I remember being at a friend’s birthday party about three or four years ago, when I saw some facebook post about National Coming Out day in the US. I felt a familiar weight of hopelesness weigh down my heart and make the rest of the day feel like slow torture.
It felt incredibly cruel for the world to rub in the fact that some people got to be themselves, and actually had a chance at happiness, while I had to live a miserable existence in which no one knew who I was.
When I left for home that night, I felt as if I didn’t have a future, and life would always be awful.
Things have changed quite a bit since then.About a year and a half ago, I came out of the closet. I made a post on facebook letting everyone in my life know I identified as a woman, and would henceforth stop presenting as a man. I told them what my real name was, and tried to explain what being transgender meant.
It caught some people by surprise, though not everyone. I’d come out to my close friends and some family weeks or months earlier, to give them time to adjust. They had been shocked, though, back when I’d initially told them, whenever that had been. Most of them never thought I would be “a transgender”, though there were a couple whose reaction (hilariously) went something along the lines of “oh, that explains so much!”
To them, my transition was quick and perhaps even easy. After all, there were only about 18 months between the day I came out to someone for the first time and the day I came out of the closet to the world at large. The truth is a lot more painful, of course. That wonderful day of joy and liberation only came after years and years of self-doubt, self-loathing, and intense fear.
When I was a young child, I would go to bed desperately wishing I’d wake up as a girl in the morning, only to be greeted by the cold and uncaring reality of my life. As I grew older, I struggled with everyone’s expectation of me to be something I have never been. A few years later, that had morphed into deep shame as the toxic expectations I’d internalised conflicted with who I really was. That haunted me and made me miserable for years. When I neared the end of my adolescence I started to accept myself, but that wasn’t much of a relief from the pain. Despite feeling slightly more secure in my identity each day, I was still faced with a world that seemed to want me to fail and be miserable forever.
Coming out is one of the most difficult things I’ve done in my life. Every time I called a friend and hesitantly asked them to make time to talk that week, I felt my heart drop in my chest. Every time I had them in front of me I literally shook with fear as I looked at them and tried to find the words to explain.
To explain what, exactly?
To explain the person they knew and cared for wasn’t real. Or rather, she was, but there was more to her than what they’d ever seen. To explain that I’d lied to them by omission. Out of necessity, yes, but it still coloured years of apparent friendship with the nasty greys of dishonesty. They’d been genuine with me, while I’d always kept a large part of my heart hidden. It’s no coincidence my healthiest and strongest friendships today are nearly all with people I befriended after coming out, or who I came out to before we grew close.
Coming out was painful. I had close friends tell me they couldn’t see a future where they could support me. It felt as if they valued their idea of me higher than the desire for me to be happy, or live an authentic life. I cried on my way home many, many times after hearing variations of “I’ll always love you, but…”
Some of those people came around to supporting me, while most have tried to avoid the subject by using meaningless neutral pronouns, and calling me by any word they can think of that will keep them from using my name. A few, however, left. Some of them were people I’d barely seen in years, and while losing them hurt, the pain was soon forgotten. Others were very, very close to me. I lost my old best friend because they couldn’t handle my being transgender.
One of the last things they ever said to me was a confession that they missed [deadname]. That broke my heart, and the thought of it still makes me cry. Can you imagine the person closest to you in the world, someone you trusted completely, tell you they value a fantasy more than they do the actual you, and that they’d rather hold on to the memory of a fiction than be there for you?
Coming out was very hard. Some of the scars still hurt today.
Even on a practical level, coming out was complicated. It forced me to move out of my parents’ house, forsake my career and take a job at a call centre, and distance myself from my parents. Over the last year and a half I have known more joy than I ever did before, but I have also had to endure difficult times. There have been weeks when I haven’t had enough money in the bank to pay for a bus ride, and nights I’ve had to drink tea as a substitute for dinner.
I had an appointment with my endocrinologist today, and he told me I am literally on the brink of being dangerously malnourished. I’m healthy, but only just about.
More than once I’ve sat down in my apartment and tried not to cry as the hunger burned away at my stomach.
This is not to say coming out has not been worth it. I can separate my life into ‘before’ and ‘after coming out’, or into ‘living a miserable existence that made me feel dead’ and ‘discovering joy and living with a near-constant smile on my face’, and both distinctions would split my life with the day I stopped pretending to be something I’m not.
I took a cab to my medical appointment today, and the driver called me señorita (Miss), and helped me climb down from the car. The smile that brought to my face is worth every afternoon I’ve tried not to fall over from exhaustion or hunger. Getting to dress up in my favourite outfit and actually feeling cute justifies all the pain I felt when people I loved turned their back on me. Hearing my name from people who respect me, the real me, more than makes up for the overwhelming fear I felt as I stumbled on my words and tried to overcome all-consuming panic to tell those I loved “hey, there’s something I want to tell you…”
Today is National Coming Out Day in the United States, and I dedicate this post to every person like the me from three or four years ago. Not being out yet isn’t your fault. While my current position is partly thanks to my own courage, it’s in large part down to good fortune and to privilege. It will hurt to wait until the right time, and I’m sorry things are this way. However, I believe in you. You WILL do this eventually. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be quick, and it won’t be painless. But it will be worth it. So be strong. Take things day by day. I know you’ll get there someday. In the meantime, be generous to yourself.
I can’t wait for the world to get to know the beautiful part of who you are that has had to hide for now. Take care of yourself. In the meantime I, and everyone else who has already come out, are here for you.