When I realized I was gay I came out with a vengeance. When I realized I was transgender I came out with a whimper.
I came out in my residence hall my first week at college. I came out to my mother and brother at the end of my freshman year. I came out to my co-workers on every job. I came out because I believe there is no point to being in the closet. Being gay is nothing to be ashamed of or to keep private. Being gay means being out.
I fit the butch stereotype of a masculine female. I show up on everyone’s gaydar but not on their transdar. When asked “Don’t butch lesbians just want to be men?” I said “No!” because it was the “correct” answer. Even though it wasn’t true, for me.
Coming out as transgender is different from coming out as gay. Different presumptions. When I tell you I am gay I am stating that I am sexually and romantically attracted to women. When I tell you I am trans I am stating that I don’t self-identify with my birth sex or the gender imposed upon me when I was born.
When I say I am transgender it does not mean that I am transitioning from female to male. It is hard for me to explain what I am doing, or to put a label on it. My so-called transition. My DIY transition. My becoming myself.
It is a messy subject. I don’t know how to answer the question “Do you want to be a man?” Yes and no. What do you mean by “a man?” There is no magic mix of hormones, surgery, legal papers, documents, clothing, or finishing school that will make me a man. Only I can decide whether I am a man or not. It is about self-identification. If you are cisgender, you probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it.
When your body isn’t congruent with your brain, you go through all sorts of mental jiu-jitsu to pretend inwardly and outwardly that everything is OK. I’m over that. I’m not doing it anymore. I’m not pretending to be someone I’m not. And if I am not trying to get that M on my documents, it doesn’t mean that I am fine with that F. It means that I need another set of consonant choices and a blank space.
What am I saying about myself when I come out as transgender? That I am a person who can neither go stealth nor be in the closet. I want you to know that there is a reason that I am the way I am. I want you to see a child who wanted desperately to be a boy and was repeatedly punished for not acting like a girl. I want you to see a teenager who couldn’t explain why they weren’t interested in fashion, make-up, dating boys, dance, romance novels, soap operas, or sit-coms. I want you to see a young adult trying to live authentically as butch but still having to suppress the desire to be a boy. I want you to see a middle-aged self-identified transgender butch.
Notes: Sometimes I like to look back at the early tracts of the LGBT movement to remind myself that I am part of a liberation movement. The Gay Manifesto by Carl Wittman is a classic (1970) and can be found here. My favorite trans tract (2010) is Not Your Mom’s Trans 101 by Asher. It can be found here.