Trigger warning: brief mentions of suicide and death, descriptions of transmisogynistic behavior
Disclaimer: My experiences are not universal. While they do have value of their own, they do not account for different converging oppressions. They only speak to my own oppressions and privileges.
For a lot of MOGAI people, National Coming Out Day is a liberatory experience, a day to publicly claim one’s identity. For some it’s their first time, and they’ll quickly learn it won’t be their last. MOGAI people have to constantly re-assert their identities. Leaving the closet is not a one-and-done experience. I was invited to speak with a small group of high schoolers over at Loring Nicollet Alternative School today about coming out and my story and process. I couldn’t bring myself to tell the whole truth to them, because I think I would have left them feeling hopeless and they already had enough working against them. I told them that coming out was liberating in a sense, and I focused on engaging them in thoughtful laughter. Get them to giggle, but realize there’s a certain grimness to the humor.
And so I want to tell a fuller version of my truth here. The closet itself is already cramped, but for me, coming out as a trans woman hasn’t really changed anything. And if I’m being completely honest, I feel as though my space has only gotten smaller. It has been the opposite of liberatory.
My rationale in coming out went something like this: I can either continue to be ashamed of myself and have it eat away at me even further, or I can own who I am as unapologetically as I can. In other words, I could either continue a cycle of self-annihilation, or I could scratch at a bit of hope. In owning who I am, I thought it would be possible to more fully understand my context and how this world actually positions me. And in pursuing a more authentic life for myself, the eyes of ciscentrism and patriarchy glared right at me.
Being a trans woman means hyper visibility. People see you–and never the way you want them to see you. You’re not fully human to them. How often are trans women turned into a convenient punching bag? How come it’s so hard to reconcile that trans women just want to pee without risking violence? How often do you hear about trans women being assaulted, killed? How often do you see it justified by media? How many times have social movements specifically worked to exclude (and kill) trans women?
Hyper visibility is not a privilege. I can tell you that my every day experience of just going outside is unsafe. Cars have slowed down to have the driver peek out their window at me as their friends laughed at me in the back seats. People on campus shout slurs at me from their dorm windows. People ask me invasive questions concerning the future of my oh-so-precious genitals. They demand to know if I have had a traumatic past (as to explain away my “indecent” behavior and expression). I have come across people who will call me ‘it’ without blinking. I have met people who posture at me in a physically threatening way so that I leave.
This was before I even started the process of getting hormones. This was before the FDA cracked down on online pharmacies, which is how a number of trans women I know have gotten their hormones. This was before the $761 bill for required gender therapy sessions. This was before the $150 doctor’s appointment. This was before the first $108 prescription cost for estradiol and spironolactone. This was before the lab work bill. I’ve already been having more trouble getting jobs now, and I’ve only been on hormones for a little over a month. My legal name and gender marker haven’t changed. I haven’t gotten any hair lasered off my body in order to be read more consistently as a woman. I don’t know if I’ll be able to train my voice to sound “feminine” (even with this app), which means potentially expensive speech therapy (because why would my insurance cover that?)
It takes a lot of time, energy, and money to live your life authentically when the world doesn’t want you there. I flinch just hearing myself say it, but things have gotten worse since coming out. Though, if I hadn’t come out, I can’t imagine I’d have lived this extra year. At the very least, I think coming out has actually helped me stay alive, because the support and love I received from my community and chosen family has helped enormously. For that, I am hugely grateful. Thank you all so much.
I am damn proud to be a trans woman, but no amount of pride is going to stop these systems and ideologies from attempting to dismember me and people like me. I think that’s why I focused so much on community and accountability when I was telling my story to high school youth today; it was what I would have wanted to hear in high school. Being MOGAI isn’t easy. It comes with a lot of hurt. I want to be there for others who are struggling, and that means working across difference. It’ll never be perfect, but the alternative is for us to be divided and eventually conquered. I’ll take an imperfect, cramped space with others over being dead in a closet.