There’s no question that people change.
We change our minds, our opinions, and our perspectives. We change our outfits, our makeup, our heels. As we get older and as we are presented with new information and have new experiences, it’s common for us to see something through a new lens.
Especially when that something is ourselves.
From the day I learned the word ‘crossdresser’ I identified as such. I thought of myself this way for years, although I wasn’t always comfortable with this term. The term seemed to be predominately sexually charged and was usually depicted as a fetish. There was nothing sexual in why I liked to wear what I wore. For a long time my wardrobe was little more than beautiful lingerie that was hidden away in the back of my closet, and I never gave a second thought to my gender identity being anything other than male.
I was a crossdresser. It was a simple as that. There was no other word for it.
Until I heard the word ‘transgender’ in my early 20’s. I wasn’t entirely sure what the word meant, and even now there are differing opinions and definitions as to what it means. All I knew is that the word felt a little more accurate. I learned a lot about myself growing up and I never felt like one of the guys and I hated the concept of gender roles and toxic masculinity. I didn’t feel like I fit into the prevailing societal expectation as to what a man “should” be.
I felt boxed in by my gender. I felt that being male limited me to what I could wear, say, and feel. On the flip side, I didn’t feel like I was assigned the wrong gender at birth, either. I felt like I was somewhere in-between. What I felt, thought, and wore, fell well outside the binary world. I was both, I wasn’t either.
The term transgender seemed to transcend this either/or confinement. ‘Trans’ is a Latin pre-fix meaning ‘across, on the far side, beyond’. If transgender meant ‘beyond gender’ then I was transgender.
The first person I ever came out to was a girl I was dating. I think we dated for about six months before I told her. It went… well, it didn’t go anywhere. But the world was different then. There were few people in the public eye who were openly transgender. We didn’t have the representation that we do today. Gender was even more binary then than it is now. I don’t fault her for shutting down the conversation and changing the subject whenever I brought it up after that revelation.
But I certainly tried. When I heard the word transgender I told her that perhaps that’s what I was. Since I never felt comfortable with identifying as a crossdresser, maybe a different term would help others understand me. It didn’t. At least not to her, not back then. Although the word was relatively new when I heard it and what it meant wasn’t always understood, the consensus was a transgender person was someone who transitioned.
Having no desire to transition and never feeling I was ‘born in the wrong body’, the word transgender, like the word crossdresser, didn’t quite hit the mark for me. Of course, these days we are more enlightened and educated and have embraced how complex, varied, and nuanced gender is. Today I am perfectly comfortable identifying as transgender (or perhaps more accurately bi-gender or gender-fluid).
The T-word is still very much misunderstood today, and probably will be for a long time. Although our community has much more representation than it did twenty years ago, the prevailing opinion is a transgender person is someone who has, or wants to, transition. Coming out as transgender is, well, it’s annoying, to be honest. At least for me. Identifying as a term that most people know is beneficial. But at the same it’s a term that is very nuanced and personal. Me identifying as transgender is different than Lavern Cox identifying as transgender.
When I have come out to people, I spend time explaining that being transgender does not mean drag, there’s nothing fetishy, there’s no correlation between my gender identity and sexual identity, and I certainly have no desire or plan to transition. It’s an exhausting conversation. When I came out to my sisters and mom, I really wanted to avoid using the words crossdresser and transgender. The words were either misleading or misrepresented. Rather I wanted to approach explaining who I was as simple as possible.
Looking back, I realize how naive that was. There’s nothing simple about us. If we are truly beyond gender, then we are very much outside the dominate perspective of gender binary. We are both. We are neither.
Coming out to my family did not go how I had hoped it would. When I come out to others it is usually done for a reason. When I came out to my wife when we were dating I did so because she needed to know all of me. She needed to know who I was. At that point I knew I wasn’t going to change and this was not something I would grow out of. When I came out to my mom and sisters, I had two things I had hoped to do.
The first was I had wanted to have a closer relationship with them. I wasn’t always the easiest person to get to know or get along with. As I moved from primarily underdressing to… well, who I am today, it was done so with endless conversations with my wife. We had long talks into the night about this side of me and when I was presenting as Hannah I felt more open, vulnerable, and calm. I liked who I was when I was her.
As the months passed these characteristics flowed over and soon I felt more calm, stable, balanced, regardless of the gender I was presenting as. I felt like a more complete person. I felt like I was a better person. I felt that I could have a better relationship with my family. I felt if they knew about who I was, then I could be more open with them, too.
The second goal was a little shallow, but as time passed I realized how important this goal was, and is, to me. I wanted them to meet Hannah. I wanted to spend time with them as her. I wanted so many little things. I wanted to have coffee with my mom, I wanted to shop with my sisters. I wanted Hannah to have sisters.
When this didn’t happen, it wasn’t that big of a deal at the time. If I wanted to hit the mall en femme I could meet up with the MN T-Girls. There were girls I could do these things with. But as time passed, I couldn’t help feel a little rejected. Why didn’t they want to meet her?
Why didn’t they want to know all of me?
Please understand, my mom and sisters are good people. They are accepting and advocates of the LGBTQ+ community. I don’t feel that they are hypocrites for not embracing Hannah. Coming out is a complex thing an it impacts everyone in our lives. Sometimes we are surprised by how we react when someone close to us comes out. I also believe that being transgender is so nuanced and specific to that person that it is not easy to come to terms with it.
I replay the two conversations I had with my mom and sisters constantly. Well, not constantly, but enough to be able to analyze it. I think about how I could have done it differently. I could have explained myself better. I could have spoken more about my personal gender identity. I could have made sure they knew this was more than their brother and son dressing up.
But it does little good revisiting these talks. Rather we can learn from this experience for the next time we come out to someone. We are not easy to understand. Going beyond gender is not necessarily easy for a cis-gender person to relate to. When we come out we learn what words were effective, what questions we will be asked, and what to avoid talking about. We get better at coming out each time we do so, although each time we do is a different experience and we can never really anticipate how someone will react.
It’s important to be prepared for these talks before we have them. Be ready to answer the typical questions about your sexual preference and whether you want to transition. Know yourself. How do you identify? What does transgender/crossdresser/non-binary/gender-fluid mean to you? Be calm, be patient, be sympathetic. This is not an easy conversation for us to have, and its not going to be an easy for those we come out to. We must be as prepared as possible for this conversation because we only come out once to someone.
…But is that really the case?
Gender is fluid. The gender I present as can change throughout the day, and the pointless but almost necessary term I use to identify as can also fluctuate over the course of a lifetime. I used to identify as a crossdresser, then as transgender, but perhaps bi-gender or gender-fluid is more accurate.
As our (ugh) journey progresses, we need to communicate with our partners how we identify, what we think about, and how we feel. My gender identity is very different today compared to the night I told my wife that I love to wear panties. She’s been there each step of the way and has seen me (for lack of a better word) evolve.
If our gender identity has evolved and changed, is it appropriate to… come out again?
I have written about my disappointment about my family’s reaction to this revelation, but I don’t put the blame (if you will) solely on them. I don’t feel I came out properly. In an effort to downplay any fear that they may had, I also downplayed this side of me. When someone comes out as trans (or as anything beyond cis) a fear is that person will transition. People are afraid of losing their brother, son, husband. I wanted to assure them that *I* wasn’t going anywhere. My other failing was not thoroughly expressing who I was. I talk a lot about my definition of what identifying as transgender means, and I should have discussed this at the time I came out.
In protecting my family from overwhelming them, I minimized the significance and importance of who I am. Yes, they may have not understood this side of me, but in retrospect, I could have done a much better job in explaining who I am.
I’ve written before that I would come out differently today than I did all those years ago. My perspective, my gender identity, has changed and evolved. So, why not do it again but this time come out as transgender and build off of what they know about me and really express who I am, who Hannah is, and why I want (and need) what I want and need from them?
It sounds great when I type it out and I feel empowered to do it. What holds me back is recalling how uncomfortable my mom was when I came out. The abrupt changes of subject with my sisters when Hannah comes up. Although I have no doubt my family loves me, it’s clear this side of me makes them uneasy. I consider coming out again, or coming out for the first time as transgender every time I see my family. It’s a high risk/high reward decision. I feel I would be more effective today in explaining who I am and why their support and acceptance is important to me. But if the aftermath is the same as the first time I had this conversation, it will be even more devastating to me. I have to remind myself that the people we come out to are under no obligation to accept us or to meet our other selves. They are entitled to their reaction and as hard it is, we must accept that. This is hard for them too.
I have not made a decision about this conversation yet. This is a topic that is very unique to our community. It’s frustrating being who we are. People change as time passes, what being transgender means is different from person to person, and how we identify can shift over the years. We are complex, we are nuanced, we are lonely, we are proud, we are confident, we are insecure, we are beautiful.