I’ve always had a deep irritation with and resistance to this idea of “coming out”. Whether you’re expressing your sexuality or gender identity or religious beliefs or whatever, the concept of coming out is coupled with this expectation that whatever it is you’re revealing about yourself it is something to be ashamed of. Worst still, that it is something other people have the right to comment upon or is even something that people are justified in abandoning you once they know. And so, from the outside it hardly seems to BE a positive thing to do.
In an ideal world, we would all just live as and who we are. There would be no rejection or bullying, society would simply accept and support each individual as and who they are. There would be no need to “hide” oneself from everyone else, and therefore no need to “come out” and reveal the true self so that one could live as oneself.
But we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a sometimes terrifying world, where kids are bullied and rejected so severely by their Christian parents, by their peers and society in general that they jump in front of a truck because they’ve lost all hope of living their own life.
I have lived most of my life in gut-wrenching terror, and not just because I have PTSD, but because I’ve never ever fitted in and because I’ve always had to carry one secret or another.
I didn’t fit in with my family because I was that annoying precocious child whose favourite word is “why?”, and I had to carry the secret of who caused my PTSD because no one wanted to talk about it. As a teenager I was that kid mercilessly bullied by their peers because they’re “strange”, and because I wasn’t interested in sex with anyone on the rugby team I was also bullied because they assumed I was a lesbian (and in the 90s being a lesbian was something teenagers thought was bad). As an adult, amongst many other problems, I frequently got yelled at, bullied and told to shut up for going after the truth even if it was uncomfortable (apparently you don’t ask questions in church OR pagan circles), and I was also bullied at work because of health issues that meant I couldn’t be the clone worker the boss wanted.
Despite this and lots of other crap in my life, I’ve always tried to be myself as much as I could, but you can only be yourself as much as the words you have to describe yourself, and if you don’t fit in and don’t have the words to describe why, it’s a very scary and lonely world in which to live. The truth is, until very recently the only place I felt consistently at home was when writing in TSU. And as anyone who has them knows, secrets are heavy things, so heavy they can even drown your soul if they’re big enough.
Now, I’m not going to reveal all of my secrets in a great flurry of revelation and drama, but I am going to say that I know exactly what it’s like to live in fear of secrets. In the last two years I have been moving towards a time in my personal life where I wish to live a less fearful, hidden life regardless of the social consequences. I’m sick of hiding who I am for the comfort of others, and I’m coming to the place where I might welcome the loss of those people in my life who would hate me for my secrets.
There are lots of secrets to choose from in my life, most of which are either none of anyone else’s business (such as my beliefs/faith), or secrets people actually don’t want to know (like the details of my PTSD). Now, I recently fell into a very bad time, one that I almost didn’t survive, but I’m coming out on the other end of it in a different place and seeing myself and my needs a bit clearer. Coupled with all of these new terms on the internet relating to self-identity, I’ve come to an understanding that I’m not cis-gendered. I’m actually trans, but not in the more common definition of the descriptor.
What does that mean? Well, I’m actually only just sort of understanding what that means myself, so I don’t know, but it’s why I’ve changed my hair and have been exploring different wardrobe options. I don’t yet know what it will look like in my life or even what pronouns to claim, but I want to live MY life for me and for my well-being instead of living in such a way so as to not make other people uncomfortable… and unfortunately at this time appearing to be non-binary makes a lot of people uncomfortable.
What I do know is what I experience. There are some days that I have such a severe level of body dysphoria, particularly with my mammary glands and menstruation, that it feels like acid constantly pouring on my soul. And on those specific days being gendered female by society is excruciating because something inside me says that I am a man in those times. But then other days, everything’s alright and there’s even enjoyment in my femininity. Further other days I have such a deep sense of disconnection with either gender that both labels feel absolutely wrong. Confused? So was I.
For a while I thought because it changed all the time I couldn’t be “trans”, because isn’t trans something that always is the same thing? Well, apparently not, but I thought the shifting experiences meant it had to be something temporary, something that would wear off or stabilise eventually to a point where it wasn’t excruciating any more. Unfortunately, once the denial dropped away I also come to realise that I’ve actually felt like this to different degrees for my entire life, certainly not always this bad, but always something. In fact I remember being four years old and feeling this internal confusion and agony.
The thing is, because each shift in gender identity is so intense for me, so far beyond just a mood shift, it’s practically physical in its comfort or discomfort, that I’ve come to understand that it’s bigger than just: “I want to be a boy today!” I know it’s more like: “today I AM a man” or “today I AM a woman” or “today I AM something neither male nor female”. And the fact that it doesn’t make sense to be different things on different days, doesn’t change that feeling. Linguistically and emotionally there’s a pretty big difference between “I want to be” and “I AM”, and even though I don’t yet know what that is going to look like in a practical sense, I understand that because of the intensity levels I experience I need to talk about it and share it, and not discount it or hide it, or turn it into one of those heavy drowning secrets that kill people. Even if I lose TSU fans or family or friends, I have to be who and what I am or that secret will become another thing that is trying to kill me.
For my own well-being and happiness, I need to live my life as genuinely as possible, and even though I’m terrified of how society may or may not respond to my lack of fitting in, I can’t keep on pretending that I don’t feel this way. I will not let my truth drown me because of the bigotry and ignorance of other people. That poor girl, Leelah, she died because she couldn’t see a future where she would be allowed to live a genuine life as herself. She died because society decided who she was and demanded that she comply, and as a teenager she had no resources to understand that she had a future if she just kept fighting. But at 37, I’m a grown adult, and I’ve gone through repeated hell, even as early as three years old, and I’m stronger than people realise. I will not let society or even my loved ones define who and what I am. The only one who is allowed to do that is me.
So, this is my coming out post, and if you find gender-non-conforming people yucky, you can take your bigotry and get out of my life.
After several months of sitting with all of this and trying to figure out how to proceed, and having my 38th birthday looming closer and closer, I’ve come to some conclusions about how to continue. Self identity is a thing that should theoretically be defined only by the individual, but, as a maturing adult with an understanding of how one’s actions affect others, I’ve wanted time to figure things out. I didn’t want to go on a whim, and change everything, and then later realise that it wasn’t what I wanted, and as a result unnecessarily impacting my friends and family. I want to be myself and live genuinely, but also don’t want to cause my friends and family any avoidable suffering as a result. The thing is, this world isn’t nearly as simple as we’re led to believe as children. Identity is so very complex, and it shifts and grows as we grow.
There’s a “secret” theme within TSU (one of many), it’s the phrase “I am many things at once”, it’s used to describe the experience of the Time Guardians who live in a perceptual universe where linear time doesn’t actually exist, also it is how some Time Psi experience life… which is why Hawk describes things as “remembering everything backwards”. But, like a vast majority of TSU themes, there is a level of real life in it as well. I am, literally, many things at once. I’ve never really been one thing… other than a writer/storyteller, of course… every day I’m quite different to one degree or another. And for a very long time I thought it was just how other people were as well, and they just didn’t talk about it because our culture and language doesn’t really have the room for a description of a non-static and constantly shifting sense of identity. But I realise that perhaps I’m just different… not special-snowflake different… just… wired differently, like folks on the Autism spectrum, not special just different.
I am many things at once. And that’s OK. But the consequence of this is that makes it difficult to try and figure out how to give myself as much room to be myself, while also not being difficult for others to communicate with me.
Within trans circles, there’s a process of “transition” where folks change their appearance, their name, and their gender markers (and some people physically modify their bodies as well). They decide on a set of personal pronouns and a name that they ask their loved ones to use, as a form of showing respect to their identity. Now, when you’re in the binary of male or female, it’s not complicated… generally… people just learn how to retrain the words they associate with you and it’s static after that (unless you bring in transphobia, of course).
But within that model, what is a realistic thing I can ask others to do to respect my sense of self, when my sense of self is not the same every day? Originally, the solution was just to ignore it when I didn’t fit with being female, but in the last few years the gender dysphoria has become excruciating and on my male days, it’s becoming more and more fatal for me. But, if I become entirely male and ask for people to refer to me with male pronouns, then I’ll start having the dysphoria on my female days (I can’t really win with the common model of transitioning).
I’ve also discovered that it’s not really fair to expect everyone to identify, based on what I’m wearing, what gender I am on any given day, and then to use the relevant gender tags for that day. Some people can do it, and I appreciate their attension and adore them more for their consideration to my sense of self… but I’m not sure it’s really fair, especially in the context of the “public writer face” to expect everyone to do this.
Think about it… how fair is it to expect every stranger to look at me closely enough to try and peg what my gender is for that day? However much I desperately want that as my day to day experience, it’s not really fair to expect.
So, it’s been a long journey to balance my need to be myself and have enough space in society for my identity, with what is reasonable to expect from others.
I’m still working it out, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to move forward with this, and that one of the first solutions is for me to use gender-neutral pronouns. Specifically the “they/them/their” pronouns. I haven’t decided yet what to do about my name but because I’m usually male or genderless when I’m writing TSU, I am going to change the name on my books to the character who is actually telling me the story.
However much it will hurt to lose the people in my life who are transphobic, I can’t let that fear keep me from living my life as genuinely as I can. My eventual suicide is not a fair cost for the comfort of other people, so 2017 is the year when I take a few big steps towards living my life for myself and not others. I hope you’ll come on the journey with me.