Tag Archives: coming out

Reconciling The Past

I have a problematic relationship with my past. This is not just in the sense that I have a good memory, and those memories often find themselves in my focus at the most inopportune times. Nor is it necessarily in the sense that I’ve done horrible things I’m not willing to admit. My problems with the past stem from the fact that the past exists, and there’s nothing I can do about it. It evokes the need to flee or to reconcile, and that is immensely problematic for me.

A few weekends ago I went to Hamilton for the bridal shower of a friend I’ve had since high school, and it made me think a lot about the past. I wouldn’t say I’m a stranger to Hamilton, I go back at least once a month, but I tend to stick to places that were never really associated with my childhood, and I tend to hang out with friends who grew with me as people. Having to go to this event and potentially see people I haven’t seen for more than 3 years meant that I would need to reconcile these two points in time and explain the gap, which means having to explain my transition.

I’ve often thought I would love to erase the past. Take the good, bad, and mediocre elements of my upbringing and just throw it all into a shredder. It’s extra weight I can’t seem to shake free, and as a trans woman this is simply a huge extra burden I have to deal with. No matter how hard you run, how well you can disappear, your past will be always be just another weapon that transphobes will try to use against you at every opportunity. Hate groups like TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) and MRAs (“Men’s Rights Activists”) revel in attempting to dehumanize you by trying to throw your past in your face. This is something that weighs heavily on me and many other trans women I know. There were times when I lied, denied, or covered up to prevent my identity and activities from being known. Times when I tried to convince myself that I wasn’t who I am, that I was normal, whatever the fuck that even entails.

I was raised Catholic. I attended Catholic school throughout my entire education. Though I made some lifelong friends, Catholic school made me hate myself. If you are lgbt, Catholicism will try its hardest to change you. After a few years of listening to anti-gay rhetoric, attending mass, guest speakers, and mandatory theology courses, you’ll try to hide your identity from your peers and from yourself. This is exactly what I did for nearly a decade. I started dressing en femme in grade 7 and by grade 10 I had quit that not because I felt comfortable in my assigned gender but because I feared all the things I was told would happen to me.

There’s a lot of nostalgia for childhood in western culture. If you were to watch coming of age movies, you’d think that high-school was the most important time of your life. To me, high-school is a mixed bag. I’m so happy I met my friends, they’re fucking wonderful in every damn way, but it’s an institution that made me hate myself in a very vulnerable and suggestible time of my life. Because of this, I’m completely torn. Part of me would like to burn the whole damn thing to the ground, but without it I wouldn’t be the same person I am today. Despite the hardship, or maybe because of it, I turned out to be someone I’m immensely proud of.

As much as I want to forget those 4 years ever existed, I also want to send a selfie to every jerk-ass little shit I ran into in the hallways. I’d love to see the look on my uptight teachers’ faces. I’d love to find out that there were other people like me who were just living under the radar and I’d love to hear their stories. There were at least a couple thousand students enrolled at my high-school, so it’s statistically likely that at least 50-100 of them were gay and maybe 5 or 6 were trans. Coming to terms with my past instead of running away means I could swap stories and learn about the experiences of my peers. Finding others who share your struggle is often cathartic.

My past is painful, but it’s my past. While hate groups will always attempt to weaponize it against me, it could also be something that builds community, provides perspective, and helps me connect with others I may have not connected with before. I still dread events like the bridal shower, but I’ve accepted that some good could come of it. There are still things I can gain from connecting with my past provided I don’t let the bastards get me down.

Our Heroes Are Garbage People And We Are Too

I have a problem with heroes, and I bet you do too. Whether or not you pay attention to someone’s Twitter, Facebook, or their interviews, someone you like is invariably saying shitty things about you.

I used to be able to willfully ignore my heroes missteps, but they continued talking trash, especially on topics they know very little about. When I came out as transgender, it got worse. As much as I looked up to these people or enjoyed their work, they constantly insulted and offended me and individuals like me. It was completely disheartening. My so called heroes began to show their true selves, and their true selves were trash.

Maybe It’s Just Me

When I was younger, I often believed that my getting offended at individuals dehumanizing me was the result of my own sensitivity. I believed myself to be weak because I couldn’t roll with the punches. I know now that this was simply not the case, and the individuals I looked up to simply reframed the controversy to make it about me and individuals like myself. Framing in communication is an important tool, it allows us to utilize rhetoric without changing the facts, to promote certain interpretations of events and discourage others. In essence, it’s a means of steering the conversation towards one conclusion.

What often happens when someone in a position of relative power is attacked is that they will shift the blame and communicatively construct a reality where the victim is at fault. “I was making a joke.” “You’re just being overly sensitive.” “Hey, it’s just my opinion.” While the facts remain that someone made a mistake or used language that was harmful to an individual or group, the conversation shifts to be about the victim. Often time the victim’s only action is to point out that the individual made a mistake; sometimes the victim has had no action. If the internal logic is consistent, someone could basically reframe any issue and convince people that they’re right and the victims are wrong. “You are reacting to something I said so you’re the one at fault.”

Whether intentional or not, this often results in a skewed reality where an influential person has changed the conversation and minds of several of their followers. It often incites a hate mob, specially targeted at the victims of the initial comment. Furthermore, it promotes the internalization of oppression. When reality is skewed to be against a victim, they may begin to believe that they are actually at fault. If our understandings of reality shape what we believe, and reality is skewed against us, we take in, rationalize, and internalize that reality. The reality where victims are just weaklings becomes our own. This just leads to the further marginalization of people, simply because someone in a position of power can’t accept their mistake or understand the gravity of the situation.

What needs to be understood by individuals in power is that power dynamics play an important role. Being in a position of power shouldn’t make an individual infallible, and while everyone is entitled to an opinion, when all eyes are on you your opinion can have serious repercussions for marginalized individuals.

The Problem with Celebrity

Whether an individual is respected or seen as intelligent is irrelevant. If you’re asking an individual to opine on a random topic out of their breadth of expertise, you’re rolling dice as to whether or not your hero will let you down. This is especially the case when it’s a hotly debated topic and there’s no care and dedication into understanding the problem. Privilege, widely held social beliefs, age, and trust in meritocracy only compound these issues further. So while an individual may be regarded as the pinnacle of their field of expertise, ignorance, privilege, and other social factors, may cause them to share uneducated or harmful opinions.

This is emblematic of a society that values celebrity the way western society does. We still expect that everyone that has elevated in society based on their talent will somehow be a renaissance person. We give individuals a soapbox and a loud speaker, and expect them to tell us how to think, feel, or act, because they’re someone in society. It’s also a society that places the value of personal opinion higher than expertise, that gains enjoyment from shock value, where any mainstream opinion that condemns a minority is lauded by the individuals that do not match that identifier. This is not to excuse who share their terrible, harmful, and often times violent opinions, but the construction of society plays a major role as to how they were given a voice and why they haven’t been driven out yet.

This problem does not solely lie on expertise, however, ignorance and an inability to process new information also contribute to dangerous opinions. Similar to taking a driving test or getting a degree, we often falsely elevate individuals based on solitary achievements and not continued work or relevance. When you’ve made it, you’ve made it, or so they say. Individuals that were once considered groundbreaking, revolutionary, or relevant, are falsely raised above others and given an important voice in a community. Often their contributions are hailed as being so pivotal in the cultural zeitgeist that society begins to see them as infallible leaders. As time goes on and as society becomes less interested in the zeitgeist they stood for, their opinions begin to clash harder and harder especially if their opinions come from a time society has moved past. A once revolutionary, cutting edge, iconoclast can be reduced to just another member of the establishment and no longer concerned with the revolution.

Conclusion

We’re all just living garbage. Every single one of us is guilty of holding a contrarian opinion, having shitty personality traits, and being genuinely ignorant in many ways. However, when we elevate some trash above the rest of the pile because of their accomplishments, we risk creating a monster that can have very real, adverse effects, especially on marginalized individuals. When we give an individual a soap box on which to espouse nonsense and we enforce the lie that this individual is a person of real leadership in the community, we set a dangerous precedent that often reinforces taboo, prejudices, and flagrant ignorance.

Individuals we elevate above us have too great a power to influence discussion and place the blame for their shitty comments directly on their victims. They use reframing as a tactic to skew reality and convince other individuals that their victims are simply weak or too sensitive. They punch down at individuals that they hold in contempt and incite hate mobs to further destroy their victim’s lives and safety.

Furthermore, culture of celebrity treats the opinions of individuals with social power as infallible. We still wrongly believe than any individual who has shown mastery or expertise in one field, is magically endowed with expertise in other fields. We are also constantly disappointed by this fact as if we could not see that an evolutionary biologist might not have the firmest grasps on world affairs, or that an actress and comedienne may not have any understanding of medicine. We wish, that despite creating the exact situation we dread, that somehow this would not happen, that individuals we choose to elevate may meet our lofty expectation of omnipotence as if they were a deity. At least that way the idolatry would make sense.

Never meet your heroes. In fact, its best not to have heroes at all.

Coming Out

A month or so ago I wrote an article about how I found my identity through roleplaying, something extremely personal, and something I thought I should share with the world. It was a story about how I came to know myself and learn to express myself to others; how I came out.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that phrase lately, “coming out”. In a sense of the word coming out is learning about your identity, coming to terms with the reality of who you are, and accepting that. However, there is also the more ritualistic aspect of coming out: presenting that identity to others. Both the dealing with the roiling emotions and telling others how you feel require a lot of emotional fortitude. They are both taxing, both will affect you as a person, and both are seen as this solitary moment; an important event to be celebrated.

The common societal understanding of coming out is that it’s a “one and done” kind of event. We are told “It gets better,” we’re told “It’s something we have to do,” we’re told, “Once it’s over, it’s over.” The thing I’ve started to realize is that it’s never over. Not once have I stopped having to tackle my understanding my own identity, not once have I had to stop telling people who I am.

I suppose this may be different if I didn’t embody an identity with such fluidity, or if I had an identity that was slightly more accepted in society. I’m a curiosity and thus being trans, cis people are often confused about my identity and in their curiosity ask a tonne of questions I am made to answer for. Coming out to someone may last several conversations as they inquire into specific questions, cis curiosities, and discussions about surgery. Every new person I meet, every old person I reintroduce myself to, places the role of teacher on me as they learn about what it means to me to be trans.

Because of this, I can no longer see coming out as a solitary event, something I did when I was 25, I see it as something that I need to do daily.

Social Monotony

There are so many anxiety inducing aspects to introducing yourself as trans and coming out to individual. First off, it’s terrifying to worry about whether or not someone may reject you because of your identity. If you’re at the point where you’ve known someone long enough and you care deeply enough about them that rejection would deeply scar you, imagine doing that with a still very divisive identity in a still very transphobic society with laws that still allow a trans-panic defence. Depending on the context this becomes a very dangerous game of Russian roulette, where there’s a good likelihood that people will accept you and love you just as you are, but there’s still a loaded chamber, and a possibility that you will get hurt, emotionally or physically.

Once you get past whether or not you’re rejected outright, people will have a great number of curiosities about you. Since trans identity is thought of by cis people to embody more of a physical identity, a lot of the questions may revolve around surgery, appearance, clothing, styling, and the like. Even people who understand how awkward their line of question is, may still have their curiosities about how you see yourself and what aspects of your body you would like to see changed in comparison to other trans people.

This line of questioning, while offensive, is the basic line of questioning most cis people take. I used to get incredibly pissed off or discouraged when these questions came up, but if the person asking has known me for a long time and there’s a great level of intimacy between us, I concede and often, I answer. As much as it sometimes pains me to get so personal, refusing to answer would put me in another compromising social position. It may alienate individuals who genuinely believe they care about me enough that they’re showing interest in me, and having to console them or explain why that questioning is out of line, requires more effort than simply answering extremely personal questions about my body. It may be boring to repeat the same damn questions over and over again, but it certainly saves effort and saves my mental health.

The amount of effort it takes to explain certain things is absolutely crucial to me now. Having suffered through several weddings, showers, and social events this summer, I’ve learned that it’s far easier to give the same canned answers and it allows me to slightly disassociate as the conversation is happening. This is very important because, after days like the ones I’ve suffered, I tend to break down directly afterwards. It’s stressful, I’m constantly on edge, and it takes its toll on my mental health. Even on the good days, like my cousin’s wedding, I still broke down afterwards. I love my cousin, I love his wife, they’re two of the most supportive and chill people I know. But it’s still a situation I was surrounded by cisnormativity and heteronormativity and after several hours that will take it’s toll on me.

Lastly, a great deal of the anxiety of being out, or introducing yourself to people while trans, is greatly effected by how well you pass. I’m awkwardly trans, I do not pass worth a damn, and that means that rather than being able to address the subject of my identity or even ignoring it entirely, I will be forced to face questions. When you pass, there’s a likelihood that nobody will notice your trans so it won’t be brought up. When you pass, they’ll treat you just as if you were cis and move on. No awkward questions, no fear of violence, no having to explain your identity. Whether or not this reduces your anxiety is a personal thing, however, for me it would totally reduce my anxiety, and make me feel like I could blend better. In that way, passing privilege totally has an effect on both your experience of coming out to someone and being out in social situations.

Internal Turmoil

Let’s set aside the social aspects of coming out, and focus on what most believe to be the core of coming out, discovering yourself and understanding your identity. My coming out journey was briefly discussed in my previous article so it may not surprise some of you to say that I’ve never been 100% sure of exactly where my identity lies. I’ve always been more into experimenting with the boundaries of my identity and although I know I’m in the right neighbourhood when I say I’m a trans woman, I could never come up with a concrete definition of what that means to me.

To be more specific, I can never settle on what my ideal body would be and where I would stop in terms of surgical progression. When my dysphoria and depression is at it’s highest, I desperately wish I were a cis woman. I wish I had that exact body, I wish I could figuratively buy a new body and throw my old one into a combine. The red slew of skin and bone would probably be the ultimate catharsis. When I’m at my most confident and least dysphoric, I’m absolutely fine with my girlcock, with my cute, perky, HRT breasts. If it wasn’t entirely apparent up to this point, I’m writing from a place of depression.

As a trans woman, I believe my identity is as much physical as it is mental, because the construction of femininity in our society is often thought of in terms of physical and emotional traits. Although I would love that to change, since it stems from sexist and misogynist bullshit, it is still the framework that was hammered into my head and thus it’s how I imagine my own identity.

The problem with attempting to pinpoint an identity for me, and the reason I could never say coming out was a thing that *happened*, is that emotional factors and experience affect my identity a great deal, although at a much slower rate. Because it’s so slow, I would never ascribe the identity gender-fluid to myself, nor do I feel like genderqueer or non-binary would be appropriate terms. Who I am and what I aspire to be changes, but not drastically, and if I wake up feeling different it’s because I feel more reserved, or more flamboyant, or more flirty. These differences are enough to be felt, and enough to say that there is no concrete notion of my identity. In six months or a year, I bet my experience will lead me to new concepts, new understandings of my identity, and thus I feel like coming out is an ongoing process.

Conclusion

I’ve been in a constant state of coming out for the past few years and, frankly, there’s no end in sight. So long as I am learning new things about my own identity, about my place in the world, and meeting new people, the cycle will never end. I may get better at it, it may affect me less as time goes on, but as it stands, coming out is a very anxiety inducing process for me. As with the last article, I’d like to reiterate that your personal experience and opinions will vary from mine, and you may wish to focus on the more liberating elements of coming out versus the parts that figuratively constitute a chore. You will never feel the same as me, but you may be in the same neighbourhood, on the same general process of thought. For you, and for me, I hope in the future we’ll be looking back on this as simply an awkward time in our lives and not yet another anxiety we have to face daily.