Two years and a day ago, I went through one of the most difficult experiences of my life: I came out to a good friend for the very first time.
A few weeks earlier, I’d told another friend, someone I’d known for a few months. She was the first person that ever knew. It hadn’t gone terribly well, but the relief I’d felt since convinced me to start coming out to the people I cared the most about. So I messaged my friend, told her I needed to talk about something, and immediately felt as weak as if I hadn’t eaten anything in a week.
When I first came out to someone, I was overwhelmed by how difficult it was. Coming out means bearing with a horrible feeling I don’t know how to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced it.
We hadn’t been friends for long, but I’d grown to really enjoy her company and appreciate her friendship. I don’t know exactly what it was about her, but something felt “right.” For whatever reason, my instincts started telling me she was the right person to finally tell. I had no idea how to do so, though.
We were talking one day as I tidied up before leaving the office. She mentioned some gay guy she’d been friends with before, and the casual way she spoke about him gave me encouragement. After work, as we sat together in the grass waiting for our ride, we were talking about something random when I interrupted and said “Hey… There’s something I want you to know.”
I then froze.
To understand what that sick emptiness that comes right before you come out feels like, I think you need to also understand what coming out means.
I wrote a whole thing last week on how much pain my parents’ poisonous religious beliefs caused me, and how much it meant to me to leave them behind. Even without religion though, growing up being closeted, regardless of whether you’re gay, transgender, or anything else, is incredibly painful.
In my case, it meant suppressing myself and trying to be someone I wasn’t. No one who knew me pre-transition will tell you I was a paragon of masculinity, but there were plenty of learned behaviours I showed that came from people’s expectations of what a man should be like. Those things weren’t “me” but I tried my hardest to perform the role I thought would help me fit in.
I lived in constant fear. I was terrified anyone would think of me as feminine or, heaven forbid, somehow manage to guess the truth. I remember that especially when I was younger, I would sometimes make fun of effeminate guys, because I felt desperate to distance myself from them.
There was constant sadness about everything, too. Hanging around female friends, and on the worst days even just seeing women on the street, would make me feel almost bad enough to want to kill myself. I looked at them, and all I saw were reminders of what I would never be, of a life I was robbed of, for reasons I couldn’t understand.
I felt an overpowering sense of longing. I knew in my heart of hearts I should be able to look like them, instead of living in the disgustingly male body I had. I wanted to embrace casual femininity, to live like they did and decide who I was. I couldn’t.
The need didn’t go away, and there were times when the reminder of who I wasn’t would cause me to shut down.
A low point came at a friend’s wedding. I got there a little early, and spent about an hour catching up with other people and chatting as we waited for the ceremony to start. I remember seeing a couple of women in dresses, with nice make-up and their fancy hair, and then locking myself in the bathroom to cry for about 10 minutes straight.
I’m happy to say I was able to suppress those feelings when it came to the actual ceremony, and that I wasn’t egotistical enough to see the whole thing only in how it related to me.
The negative feelings were a constant in my life, though. Around the time I first started coming out to the two aforementioned friends, I was in the practise of locking myself in the bathroom at least once a day to cry. Honestly, just thinking about it now I feel like there’s a huge stone boulder crushing my spirit and making it hard to breathe. I don’t think I could’ve gone more than a couple of years as I was; I’d have eventually succumbed to some kind of drug to take me out of my misery, or decided to just end my life.
I did all I could to lessen that pain. I bought nice things for myself constantly. I would dress up in my mother’s clothes whenever I got the chance, played around with make-up, but I’d mostly feel sick from the fear of getting caught, and the joy of exploring femininity in some way was quickly squashed by the reality of my situation.
My life before coming out felt oppressive to my soul, my mind, my heart. I couldn’t enjoy life, art or friendship. Every day was subdued, black and white. It’s very much like being depressed. Nothing really matters, because your life isn’t yours. You’re a passenger on a train going through a barren wasteland. Grief and longing desensitise you to happiness, and even good moments feel distant.
Beauty is difficult to appreciate, because your pain is so much more immediate and important. In the words of John Green: “[pain] demands to be felt.”
More so, when it comes to the pain of hiding who you are. It doesn’t just make you acknowledge it, it devours you, eats you alive. You become nothing but a victim, a prisoner in your life. You hurt every day, until you finally give up and become nothing but that pain.
As for friendship… it’s difficult being close to people who are friends with someone you’re only pretending to be. You keep your distance from them, afraid that if they get too close they’ll realise the truth. You can’t share your pain with them, because you can’t say where it comes from. The little things that actually give you a modicum of happiness, that keep you from total despair, are also things you can’t help but hide because they wouldn’t understand.
You feel alone, alone, alone.
Sigh. Just thinking about my life pre-transition is making me want to eat a whole tub of ice cream while I listen to sad songs and cry in my bed.
Anyway. All this is to say that when you come out, you are facing your fear and your pain and insecurity and finally, finally fighting back. Coming out is usually the first time many of us do anything but whimper and suffer quietly as our life is destroyed by the need for hiding who we are. It means standing up to our biggest fears, ignoring long-standing, deep-rooted pain, and growling menacingly at our insecurity for the very first time ever.
Coming out means jumping off a cliff, without knowing what comes next.
“Hey… there’s something I want to tell you”
She smiles in a slightly concerned manner, and she asks “what is it?”
I freeze. A few seconds pass and I stare at nothing in particular.
Finally, I just blurt it out “I’m transgender”
Coming out to that first person changed the entire course of my life. We don’t talk anymore, but even not having seen her for nearly a year now, I would literally do just about anything for her. Not just because she would later become my best friend, but because she was exactly the right sort of kind, loving person I needed to come out, and because there’s a decent chance I would not be alive if she hadn’t made me feel accepted enough to trust her with my deepest secret.
Just a few weeks later, I’d messaged my good friend and told her I wanted to talk. I can still remember leaving my apartment and walking to a coffee shop near her house, and sitting there feeling sick as I waited for the time we’d agreed to talk.
I felt weak. Cold. Scared. There was a heavy, heavy weight in my stomach. I looked at my phone and saw it was time. I got up, and nearly fell to the ground. My legs shook from fear and anxiety.
Coming out doesn’t just mean standing up to the emotional and psychological captors who have reigned nearly every day of your life, it also means being brave enough to accept whatever consequences the truth brings with it.
If I came out, I couldn’t ever ever take it back. I might lose all my friendships. Maybe I would lose my whole family. I could be left alone in the world. I had nurtured my identity through all that pain and suffering, and the core of who I was had become incredibly delicate. Coming out meant handing someone a beautiful sculpture made of glass, and trusting them to not smash it to the ground the second it was in their grasp. It meant accepting they might smash it, and feeling confident I would be able to gather all the pieces of the glass, my heart, and build it all up again.
I got to her building. I was buzzed in. I walked up the stairs, each step making me feel weaker and weaker, until I felt I would faint before reaching her floor.
We made small talk. I don’t know what I said. I barely have any memory of what came before. Just like saying those words to my other friend would change my life, the upcoming converstion would be momentous. It meant lowering my defences to one of the very few people I’d trusted enough for them to be able to do me real damage.
I handed her a letter I’d written, not trusting myself to be able to say everything I needed to say. I would alternate between watching her as she read, and looking away and staring at a random spot on the wall. Eventually I felt her lift her gaze to look at me. I felt like collapsing in on myself.
I didn’t know what she would say.
I took a couple of desperate breaths and finally looked up at her eyes, and just saw love. Hurt, and kindness, and love.
I slowly started telling more people, but it really didn’t get much easier with time. I stopped feeling so afraid in the hours leading up to it, but once it was time to say it, I still froze. My words caught in my throat, as my fear desperately tried to chain me again, but every time I eventually overcame it, and jumped from the cliff. Over and over.
I was lucky. Apart from my immediate family, only one of the people I cared about enough to come out to individually, before I came out to the world at large through a facebook post, reacted negatively. Everyone else, for as much shock as they felt, did their best to show me love. Some didn’t accept my identity, but I could tell they cared about me, and didn’t reject me outright.
It’s been two years and a day since I first opened up my heart to a good friend. In those two years many things have changed. I’ve grown stronger and more confident. I’ve faced my fear, insecurity, and pain, and showed them the door. I’ve come out to everyone, and I am finally able to live. To be myself, to experience life, beauty, and friendship. The world is finally worth living in, and even my more painful days have colour.
Sometimes people ask me if I don’t regret having transitioned or having come out. Some people speak as if they know, or at least hope in their hearts, that I will one day abandon my choices and go back to living as the mask I once wore.
Those people don’t understand.
I was at a friend’s wedding last year. It was very beautiful. Naturally the best part about it was seeing two people I care very much for declare their love for each other.
The second-best part about it was that I got to dress up for the first time ever. I picked out a dress, got my hair done, and hired someone to do my make-up (possibly a biiit too much, in retrospect), and I enjoyed myself.
The people who expect, or want, me to turn my back on the life I happily lead now don’t understand that I didn’t do it all because of the joy I expected wearing a nice dress at a wedding would bring me. I did it so I wouldn’t lock myself in the bathroom to cry ever again.