If you are not queer, it might be hard for you to fully appreciate the horror of being outed. When it happens there is that moment when my heart grows arms with spindly hands and dagger like nails, which it uses to claw it’s way into my throat where it sits and pounds from it’s efforts. I stand there, feeling like a deer in headlights, starring into the void which will surely swallow me whole, waiting for someone to move the conversation forward. All of my adrenaline pumping, waiting to see if this is going to be a problem.
Until a couple of years ago, I thought I had gotten all of my “coming out” out of the way. Everyone knew I was bisexual, and didn’t make any bones about it. Everyone knew I was poly, and while they may not understand it, never were really rude or anything. I was out. I was “living my best life”. To hell with the haters, because my nerd posse is ferocious and have my back.
And then, on my journey through life, I made another self realization. I’m transgendered. I almost can’t help but roll my eyes at myself. Did I really need to add one more descriptor to what makes me “different”? And so late in life? And especially in this political climate?! But it makes me happier and more secure in who I am. And for that reason it was worth it.
Now, I must admit, I’ve never really been very good at coming out. When I was much younger I came out to my best friend first, which in “true to the stereotype” fashion, I had a huge crush on. If I never told her, why would I ever think that there would ever be anything more between us but friendship? It took me months to work up the nerve. And when I finally did she was very supportive, not attracted to me, but very supportive. And she helped me tell our other friends. She was my rock, and made it way easier to come out. But I also felt compelled to tell people, because I wanted to date people. Kinda hard to do one without the other. It made it easier to push past the terror.
Similarly, being poly was easy to come out about as well. I had a spouse that everyone knew, so when I brought someone else around, I wasn’t going to lie about who they were. That would have been extremely rude and inconsiderate of their feelings. So I sucked it up, and came out to everyone pretty naturally, because I cared more about their feelings. They made that easier, because I felt some moral obligations.
But now, with this new descriptor, it was just about me. It’s about how I want to be perceived, addressed, etc. It’s just about me. And that makes it way easier for me to be the coward that I am. It makes it easier to brush things off and go with the flow, because the only person it hurts is me. For this reason I’m not fully out yet. There are members of my social circle who do not know, because how do you approach that with people? There is no segue that will make this an easy announcement.
Over the past few days I have been working on behalf of my local transgender support group. We are organizing a meet-up event at a local convention and were orchestrating with the leadership of that con to provide a few free passes for some of our members with need. I was passed along as the contact for our group to that leadership. All of the work was done via email, easy-peasy.
Then came today. I had an email from our contact with the convention, introducing me to someone else with the name of Lisa and stating that I was with the transgender support group and that Lisa had some questions he hoped I could answer. I had a sinking feeling. You see, I’m friends with a “Lisa” who was only this morning posting some questions on Facebook about transgender issues. Two and two were adding up to four in my mind and my heart was starting to slowly claw it’s way towards my throat.
I emailed back that I would be happy to help, and then reached out to my friend on Facebook, asking if that email address was theirs. After a couple moments, they confirmed that it was in fact their email address. Now my heart was clawing like mad and pounding to boot. They enquired as to why I was asking, and I gulped and told them that so-and-so from the con had just introduced us via email. I passed them my about me link to this blog, and waited. And waited. While coming out electronically is a bit more comfortable than doing it in person, it has it’s draw backs, like people getting up from the computer in the middle of it. I sat there and stared at the screen, fully in the “deer in the head lights” mode just waiting for a reply. After what felt like an eternity, and was really approximately a half hour, the little “typing” bubble appeared.
Now, in the end, everything was completely fine, and I knew they would be. Intellectually I knew there was no problem. After all, she was asking questions about how to me MORE inclusive to the trans community. It doesn’t get much friendlier than that. However, even knowing that didn’t help as I sat there with my heart in my throat. Coming out is a terrifying prospect. What questions are they going to ask? Will they accept you, or roll their eyes at this? Will they now start judging every interaction we have ever had? Will they tell others?
I know that our contact wasn’t trying to cause harm. Quite to the contrary, they were trying to introduce one resource of information to another. Connections are important! Would I have told Lisa on my own? Eventually probably, so what’s the big deal? It all worked out ok!
Earlier this month a trans guy who was participating on Survivor was outed on national television. I saw his face, in that moment. I saw the wide eyes, and I saw the panic. I empathized with that. It’s terrifying to be outed. It’s kind of like those dreams you have where you are somewhere in public and find yourself suddenly naked. Because that’s exactly what it is, it’s stripping away the armor that you wear in the world and laying bear something incredibly personal for this person, or people, to see. Just as we are often very closed off about who we allow to see us naked, so too do people often close off who they are out to. I know that I do.
So, living my best life… wouldn’t it be better if I was fully out? Maybe… even probably. I’m not quite there yet though, but I’m making that progress one person at a time. However, please, don’t “help” anyone come out. It’s an incredibly personal thing. Don’t be the reason someone’s heart crawls into their throat.