It’s strange how an off-hand comment can stay with you over time. A while back I read “what someone thinks of you is none of your business”. And goodness was that a lightbulb moment.
And it’s soooo true, especially for someone like us. I know a lot of us wonder what others will think when they see us en femme out in the real world. I know that fear, that uncertainty, haunted me and prevented me from going out for a long time. I was fortunate to have a very positive experience the first real time I went out during the day and did normal things, like shopping and getting coffee. Everyone that I interacted with was either very friendly or at least didn’t react to me, if you know what I mean. No suppressed smiles, no sideway glances, no pointing behind my back. Although one’s actions is a usually reliable way to gauge what someone is thinking or feeling, I ended that day with realizing that no one (as far as I knew) cared that I am trans, but also I had no idea what anyone thought about me.
Of course, I am not so naive (or optimistic) to think that there weren’t some people who thought less than positive and supportive thoughts, but that’s true regardless of the gender I present as. Not everyone is going to like you AND that’s okay. You don’t need them to.
True happiness and confidence comes from realizing that you don’t know what people think AND even if you did, you don’t care. Yes, sometimes it stings, but really, It doesn’t matter. I know a LOT of people and some of them are the kindest people you’ll ever meet, others… well, not so much. I feel no need to tell anyone what I think about them. I mean, I’ll tell someone if I think they are thoughtful or kind or have really great taste in clothes, but those are positive things. Those comments can really make someone’s day. I know how I feel when someone says something kind or complimentary so I try to do the same for someone else.
This is all easier said than done. It’s not as simple as just not caring. Of course we care (on some level, anyway). Of course we are terrified about what others think. Almost every single one of us kept, or still keep, this side of us a secret. I didn’t come out to anyone until I was 21. I was terrified of someone seeing the lace of my panties peeking out of the waistband of my jeans. I was paralyzed with fear when I would look at dresses at Target lest someone sees me. Each time I came out to someone I was very nervous, to put it lightly. It took me months to work up the courage and to think about the right words to say. Why was I terrified to come out? More than likely you KNOW why I was terrified. You can probably relate.
Coming out is not without its risks. Coming out, whether intentionally or by accident can, well, it can ruin aspects of your life. You may lose friends and significant others. In some states you could even lose your job. Losing a friend BECAUSE you are trans (or basically, anything other than cis) is…well, I certainly don’t want to be friends with someone if they cut off a friendship with someone BECAUSE that person is trans. I would be a hypocrite if I chose to be friends with someone who was anti-LGBTQ+. AND! It would break my heart a little every time I spoke with them knowing that they didn’t like a part of me, especially when that part of me is my literal identity.
Keeping this side of us a secret is absolutely exhausting. We protect and hide this from much of the world. And we do so in many different ways. We have to be careful no one can see our bra strap under our boy clothes, we are careful no one sees our browser history, and we are careful to make sure every single fleck of mascara has been washed off. This has been my life for decades. DECADES. On the plus side I’ve gotten REALLY good at keeping this a secret. As far as I know, no one I know suspects that I am not always a boy. Paranoia protects us.
Although I suppose it is possible, I can’t imagine living a life not caring about what ANYONE thinks. The people I know, whether friends, family, or colleagues, they enrich my life. A terrible day at work can be made a little better by a friendly chat with a coworker. A friend helps you through a difficult time. Family loves you. Losing all of that would make my life empty. But on a certain level, I would rather cut off everyone I know if I felt that my non-cis gender identity was a deal-breaker (so to speak) for them. Who I am is very important to me and being true to myself is crucial. I can’t deny who I am, I can’t (and wouldn’t) stop being me.
Just as coming out is overwhelming, let’s acknowledge that keeping this side of us a secret is also exhausting but in a different way. As time passes I realize I could care less about what others think of me, regardless of the gender I present as. If someone hates Hannah as she wanders aimlessly and fabulously around a mall, that’s fine. If a friend found out about this side of me, that’s… well, I’d rather not have that happen. If I am going to come out, I want to do so on my terms.
Right now I am simply tired. The past two years have been emotionally and mentally taxing. The optimism I normally feel going into a brand new year didn’t happen this year. I don’t feel I have the energy to fight every little battle anymore. I feel all my energy is being spent on the BIG things. Although my gender identity is one of THE BIGGEST things in my life, caring about what others might think, whether someone at the mall or a friend “discovering” this side of me is at an all-time low. I used to wonder what I would do if a friend “caught” me. Would I lie? Would I make up an excuse? What would I say? I don’t have the mental bandwidth to think or care about any sort of damage control regarding this side of me (or many other things) the way I did two years ago. However, there are a few people in my life that I will ALWAYS and ABSOLUTELY live in fear of being caught (for various reasons) but the vast majority of people? Well… whatever. That being said, this doesn’t mean I will stop fiercely protecting this side of myself any less than I currently do. My gender identity is my business, and I will (as much as I can) come out on my terms, if I do so at all.
It would be nice if every friend I have would love and understand Hannah. I THINK they would, or at least accept me. OR! at the very least I don’t think any of my friends would end the friendship because of my gender identity. It would undoubtedly… ah, complicate some things, or at the very least inspire some very deep (and exhausting) conversations but these potential talks are not something I have the energy for, if I am being honest.
Looking at my website and my social media, you could understandably assume I am out to the world or at the very least don’t care if I am “caught”. I do care if I am outed. I don’t want that at all. As mentioned previously, it would, at the very least, complicate some things and I just don’t want to take anything else on. Life is hard enough as it is. It’s true that coming out can feel like a weight lifted, but I don’t feel that keeping my gender identity is a burden. It doesn’t depress me or torment me, “hiding ” simply exhausts me, but the conversations (and potential drama) would be even more so. Best to keep this genie in a bottle, you can’t unring a bell.
6 thoughts on “Protecting an Identity”
Yes, absolutely, without question, for sure: I can totally relate to these thoughts and experiences, and I know that there are so many like minded who can relate as well. Being careful, guarded, and paranoid, is so tiring especially in the current climate of seemingly encouraged, public expressions of violence, hate, and intolerance for things that are other than the norm. Ugh. People, (them, the intolerant ones) give it a rest, try to enjoy whatever your life is about and leave me, leave us, alone.
Gosh, I can so relate to this. I remember when I got my ears pierced and had studs in them for healing. I was sure other drivers on the freeway were noticing and cracking up. Impressive imagination, no?
At one point my therapist advised that I needed to let my “freak flag fly.” Having grown up in the 60s and 70s I well remember the CSNY song “Almost Cut My Hair.” Back then it was a bit out there for boys/men to wear their hair long and, to me, it felt liberating to just grow it out and not care about what others might think.
So, while calling it a freak flag is disparaging the attitude that I tried to adopt was just to let it all hang out, be the real me, and if that rocks someone’s boat… so what.
BTW, earlier in my transition I had several instances when I was walking on the sidewalk in downtown Seattle. A middle-aged woman approaching me might stare with her mouth open, or frown. I defused the situation almost all the time by giving her a friendly smile. Nine times out of ten she simply smiled back. Maybe she just couldn’t help herself but it all felt good to me.
“Everyone has three lives; a public, a private, and a secret.”___Gabriel Garcia Marquez
“”The worst loneliness is to not be comfortable with yourself.”___Mark Twain
“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.”___Sigmund Freud
“All we do is think about the feelings that we hide.”___anon
“The things that we love tell us what we are.”___Thomas Aquinas
“Risk is a big aphrodisiac.”___Grayson Perry
“Women know that in changing clothes, it is easy to try on a fresh identity.”___Guy Trebay
When I was part-time, that protecting of this side of me was a huge deal. “Can’t let the two worlds collide” was a way of life. Now that I am full-time, and have come out to a lot of folks, the coming out is a non-event most of the time. I’ve gone back to some events and activities from my prior life, and though I’ve come out to a lot of the folks there, I haven’t come out to everyone. But I am quite comfortable in walking up to an un-knowing old friend and “I suppose I should introduce myself”, I wave my hands up and down my body and “It’s Evelyn now.” and we go on from there. I’ve have some great conversations with folks that way, and to the best that I can tell, since we can’t know, I haven’t run across anyone that has had any issues.
And that freedom to not have to keep that barrier up is HUGE!
I understand it isn’t for everyone, but I am so happy to have gotten past that hiding phase and am just myself.
Sounds like the double life is becoming a burden. Your one of the most passable trans women I’ve seen, for the record. Personally, I decided to jump before I was pushed (or caught) and made a coming out statement on social media. Glad to report I received 99% support from family, friends, local community & the wider world. The 1% who objected said nothing. The main point is – the relief at letting go of the secret was immense. It outweighed staying in my safety zone, even with the risk of it all going pear shaped. Good luck with whatever you decide Hannah.
Totally get it. I live a divided life with portions of it hidden from some friends and family, while being shared with others. It is at times both exhausting and frustrationg.