What’s Coming Out?
What does it mean, and where did this dang closet come from?
Those of us in the queer community have vastly different stories and experiences, but we all share the commonality of bringing who we are into public space to be seen. For some, the dangers in doing so are terrible enough that they have to remain silenced and hidden from the ones they care for most. For others, it’s an undeniable proclamation of self that is impossible to contain. It’s the friction with the world we’re born into, and the conflict of belonging, which creates the infamous “closet” around us.
“Coming out,” on the other hand, is a courageous declaration against those forces. The process is both liberating and self-defeating; it represents honesty with others yet exposes the fickle nature of those around us, and, while the freedom of invisibility be lifted, it often it comes with the price of social confinement or ostracization from community groups, employment, and relationships one may have otherwise had access to and thrived within.
It’s because of this that “coming out” can’t be summarized by a single event. It’s a conversation you have with parents and family, it’s the moment you confide your deepest insecurities and fears to your best friend, it’s when you log into social media or dating apps for the first time and have to check that box we’re all familiar with, it’s every time you fill out a form at the doctor, and when an acquaintance becomes a friend. Most importantly, though, it’s the heart pounding moment you look into the mirror at your own reflection and tell yourself.
Coming out is a revelation and vulnerability.
Coming out is a series of moments, words, and tears shared with others.
Coming out is a never ending story felt through a lifetime.
And here’s mine...
The Start of My Coming Out Story
First, I want to point out a few things about my family history and clarify my current identity to give a backdrop.
I grew up in an EXTREMELY conservative, christian household in the suburbs of Ohio. I spent the first 18 years of my life living in that bubble and telling myself that’s who I was, because I did not have the option to consider alternatives. I was racist, sexist, and very much out for blood. I repressed so much of myself and let it build into a bitter rage for which, to this day, I’m still making amends.
Everyone protects themselves in different ways when they’re closeted, and some of us develop some pretty unhealthy coping mechanisms that take years to work through and shed. For me, that was a camouflage of deadly thorns covered in poison because I was terrified of the budding rose trying to bloom...and what would happen if the world knew it was there to be trampled and uprooted.
Most of the time people ask you, “When was the first time you knew?” or “How did you know?” Rarely are these questions answered simply.
The first step in coming out is usually the moment you acknowledge yourself and validate your own feelings. For me, the first time I allowed myself to consider my identity as a transgender person was when I was 19 years old during my second year in college, after taking a Human Sexuality and Gender Studies course TWICE (not because I needed to, but because the first time around was so eye-opening and cathartic that I needed the closure of experiencing it all over again). Hearing about all of the stories and lifestyles I didn’t know were possible in an environment built on understanding and compassion was like being struck by lightning. Granted, this wasn’t the time I started calling myself trans or queer...it was when everything clicked and I allowed myself to stop denying it.
Everything Happens in Retrospect
Did I know I was trans when I was 3-5 years old and playing dress up with my cousin Anna every family get together, wearing my grandma’s old clothes we found in the attic? Or when I would choose my mother’s heels when learning to walk over my father’s boots? Maybe it was the moment not long after when I discovered tucking while taking a bath and it “made me a girl,” or the following week when I was spanked for being so happy about it.
Was it when I was 6-8 and playing with my sisters’ various dolls in secret, or when my parents realized I wasn’t racing my toy trucks but giving them names and pretending they were making families and falling in love instead?
When I was 10 my parents immediately signed me up for baseball. I played until I was 14 and hated every second of it. I was told to “man up” when I cried after practice and to rub some dirt in my wounds. All I wanted was to go back to gymnastics because I loved it as a kid and never understood why they yanked me out on a whim one day. I think my dad just wanted to play catch and have a son he could boast about.
Perhaps I knew when I was 13-16 and sexuality came into the picture? After all, I discovered masturbation via penetration long before experimenting with, uh, the hands-on approach. It was about that time I started adding the phrase “I’m not like most guys…” into my vocabulary. Because, well, it was becoming increasingly clear that I wasn’t. It was also the time I began jokingly describing myself as “a lesbian trapped in a man’s body” because I had no other way to express the feelings I was having.
If you ask me now, I’ll say I’ve been a queer trans person from birth. If you asked me then, I’d swear I was a cis het male.
I only vaguely acknowledged I might be not-so-straight after a cute boy hit on me during freshman orientation at college. I knew I blushed. I knew I had butterflies. Yet the whole next month I drowned in feelings of fear as the scalding, painful memories of family and church rattled in my ears and on my skin.
Finally, I Start To Understand Myself
It wasn’t until I was 22 years old, and with a partner who provided me the space and security to grow into myself, that I had the freedom to come to terms with who I was. She was the first person who looked into my eyes and made me feel loved through the tears, and gently opened the door to conversations I tried to lock up for years. She wouldn’t let me hate myself. She wouldn’t let me make excuses. She wouldn’t let the world lay a finger on me. Because of her, nearly five years after that cute boy, I said “I’m bi” out loud for the first time.
Part of me still flinched.
Later that same year she walked in on me one night sobbing and shaking uncontrollably on the bed. Through the pained whimpers I kept muttering between gasps, “I know I’m not crazy.. I’m not crazy.. I promise.. I know I’m right.. Why won’t it stop.. I feel crazy..”
That wasn’t the moment I knew I was trans - it was the moment my dysphoria became too much to bare. It was the dam I’d built up for years finally crumbling under the pressure, and it was the sensation of drowning in my own memories and dreams. I think she felt the desperation when I looked at her because for the first time I saw in someone else the same broken eyes that were always staring back at me in the mirror.
After that, I knew things couldn’t continue the way they were and several months later I was sitting across from the person who would save my life.
I Finally Started Living My Truth
On December 20th 2016, the day after the electoral college elected Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States, I told Dr. S that I was transgender and ready to begin medical transition. Besides the person I was dating, she was the first person to hear those words and the warmth of her smiling face in that moment is what keeps me going in my darkest times to this day. I will always call her my hero. I cried in her arms when she told me she’d gladly prescribe me hormones, and I cried in her arms the day she handed me the papers to change my name and gender marker. On February 20th 2017, the day Trump was sworn in as President, I started taking estrogen. The world around me was its darkest, yet within me I felt a fire burning so bright and invincible that nothing could shroud its brilliance.
It wasn’t until June 11th of 2017 at the Equality March for Unity and Pride in Washington D.C. that I made a social media post and blasted my identity to the world. I didn’t tell family or friends, I told everyone. I was 25 years old and tired of hiding. I was marching in a massive crowd of my peers and allies in our nation’s capital, and I was surrounded by more love and support than I ever believed could exist in this world. Despite the hate, despite the years of pain and questioning, it was all part of my story and I deserved to have a happy ending.
However, that doesn’t mean I can say it in the past tense…
I’m Still Coming Out
Although my mother and sisters have come to accept and love me more than ever, I still haven’t told my father. I still wait for that heart-pounding moment when someone I want to date or sleep with gets close enough and I have to say, “So, there’s something you should know…”. There’s still moments when I have to step up and expose my identity to friends, acquaintances, and strangers after they say a trans or homophobic remark. I still have an I.D. and passport that don’t match the gender on my birth certificate.
Again, I’ve been public about my identity for nearly 3 years now and I’m still coming out.
Final Words of Encouragement (I.E. READ ME IF YOU NEED A PICK-ME-UP!)
My story isn’t over, I doubt it ever will be, and I’m writing a new chapter every day. So are you.
Some of us have the safety to write in bold, some of us have to write in invisible ink, but all of us are constantly telling our stories. We’re all getting through the pages one by one, however we can, and I hope you have the strength to keep writing yours.
I promise there are some of us waiting to hear it, and even more willing to keep it safe.
Anyways, I hope you liked mine.