly catching up. He is not the most steady on his feet and uses a walker sometimes. He has developed prostate cancer, but if you last until your 90s, a man will get prostate cancer. It won’t kill him. He’s also developed a basal cell carcinoma behind his ear. Also treatable. Pretty amazing since he spent a lot of time outside and never used sunscreen or wore a hat. So, a part of me wants to just wait it out and I won’t have to tell him. But, his mother lived to 103, and I am getting older every day.
Then there is my sister. She’s 2 ½ years younger than me. We had a younger sister who died at age 30 from epilepsy. Anyway, my sister had difficulties growing up. She’s been exposed to every lifestyle out there and would probably deal fine with it.
I don’t have much more in the family department. I have one sister in law, who I think would be fine. I have some cousins I haven’t seen in over 5 years. My mother in law and her sisters might be a problem.
The next huge issue would be work related. I am essentially a small business owner and my business requires a personal connection. There is no doubt some of the people we work with would not be receptive to a trans person. We would certainly lose business. I can’t inflict that on my father and I can’t afford that. So, that is another big hurdle. If I worked for some major company, they would likely have policies in place to protect employees and I could probably transition with minimal disruption. Not so when your business relies on personal connections. So, before I do anything I will have to cultivate some more business with LGBT+ friendly people.
I am fortunate enough to be physically large and strong enough and mature enough to not worry too much about bullying. I know that is a major obstacle to younger people coming out. I had a bit of verbal bullying about my weight as a kid, but I never really faced any physical bullying. Actually the only time a kid did try to bully me was in junior high school, I picked him up and held him against the school lockers and suggested he stop the behavior.
So, these are some of the obstacles to transitioning that trans people face. Were I just gay, I could still tell a small group of people and continue on my way. I wouldn’t have to tell the world. It wouldn’t be obvious just looking at me that I was gay. But, if I want to live as my real self, there is no hiding. Oh, there I go, the grass is always greener, right? I apologize if I am making light of anyone’s experience. However, that is the place my brain is right now.