People picture life in movie scenes. When you marry someone, you get in a car and ride down a dirt road into the sunset, Hollywood smiles flashing white and beautiful. You finish college, and there’s a shot of caps going into the air, and people laughing in joy. You finally come out to someone, and they look at you with just… love, and you know things are going to turn out all right.
The problem with that, of course, is that it’s utter fantasy. Those scenes you picture don’t show you late-night arguments with your husband because you can’t agree on whether the television ought to go in the living room or the bedroom. They don’t show you working the grave shift at a McDonald’s because it turns out not many people are hiring a doctorate in 20th century poultry-inspired performance art.
Those perfect movie scenes don’t tell you about the times you’ll cry yourself to sleep because the person you trusted, who once said they would accept you, who you opened your heart to completely, said something so hurtful that made you feel like falling apart.
I always thought of coming out as the end of my story. All that would come after would be a montage of amusing growing pains as I adjusted to my new chance at happiness.
I should have known better.
Coming out to that first person, a little over two years ago, might have closed a chapter of my life, but the next chapter was anything but a brief collection of happy scenes. It was difficult, painful, and ugly.
I wish someone would have told me what it would be like.
Most people don’t think someone they know will come out.
I do, and if anyone I know were to tell me they’re gay or trans, or anything, I would just shrug, go “all right” and move on with my life. Probably.
Most people, however, are blindsided. They don’t really consider the possibility at all, so when it happens, it’s like finding out your house has burned down. It’s something that happens to other people, not you. It just can’t be true…
This is awful for two reasons: one, those people are going to have a difficult time as they have to readjust the way they see someone, seemingly out of nowhere; and two, the person who comes out is going to be in a lot of pain, as instead of the instant support they want and desperately need, all they get from most friends and loved ones is avoidance, denial, and low-key rejection.
I wish two years ago there had been someone to talk to me and let me know what to expect in the coming months.
I never had that person, but I would like to do that for others. So, here are the things I think 20-year old me would have appreciated knowing before coming out to others.
Loose lips, ships, etc
Around this time two years ago, I had come out to three people. Before I came out to everyone mid-2015, two of those three people had told others about me being trans without my permission. This in spite of me having told them repeatedly not to tell others, and to please ask me before outing me to someone else.
66% of people seems dismal, until you look at everyone I came out to, and how many others they told. I’m not going to do the maths because I’ll get too angry to keep writing, but with the exception of three people, one of them someone I didn’t even personally come out to, they all told others. Three people, in all the world. 66% person seems like a good percentage in comparison. Makes my blood boil.
That’s the harsh truth.
You might have more respectful friends than I did, but it’s likely at least one of the people you tell will start whispering to others first chance they get. Once you come out to someone, you must be prepared for the genie to leave that bottle completely. It is going to hurt, and you have every right to be upset if it happens, but try to be prepared for it. Don’t let the sense of sadness and disappointment sucker punch you.
As much as you might love people, trust them, few of them will deserve such good treatment.
Call me a cynic, but don’t let yourself trust completely in everyone you come out to, or it’ll hurt you more. Please trust me on that.
Processing… Processing… Error; Processing Failed
The previous section might sound a little too judgemental and unforgiving. I’m sorry about that; even two years later, the pain of my trust being broken still hurts.
However, I want to qualify that with an attempt to show the other side of the situation.
Talking to other people, even if they stay silent and just nod at the right times, is an excellent tool for understanding difficult concepts. If it worked for Sherlock Holmes, it’s good enough for you and me.
It’s only natural that people who have never given a thought to their friend, or cousin, or coworker coming out as transgender would freak out and need someone to talk to about it. In my naiveté, I told my friends to let me know if they were having trouble dealing with me coming out, and actually thought they would. Ha.
What most of them did was tell others in secret, because they just needed someone to help them understand. They didn’t talk to me because, well, it’s uncomfortable to share those feelings when you still haven’t worked through them.
I’ve had all my life to come to terms with being transgender, and as a result people being LGBT isn’t a big deal for me. It’s easy to forget not everyone is like that. For a great number of people, someone coming out as anything is a huge shock, and something they have to slowly and painfully work through. They absolutely cannot do it alone, because it is such a momentous struggle to understand.
I know, I can hear you getting angry at the idea people could claim that excuse, when you’ve spent all your life dealing with it in secret. I’m with you.
I just want to help provide some context into why others might dare to break your trust.
You’re dead to me
Last year, one of the people I cared about the most in the world told me they still missed [dead name]. It felt like a stab in the heart. Just thinking about it now made me tear up, and let out a huge sob. The lonely, sad, emptiness that those words still make me feel is indescribable. It’s horrible. Those words are one of the worst things anyone has ever said to me… and I heard a variation of them from nearly everyone I have ever cared about.
This is something I cannot get cis people to understand, but if you have something to come out about, I’m sure you get it. It burns to hear people say they miss a mask you’ve worn all your life, to see the love they felt for your chains, and feel their disappointment at who you really are.
Maybe I’m being unfair again. I don’t care. I’ll write about this in detail another time, but for now I’ll say this: having people cling to everything that made you unhappy is going to hurt like hell. And you’re going to have to live through it. Again, and again.
This is connected to why some people feel the need to tell others about you. It’s not just that they have to work through the oh-so-difficult feelings of actually knowing an LGBT person, it’s also that they genuinely feel like someone they care about is dying.
I know. It’s ridiculous.
Trust me: I know.
It’s still going to happen. Try and get your heart as toughened up in that respect as you can get it. Unless you’re planning on ditching all the people who say they care about you yet cling to someone you’re not, and all power to you if you are, you’re going to need a lot of patience and grace to make it without falling apart from pain or anger.
Give them time. If you think those people are otherwise good enough friends, be patient and forgiving. Turn the other cheek. Let them mourn for your prison, if they are worth it. After enough time, some of them will learn to love the real you, and the pain will not sting quite as badly for the result.
Words spoken in anger
We’re at our worst when we’re in pain. I’m a vicious, cold-hearted, manipulative bitch when I’m upset. I have a natural gift for empathy, and sometimes I can twist that into letting me see people’s insecurities so I know exactly what words will leave the deepest wounds.
I try to never let that side of me out, but I fail sometimes. I’ve always regretted what I’ve said afterwards, and with good reason. When you’re in pain, when you’re angry, you say things you wouldn’t dream of saying otherwise. Horrible things. Nasty things.
Everyone is like that. Misery loves company, and coming out brings out enough misery to go around for everyone.
When you share the deepest, darkest part of your heart with someone else, you leave yourself so open to pain that just about anything they say or do will sting.
Things will also be hard for them. As said above, some people actually feel like the person they know and love is dying, and someone, something else, is taking their place. Regardless of my thoughts on those feelings, the fact is that it’s a very emotional time for them as well, and two people in pain are not a good combination.
As they try to work through everything they’re feeling and thinking, some of the people you’ve come out to will say nasty and painful things that will cut you to the very core of who you are. They will rarely mean them, and most likely will feel guilty soon after saying them.
I still have deep emotional scars from some of the horrible stuff people have said to me the last two years. Not intolerant people on the street, mind you, but the ones I love the most, and have trusted as much as I could have.
This is going to hurt, and you need to be prepared for it. We’re emotional creatures, and while explaining those words as the result of uncontrolled emotions won’t make them sting any less, it might help the rational side of you to know that they don’t really mean them, and are just expressing their pain the only way they can.
Be the bigger person
The most difficult reality of coming out that I had to face was realising I would have to be the bigger person often. I came out because I felt broken, desperate, and alone. I thought my soul was empty, and I had no more energy and strength. I was wrong.
I was wrong, because for the next year after coming out, I would constantly have to grit my teeth and forgive people, think of them complexly, and try not to fall apart from exhaustion.
I came out because I wanted support. I wanted someone to hug me and tell me things would turn out all right, and listen to me, and finally let me cry.
I ended up having to support others as they had to suffer through dealing with someone else’s identity. I had to forgive them for being too busy telling others about me to try to listen to me as I desperately wanted someone to talk to.In the end I had to be a rock, listening to words spoken in anger, feeling more alone than ever before, and seeing people’s uncomfortable expressions around me, all without breaking or shattering into a million pieces. Pulling strength out of heaven-knows where, and having more grace than I ever thought myself capable of.
People are going to make your coming out, your very identity, all about them and how it affects them. They will drain your emotional energy. They will leave you empty, and somehow take more than that.
Coming out is a necessary evil. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a relief, and there will be one or two people who will actually care about how you feel, and they’ll make it all better, but don’t yourself be deluded by the movie scenes. Coming out won’t be like walking hand in hand into the sunset. It’s more like climbing a mountain only to see a valley of death and shadow before you. You will need strength to go on. You will find it, but don’t allow yourself to believe it will be easy.
It’s worth it, though. Oh, is it ever worth it.