Reflections on coming out

depaulus / Pixabay
Because closets are for clothes

So yesterday, the 9th of May, marks one year since I publicly came out. Really publicly, as it happens. I’d known for a while that it had to happen. And I’d spent a good length of time thinking about how I was going to do it. None of the decisions were really easy ones.

I’ll set the scene for you a bit. I’d been on hormones for about 3 months, and I was starting to see some changes, and feel better. I’d told a lot of the important and close people in my life what was happening. I’d been growing more and more into my identity, and starting to begin to feel comfortable with myself for the first time in my life.

Up till then, I’d looked for opportunities to present authentically in social settings, but it felt like a lot of effort still. The physical changes  were still in their infancy. My voice still used to betray me. I was obsessive about covering up facial hair shadows.

They were excuses. Valid excuses, sure. But excuses nonetheless.

The fact is, that my dysphoria was worsening. Not my physical dysphoria, but my social dysphoria. Being read as male was becoming more traumatic by the day.

And I needed it to stop.

I had spent the past few weeks cleaning up my Facebook profile – deleting old photos, removing tags, pruning my friends list. I removed my profile photo and replaced it with a photograph of an impala that I’d taken back when I used to live and work in Mpumalanga. An impala ewe, as it happens. Because I couldn’t bear to look at my old photos anymore. And because I was preparing for what I knew was to come.

A lot of people, being in my situation, would just opt to create a brand new profile, and start off from scratch. And it’s something I considered doing myself. But, to me (and that’s important – I’m not making any judgments on anyone else here), that felt a bit like a surrender. There’s no “easy way out” in any of this, but it felt like that sort of cop-out – as though I’d be passing up an opportunity to make a statement about myself, my identity, my life.

And, as you’ve probably figured out by now, I’m not the kind of girl who passes up an opportunity to run her mouth or speak her mind.

So I’d decided that, when the time came, I’d simply change it all. The name, the photos, all of it. And I was becoming increasingly anxious to do so. Because, although it didn’t solve the dysphoria, it was something. It didn’t change the fact that I still had to put up a front at work. But it felt like a bastion nonetheless; a reclamation, a claim to my identity, one fewer sphere in which I had to keep up a pretence.

I had a list of people that I needed to tell before I went public. People I wanted to tell personally, rather than have them piece it together from social media. I scratched them off one by one, until I’d worked my way through the whole list.

And then it happened. I woke up one morning, thought “What am I waiting for?”, and I did it. Changed my name, uploaded a bunch of new photos, and unleashed an unapologetic queer trans activist upon the world. And never looked back.

“What am I waiting for?”

That was the key. The turning point.

It was scary. I mean, it still is scary. Being trans, being open about it, transitioning, all of it. It’s terrifying. And back then, it was even more so. But… the alternative was worse.

I had to sit myself down and confront that. I had to actually find the strength to admit to myself that presenting as something I’m not was uncomfortable. Painful. Unbearable and unsustainable. It made me feel miserable. And I had an obligation to myself not to subject myself to that any more than was absolutely necessary.

So that was it. I changed my online presence to be a more authentic representation of who I am, but at the same time, I took another decision. No more boy-mode, except where absolutely necessary. And “absolutely necessary” in this instance meant “only in the workplace”. It only took around another six weeks for that particular bubble to burst, after which I was totally “full time” – though that’s a story for a different time.

The world didn’t end. Some stuff got harder, there’s no doubt. If you read here regularly, you already know that. Some stuff got easier too, like living in my own skin. It’s not a linear graph though – there are ups and downs, successes and setbacks, victories and defeats. And they continue, to this day.

That day, one year ago, was the start though. It was the point where I made a commitment. Not to being who I am – that had happened long before. But a commitment to no longer be silent. It started with the “coming out” – the photos and the name. Then it was Facebook posts – because I used to just lurk, and now I was sharing things, and commenting, and writing short essays. Then it was Twitter. Public engagements, workshops, seminars, conferences, magazines, radio.

Then it was this blog.

And, soon – within days – it’ll be the book.

Today, I am reflecting – as I often do. But not specifically on the direction my life has taken, or the things that have happened to me,  or the adversities, or the hardships, or the successes.

Rather, I’m looking at that commitment I made. That promise, to myself, not to be silent.

Today I’m asking, “Why do I do this?”. Today I’m asking, “Why do I keep doing this?”

I do it for myself

I mean, I’m lying if I suggest otherwise. I’d love to pretend to be all noble and altruistic and self-sacrificing (and I probably am, too much of the time), but a lot of this is done for me.

For a couple of different reasons, actually.

It’s cathartic. Because the spaces that I use – the blog, Facebook, Instagram, whatever – belong to me. And I can use them to express a bunch of different things. Including sadness, anger, frustration and bitterness. It’s a way for me to vent and to let some of that out, so that it doesn’t consume me. I can just speak my mind (of course, I try to think before I do), and do so safely, and that’s something I find really helpful.

It helps me organise my thoughts. Because now, I often think of things that are big and confusing and scary through the lens of a writer. I think about “How am I going to articulate this experience/sensation/incident in a way that people who aren’t me will be able to relate to?”. And that process… well, it helps me to get perspective on what’s going on in my own life. It helps me feel less overwhelmed, and it helps me be more rational.

It’s a space for me to acknowledge what I’m feeling. And this is kind of related to the point on catharsis – but more than that, it gives validity and credibility to what I’m going through. Because sometimes I gaslight myself. I tend to downplay what I’m experiencing, or write it off as trivial, or get upset with myself for being upset in the first instance. But speaking about it makes it tangible. Acknowledging the emotions instead of doubting or suppressing them.

It reminds me of things I’m liable to forget. And this is a big one. Because everything I do is a testament, a chronicle, a record of proof. Of my own capabilities and strengths and attributes (and also, my shortcomings, and the weaknesses I need to work on), and of the challenges I’ve faced. And sometimes I need that, especially when I’m fighting against dysphoria, or my self-esteem is in a slump – these are things that can help get me back on track.

I do it for the next trans person

This is a big part of my motivation. I didn’t list it first, because I think that’s a little arrogant and self-righteous, but it’s a really important reason that I keep on sharing, and making myself vulnerable, and taking the time and the effort to keep doing this.

When I was young(er) in my transition (because, in honesty, I am still young in transition. There are many out there who have far greater experience – and who have done far more work – than I have, and I have the utmost respect for them), things were very confusing. I longed for commonality. For narratives to which I could relate. For stories that resonated with me.

TheHilaryClark / Pixabay

There’s a lot of material out there, no doubt. Some of it was very relatable. Some of it was less so. Searching, as I was then, for hope and for guidance, I came to appreciate the nuanced complexity of each of our narratives. It taught me that our voices are so important. Our own voices, in a world that tries to speak on behalf of us, or speak over us, or speak in place of us.

And I knew that I had the capacity to be one of those voices.

My stories are no better or worse than anyone else’s. They’re just different. It’s my own perspective, my own unique lens, my own interpretation and understanding of the world around me. And there was a long time when I thought that wasn’t worth sharing.

But I was wrong. It is worth sharing. The fact that we can listen, and read, and grow from each other is a beautiful, wondrous, amazing thing. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t found the right resources in my earlier days. And I’m grateful that I did. Those accounts and memoirs and stories became an important part of my support structure.

That’s one of the wonderful things about the internet. It gives us access to support, anonymously and with relative safety. And that is immensely valuable.

And now, I’m grateful that I have the opportunity and the means to become part of that support structure.

If someone out there reads this stuff, or hears my story, and finds some small part that they can relate to, some part that gives them hope or confidence or the will to move forward, even just a little, then I have succeeded.

I do it for the people who aren’t trans

Yeah. I do. Because… this trans thing is difficult to understand. Even for those of us who live it. And for those who don’t? I can only imagine how hard it must be to wrap one’s head around all this.

Now, I’m the first one to say that as a trans person, it’s not my responsibility to educate anyone on trans stuff. I don’t owe any answers or explanations. But I give a lot of them out. Professionally, I do it in the course of workshops and seminars and presentations. And personally, I do it here, and on social media and in the book.

I do it because… to me, this is part of my activism. And it’s a choice I make.

Maybe it’s naive, but I really do think that a lot of transphobia emanates from ignorance. Sure, there are some people out there who are genuinely just hateful douchebags. But a lot of people just don’t know any better. Again, I’m not making excuses for anyone – there were a lot of things over which I used to be ignorant, and the only reason I’m not anymore is because I put in the hard work and I learnt, and I listened, and I made an effort to be better.

But here’s the thing. These people who don’t understand? Just like us, they were never taught this stuff in school, or by their folks. The system that failed us – that continues to fail us – failed them too.

And then, I think about who they are. They are our parents. Our partners. Our siblings. Our children. Our friends. Our doctors, nurses, psychologists, police officers. They are people who can have such a huge impact on our lives, whose support and understanding can make or break us. They can make things immeasurably better or immeasurably worse.

So I think there’s value in promoting understanding. In breeding compassion and trying to foster empathy. Because it makes life tangibly better. And that is something that I believe in.

I do it for you

And this is really the point, I think. Since I started this blog, I have received so much feedback. So many comments, questions, words of encouragement. So many people reaching out to me. So many shares and so many likes. And all of that feedback is just a fraction of the total – so many people read silently, or just follow along.

To me, it means that people are getting something out of this. I can speculate as to what, but in truth, I don’t always know. And it doesn’t really matter, either. Because once I put these pieces of myself out there, I relinquish my ownership over them. They are yours now, for you to take from them what you can, and to make of them what you will.

Each and every comment or message means so much to me, because it reminds me that this part of me is valuable. That it makes some kind of difference. That it adds something to other lives. I cannot properly articulate just how much of an impact that has on me. The best I can do is to say that it’s massive, and I am so appreciative for it.

Some of you I know personally. Some I have never met, and some I never will. Some of you are cis, some of you are trans, some of you are straight, some of you are gay. You have different genders, and different races, and you are all different ages. With different cultural backgrounds, from different communities. Some of you are religious, in one way or another, and some are not.

It’s my honour and my privilege to be able to reach such a diverse group of people, and for you to find something of merit in what I do.


4 thoughts on “Reflections on coming out

  • Lekker. I love it. Congratulations on the distance you have covered and being an out trans person. May your book sell many many copies.

  • Yes doc there is a lot of ignorance in this world. Thank you for your book , when I can get a copy. I knew a girl who was in a male body. We all would whisper and be snide behind her back. It is a thing I have been ashamed and sad about for many many years. So a book like this in SA could maybe educate and help others to not be fearful and uninformed. Hope the book does well.

  • In the last couple of years i have referred people to you and i have bought your book for people needing to share your road. Just like in 2016, i am filled with gratitude that you wrote this. That you did this for our community.

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