2012: end-of-year review

2012 has been a pretty amazing year. Every year is interesting and full of stuff that happened, but this one was special in a lot of ways. Barack Obama was elected for the second time, we actually won in popular votes on marriage equality for the first time ever, and a bunch of people were voted out of office after saying ignorant things about women and rape. Private Bradley Manning’s trial finally began, and I’m probably going to get dragged into that all over again. There was The Dark Knight Rises, Looper, Paranormal Activity 4, and new music from The Birthday Massacre, Madeon, Ellie Goulding and Kesha. On the other hand, there was also a huge hurricane and a horrific amount of gun violence, but at least we managed to survive another apocalypse. Altogether, it’s been a hell of a year.

More personally, I have a yearly tradition of looking back and seeing how much I’ve improved myself, and in that respect, this has been one of the most significant years of my life in a while. I’ve always figured that if I look at myself a year ago and see that nothing has changed, that’s when I’ll be in real trouble. Fortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much of a risk of that happening any time soon.

This was the year that I permanently moved to Florida, at least until Heather and I move somewhere else. I got my first apartment with her, and as time has gone by, I’ve become a little better at being a stepmom. I spoke at the Florida Secular Rally, which was my first time giving a speech ever, and people seemed to enjoy it.

But by far the biggest and most wide-ranging change of this year has been transitioning. I know that many of you have been watching where I’ve been headed for over four years now, and it’s probably not surprising that this is where I ended up. It certainly took me long enough, but I finally decided it was time to take this to the next level. After living as a woman for over a year, I came out to my family, most of whom didn’t suspect a thing. I even told my grandfather, despite everyone warning me not to, but it all turned out much better than I could have imagined. It was all absolutely terrifying, yet somehow I did it, and nobody has a problem with it.

I picked a new name and filed for a name change, which should be finalized after the new year. I found a really good therapist and a doctor, and I’ve been on hormones for more than 3 months now. I’d been putting it off for a while because I thought I didn’t need it, and then because I was worried about how it might change me, but I finally decided I at least had to see what it was like.

Make no mistake: the physical and mental effects of removing your testosterone and replacing it with estrogen are significant. And I discovered that this is exactly what was missing in my life. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a tense and irritable person, and even the smallest parts of everyday life never really came easily to me. I assumed that being perpetually stressed was just how I am, and it was my problem to deal with, possibly with weed or something. But I was wrong.

This has improved me more than I ever expected. My body is changing to feel more comfortable than it did before – to put it bluntly, I have breasts now – and my overall mood has become so much calmer and happier. I can find joy in almost anything, instead of frustration. Emotionally, I can feel nuance instead of numbness, and I can finally cry when I feel like it. My life has gotten so much easier because of this one little thing – insofar as a second puberty is just a little thing.

The most incredible part is that if I hadn’t done this, I wouldn’t have known that my body and my mind had this much room for improvement. I thought things were as good as they get, I thought I could be okay with the way it was before – but then I found something that made it all even better. Life doesn’t suck anymore!

I know there’ll never be another year like this, but I do hope the coming year is just as transformative, enlightening, and all-around awesome. And I hope that at the end of it, I can look back and say that it’s surpassed even this one. Happy new year!

2012: end-of-year review

Well, don't hold back or anything

“You will have the chance to prove that your soul truly belongs in hell.”

– Lucifer, Constantine

You can learn a lot about something by applying pressure to it. You get to see where its weakest points are, and where the first cracks form. You can find out what’s underneath it, what’s inside it all – what’s really holding it together.

That’s how I discovered the limits of my family’s acceptance and understanding, and the full extent of their ignorance. When I told them I’d be coming out to my grandpa, the one they had insisted on keeping this a secret from, I found out where they really stood. And it wasn’t pretty.

I’m sure everyone wants to know the details of how I finally got this over with, but to our surprise, coming out to grandpa turned out to be the least of our worries. Was it stressful, terrifying, and the most nerve-wracking 30 minutes of my life? Yes. Did it require thinking on my feet, using every last ounce of strength I could muster, and leveraging every last traditional trans narrative into which I could fit the events of my life? Absolutely.

But it was a success. He gets it, and it doesn’t change anything for him. Somehow, we managed to navigate through that vast space of unpleasant possibilities, and find the path that led to a Republican, racist, homophobic, devout Catholic octogenarian accepting that his “grandson” is a woman now.

The more surprising and disappointing event of the day was how unhelpful certain members of my family turned out to be when I told them I was going to get this over with. They’d always seemed entirely supportive, only wanting what was best for me no matter what. But on that day, I learned firsthand some of the more hurtful things that loved ones can say to you when you’re trans.

I recognize that a lot of this is simply rooted in a lack of understanding or unintentional insensitivity rather than active malice; my family has certainly never been overtly hostile to me, and the impact of certain attitudes can be difficult to understand if you haven’t lived this life yourself. But it’s insensitive and hurtful just the same, and it’s worth going over why some of these approaches to your trans relatives and friends are really quite insulting.

First, it certainly doesn’t help to tell me this is the most “extreme” thing I could possibly do with my life, or that it’s so “different” and “out there”. I already know it’s different. Obviously, most people don’t do this sort of thing. And I know that most people either don’t really understand it, or disapprove of it and are content to be huge assholes about it for no good reason. I understand the challenges of coming out – if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have bothered to put this off for so long. I would have told grandpa when I first came out to everyone, instead of spewing 2,000 dramatic words about how much this makes Christmas suck. But I recognize that people tend to have difficulties with this, and that people like my grandfather in particular are less likely to be understanding, and more likely to view it as “extreme” and one of the worst things I could possibly do.

But it’s really not. Anyone who thinks this is as bad as it could get is severely lacking in imagination. Nothing about this is life-ruining, reckless, or damaging to those around me. It deprives no one of anything. It isn’t adversely affecting me, and it isn’t adversely affecting anyone else. There are a lot worse things I could be doing than, um, being a woman. I have a family of my own. I have a partner and children who love me. I’ve made a name for myself as someone with ideas that people like to hear. After such a long time, I’ve finally found what makes me happy in my life, and I’m feeling better about myself every day now.

This has come at the expense of nothing. I already have people in my life who are capable of seeing this not as something weird or disturbing, but as something triumphant. They would never in a million years expect me to regard myself as “extreme” or “out there”, so asking that much of me is seriously out of line.

It also isn’t particularly productive to go on about how not everywhere is “anything goes” – as though transitioning in the middle of Florida has been a cakewalk compared to staying in Chicago. Really, when you’re trans, there is no place where people’s attitudes toward you are “anything goes”. You have to stake out those spaces for yourself – tiny, cramped spaces – slowly, carefully, always keeping your guard up. The only place here where “anything goes” for me is in these four walls with my girlfriend and our sons, with outsiders only being let in after the strictest of screening. Do you have any idea how much of the world you have to cut off just to avoid getting hurt? The only reason this place is any better for me is that Heather is here, and the people who think this is asking too much of them aren’t. Just what would you have done if I did decide to transition while I was back home, anyway?

Speaking of which, it’s pretty lousy to hear you talk about how glad you are that I moved a thousand miles away where nobody knew who I was. I can definitely appreciate the value of having a clean slate, starting anew in a place where people have no attachment to memories of me. But when you tell me how happy you are that nobody will be looking at you strangely or talking behind your back, and how you just lie to everyone who asks about how I’m doing these days, that isn’t happiness for me. It’s happiness that you got me far out of the way before anyone you know found out that this is who I am, before I could make life difficult for you by being a woman. I don’t think treating a child that way is something to be happy about. And I’m pretty sure it’s a little too late for that, anyway:

Worst timeline ever.
Worst timeline ever. Also, worst closet ever.

Yeah, I’m sure our friends never suspected a thing. Thank goodness they won’t have to see me changing so much.

And really, as if nobody’s ever going to be talking behind my back because of who I am? In the land of “NOBAMA” stickers and gun racks on every 4×4, I’m going to be dealing with this for a long time. Forgive me if I’m not all that sympathetic.

I also wasn’t too keen on the idea that I could just stay down here forever, precluding any need to come out to grandpa. That’s a hell of a sacrifice to make for a secret. I don’t intend to walk away from everyone I once knew. I’m not going to cut myself off from my parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, friends, and everyone who’s known me my entire life. What I want is for our families to be together, to get to know each other, and be on good terms without concealment or deception. That’s important to me. It’s so important to me that I was willing to take the risk of telling grandpa I’m a woman now, so that one day we could all be united. That’s how much this is worth to me! I don’t have a problem with people knowing who I am. Let them talk behind our backs – if we love each other, if we’re there for each other, none of it should matter.

Likewise, it’s just not accurate to suggest you would have had to deal with everything and I would have been isolated from any fallout if this went south, simply due to physical proximity. Whether I see grandpa every day or not, what my family thinks of me still has the power to hurt me, which is even more obvious to me now. I certainly never stopped caring about any of you just because we’re far away now, and I know you haven’t stopped caring about me.

And I really don’t appreciate the assumption that I was just going to “drop the bomb” on him in the least tactful way possible, purely for “shock value”. That definitely isn’t how I came out to the rest of the family. It’s not something you lob at people like a grenade. I know you haven’t been on my side of it, but this is typically accompanied by abject terror at the possibility of losing those who are closest to you, because what you are is often considered so bad that it can even destroy a family’s love. I was scared half to death just to tell any of you! There’s no way of knowing what people are going to make of something like this. It isn’t something to approach casually, and I’m pretty confident that my success with grandpa demonstrated that I was serious about doing this as delicately, gently and effectively as possible.

And on the subject of just what this is, I hope you can understand that it’s not actually “a sexual thing”. I know things like sexual orientation, gender identity, being gay and being trans get jumbled up a lot, and most people aren’t exposed to this enough to tell them all apart. But it’s only a sexual matter in the same sense that not being trans is a sexual matter, in the same sense that being a person is a sexual matter. Using those terms makes it sound like who I am is on par with the TMI of what people like to do in bed, like my mere existence is unnecessarily sharing some sexual fetish with everyone around me. The difference is that telling grandpa what we do in bed is inappropriate, but grandpa knowing whether someone is a man or a woman is not.

Finally, while I recognize that tact is called for when telling elderly relatives that you now live as a woman, demanding that I omit any reference to attire, appearance, or even my name is simply not realistic. it’s pretty tough to explain your true gender identity without some concrete details as to what this entails in a practical, everyday sense – and grandpa knows that just as well as I do. So what should I have said, when he asked if this is “like crossdressing”, and when he asked if I was still [old name]? By the end of our conversation, he’d learned that I’ve been dressing like this all along, even if he hadn’t noticed at the time. And he knew his granddaughter’s name. And he had no problem with this.

I might be even more irked about all this if coming out to him had gone as poorly as you predicted. But as is, I’m really happy to see that every expectation of doom was proven wrong – not just for my own sake, but for yours. I’m hoping this is something that people in my family can learn from and think about for a while, before they try to hide who I am ever again.

Well, don't hold back or anything

Well, don’t hold back or anything

“You will have the chance to prove that your soul truly belongs in hell.”

– Lucifer, Constantine

You can learn a lot about something by applying pressure to it. You get to see where its weakest points are, and where the first cracks form. You can find out what’s underneath it, what’s inside it all – what’s really holding it together.

That’s how I discovered the limits of my family’s acceptance and understanding, and the full extent of their ignorance. When I told them I’d be coming out to my grandpa, the one they had insisted on keeping this a secret from, I found out where they really stood. And it wasn’t pretty.

I’m sure everyone wants to know the details of how I finally got this over with, but to our surprise, coming out to grandpa turned out to be the least of our worries. Was it stressful, terrifying, and the most nerve-wracking 30 minutes of my life? Yes. Did it require thinking on my feet, using every last ounce of strength I could muster, and leveraging every last traditional trans narrative into which I could fit the events of my life? Absolutely.

But it was a success. He gets it, and it doesn’t change anything for him. Somehow, we managed to navigate through that vast space of unpleasant possibilities, and find the path that led to a Republican, racist, homophobic, devout Catholic octogenarian accepting that his “grandson” is a woman now.

The more surprising and disappointing event of the day was how unhelpful certain members of my family turned out to be when I told them I was going to get this over with. They’d always seemed entirely supportive, only wanting what was best for me no matter what. But on that day, I learned firsthand some of the more hurtful things that loved ones can say to you when you’re trans.

I recognize that a lot of this is simply rooted in a lack of understanding or unintentional insensitivity rather than active malice; my family has certainly never been overtly hostile to me, and the impact of certain attitudes can be difficult to understand if you haven’t lived this life yourself. But it’s insensitive and hurtful just the same, and it’s worth going over why some of these approaches to your trans relatives and friends are really quite insulting.

First, it certainly doesn’t help to tell me this is the most “extreme” thing I could possibly do with my life, or that it’s so “different” and “out there”. I already know it’s different. Obviously, most people don’t do this sort of thing. And I know that most people either don’t really understand it, or disapprove of it and are content to be huge assholes about it for no good reason. I understand the challenges of coming out – if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have bothered to put this off for so long. I would have told grandpa when I first came out to everyone, instead of spewing 2,000 dramatic words about how much this makes Christmas suck. But I recognize that people tend to have difficulties with this, and that people like my grandfather in particular are less likely to be understanding, and more likely to view it as “extreme” and one of the worst things I could possibly do.

But it’s really not. Anyone who thinks this is as bad as it could get is severely lacking in imagination. Nothing about this is life-ruining, reckless, or damaging to those around me. It deprives no one of anything. It isn’t adversely affecting me, and it isn’t adversely affecting anyone else. There are a lot worse things I could be doing than, um, being a woman. I have a family of my own. I have a partner and children who love me. I’ve made a name for myself as someone with ideas that people like to hear. After such a long time, I’ve finally found what makes me happy in my life, and I’m feeling better about myself every day now.

This has come at the expense of nothing. I already have people in my life who are capable of seeing this not as something weird or disturbing, but as something triumphant. They would never in a million years expect me to regard myself as “extreme” or “out there”, so asking that much of me is seriously out of line.

It also isn’t particularly productive to go on about how not everywhere is “anything goes” – as though transitioning in the middle of Florida has been a cakewalk compared to staying in Chicago. Really, when you’re trans, there is no place where people’s attitudes toward you are “anything goes”. You have to stake out those spaces for yourself – tiny, cramped spaces – slowly, carefully, always keeping your guard up. The only place here where “anything goes” for me is in these four walls with my girlfriend and our sons, with outsiders only being let in after the strictest of screening. Do you have any idea how much of the world you have to cut off just to avoid getting hurt? The only reason this place is any better for me is that Heather is here, and the people who think this is asking too much of them aren’t. Just what would you have done if I did decide to transition while I was back home, anyway?

Speaking of which, it’s pretty lousy to hear you talk about how glad you are that I moved a thousand miles away where nobody knew who I was. I can definitely appreciate the value of having a clean slate, starting anew in a place where people have no attachment to memories of me. But when you tell me how happy you are that nobody will be looking at you strangely or talking behind your back, and how you just lie to everyone who asks about how I’m doing these days, that isn’t happiness for me. It’s happiness that you got me far out of the way before anyone you know found out that this is who I am, before I could make life difficult for you by being a woman. I don’t think treating a child that way is something to be happy about. And I’m pretty sure it’s a little too late for that, anyway:

Worst timeline ever.
Worst timeline ever. Also, worst closet ever.

Yeah, I’m sure our friends never suspected a thing. Thank goodness they won’t have to see me changing so much.

And really, as if nobody’s ever going to be talking behind my back because of who I am? In the land of “NOBAMA” stickers and gun racks on every 4×4, I’m going to be dealing with this for a long time. Forgive me if I’m not all that sympathetic.

I also wasn’t too keen on the idea that I could just stay down here forever, precluding any need to come out to grandpa. That’s a hell of a sacrifice to make for a secret. I don’t intend to walk away from everyone I once knew. I’m not going to cut myself off from my parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, friends, and everyone who’s known me my entire life. What I want is for our families to be together, to get to know each other, and be on good terms without concealment or deception. That’s important to me. It’s so important to me that I was willing to take the risk of telling grandpa I’m a woman now, so that one day we could all be united. That’s how much this is worth to me! I don’t have a problem with people knowing who I am. Let them talk behind our backs – if we love each other, if we’re there for each other, none of it should matter.

Likewise, it’s just not accurate to suggest you would have had to deal with everything and I would have been isolated from any fallout if this went south, simply due to physical proximity. Whether I see grandpa every day or not, what my family thinks of me still has the power to hurt me, which is even more obvious to me now. I certainly never stopped caring about any of you just because we’re far away now, and I know you haven’t stopped caring about me.

And I really don’t appreciate the assumption that I was just going to “drop the bomb” on him in the least tactful way possible, purely for “shock value”. That definitely isn’t how I came out to the rest of the family. It’s not something you lob at people like a grenade. I know you haven’t been on my side of it, but this is typically accompanied by abject terror at the possibility of losing those who are closest to you, because what you are is often considered so bad that it can even destroy a family’s love. I was scared half to death just to tell any of you! There’s no way of knowing what people are going to make of something like this. It isn’t something to approach casually, and I’m pretty confident that my success with grandpa demonstrated that I was serious about doing this as delicately, gently and effectively as possible.

And on the subject of just what this is, I hope you can understand that it’s not actually “a sexual thing”. I know things like sexual orientation, gender identity, being gay and being trans get jumbled up a lot, and most people aren’t exposed to this enough to tell them all apart. But it’s only a sexual matter in the same sense that not being trans is a sexual matter, in the same sense that being a person is a sexual matter. Using those terms makes it sound like who I am is on par with the TMI of what people like to do in bed, like my mere existence is unnecessarily sharing some sexual fetish with everyone around me. The difference is that telling grandpa what we do in bed is inappropriate, but grandpa knowing whether someone is a man or a woman is not.

Finally, while I recognize that tact is called for when telling elderly relatives that you now live as a woman, demanding that I omit any reference to attire, appearance, or even my name is simply not realistic. it’s pretty tough to explain your true gender identity without some concrete details as to what this entails in a practical, everyday sense – and grandpa knows that just as well as I do. So what should I have said, when he asked if this is “like crossdressing”, and when he asked if I was still [old name]? By the end of our conversation, he’d learned that I’ve been dressing like this all along, even if he hadn’t noticed at the time. And he knew his granddaughter’s name. And he had no problem with this.

I might be even more irked about all this if coming out to him had gone as poorly as you predicted. But as is, I’m really happy to see that every expectation of doom was proven wrong – not just for my own sake, but for yours. I’m hoping this is something that people in my family can learn from and think about for a while, before they try to hide who I am ever again.

Well, don’t hold back or anything

It's okay now

I conferred with my family at length today about whether to come out to my grandpa. It wasn’t encouraging. They told me there was no way they saw this ending well. They told me it would cause a rift. They told me I was putting them in a difficult position.

And yet everyone here told me it would be okay. You told me he’d probably guessed something was up already. You told me he might be more understanding than I expected.

So I told him. He understood, and he just wants me to be happy. He says he’ll always love me and be there for me. And that we’re a family.

It’s over. It’s done. We took care of this.

No more secrets, no more lies, no more fear.

Thank you.

It's okay now

It’s okay now

I conferred with my family at length today about whether to come out to my grandpa. It wasn’t encouraging. They told me there was no way they saw this ending well. They told me it would cause a rift. They told me I was putting them in a difficult position.

And yet everyone here told me it would be okay. You told me he’d probably guessed something was up already. You told me he might be more understanding than I expected.

So I told him. He understood, and he just wants me to be happy. He says he’ll always love me and be there for me. And that we’re a family.

It’s over. It’s done. We took care of this.

No more secrets, no more lies, no more fear.

Thank you.

It’s okay now

The last closet: Why I won't be home for Christmas

“Just don’t tell grandpa.” It’s been my family’s constant refrain throughout the entirety of my out, public queerdom. It should be easy enough, right? We just… won’t tell him. But no matter how well you keep it, a secret won’t stay contained. It seeps from the black box where we tried to censor it out of our lives, growing little tendrils that infect everything they touch. Any other thing your secret would change is a secret now too. We always end up with more than we bargained for, until we’re desperately leaping across the chasms it leaves in our world.

My grandpa doesn’t know I’m a woman. How am I supposed to hide something like that?

Sure, it was easier when I was 19 and came out to my family as a “gay man”. As I tearfully hugged my mom and sister, I was so grateful just to be accepted that I probably would have gone along with anything in return. But it was my own cowardice too. It did seem safer, after all. What was the harm in letting grandpa – racist, Palin-loving grandpa who goes to church every morning and evening and gets mailers about the UN’s “homosexual agenda” – keep believing whatever he wants?

The holidays and birthday parties at his house, the weekly dinners together that had become a tradition for us since grandma passed away, the avoidance of politics as we barely concealed our disgust, everything continued as usual. It’s not like I ever had any boyfriends to hide, anyway. Maybe that should have told us all something.

By the time I first came out, I was well on my way to feminine territory. But breaking out of assumptions, especially big ones like what gender you are, can take some work. You’ve lived as a guy all your life, you find you have an attraction to men (even if not an exclusive one), you lean toward the effeminate, and that’s the role society offers you: gay man. It was just the nearest place I could find for myself. I wasn’t yet ready to consider that I might actually want to be a woman instead.

Timeline
Nope, nothing to see here

Sometimes I wish I were one of the people who had “always known” in some sense that they were really a man or a woman, the people who eventually have that epiphany all at once, and know exactly what their path is if they choose to take it. Sure, I knew what it would mean to be trans – and people who knew me online were already starting to see me that way – but I had to carve away at the space of possibilities until the only remaining option was too obvious to ignore.

So I spent two years putting myself together into what I wanted to be, for the first real time in my life. Two years of going by “he or she, either’s fine”, while being she’d and ma’amed in public more and more often. Two years of growing into something more than a gay guy. “Drag”, I jokingly called it. But really, it was just… me.

You’d think people would notice their child, their grandchild, their sibling becoming a woman right before their eyes. It’s obvious in retrospect, but you might not recognize what’s happening if you don’t know what to look for. For my little midwestern family, the idea that one of us could be trans wasn’t even on their radar. “Sex changes” were just some abstract thing that happened to other people, somewhere else, in the realm of Jerry Springer and Maury and bad comedy movies. When something is so utterly remote from your experience, you don’t even consider the possibility that it could happen in your own home. Not even if you see it every day.

And that’s how things stayed, with nobody really sure what was going on, not even me. I settled into what I had begun to call the “gender demilitarized zone”, not quite trans but maybe, definitely not a guy but still partially “he” for no reason other than the inertia of the years, not yet countered by enough of an opposing force to push me over the hump into outright womanhood.

Then I met Heather. We hung out in the same queer chatroom, but we hadn’t really noticed each other until we both ended up arguing with some guy who thought all LGBT people should come out, no matter the personal cost. She’d recently realized that she really was lesbian after all, and that things weren’t going to work out between her and her husband. And somehow, once we started talking with each other, we couldn’t stop. We marveled at having finally found someone we could talk to on the same level, who truly understood what the other was saying, who never ever got tired of being around us. We talked for hours each day, only parting when we had to, staying up late into the night, inexorably growing together. And she called me “she”. It felt so right, for both of us.

After just a few months of the closest friendship I’d ever known, we decided we had to meet. We counted down the days – 63, 62, 61… – until she arrived in Chicago for a long weekend together. We dreamed of what it would be like, of holding hands and holding each other, of looking out on the world from the top of the Sears Tower and promising we’d be together forever.

The top of the Sears Tower

I’m nothing if not oblivious. Maybe it runs in my family. Afterward, she told me she’d been afraid of telling me how she really felt and scaring me away. Me, I’d just never been in love before, not like this. I didn’t know what it looked like. I couldn’t put a name to it, even when it was right in front of me.

She ran to me and swept me up into a hug the moment she saw me, holding me tighter than I’d ever been held. It was like everything I needed in life came together as we embraced, bathed in the light of that moment we’d dreamed of, finally made real. We held hands and ventured off into the city, not caring where we ended up as long as we were together, stopping at whatever bookstores and sculptures and museums we encountered along the way. At the end of the day, we closed our eyes and leaned on each other in a dark room at the Art Institute, ignoring some black and white film about tunnels.

It wasn’t long before we found ourselves in bed, lips against lips against skin against skin for hours until the night descended. Neither of us expected that. We didn’t know where this was going, and it didn’t matter. If this was where we’d been heading the entire time, then it was right. I never wanted to let her go.

Before she had to go back to Florida, she asked if I would be her girlfriend. Sometimes, all it takes is one question to put everything in perspective. I was not a boyfriend, I would not be a boyfriend, and we both knew it. We were nothing like a straight couple. And I was nothing like a guy. I cried as she got into her taxi and promised her we’d be together again.

When you’ve already come out to your family as a gay guy, it can be kind of awkward to tell them you have a girlfriend now. It felt like taking something back, even if I was actually queerer than ever. But it would have been even more awkward to give them the full story, explaining the intricacies of gender identities and the true nature of our relationship. It wasn’t until months later, when I was about to move to Florida to be with Heather and her kids, that my famously non-confrontational mom finally asked if I was still gay. The most I could bring myself to say was “…yeah, just not only gay.” We were both content to leave it at that.

Adjusting to life as a stay-at-home mom was one of the hardest things I’d ever done, but it’s so normal for me now that I can’t really remember what made it such a struggle. My family was worried that this was a big step for me, being so far away from home for the first time. Really, it was better for me than I ever expected. I was with Heather every day, and I was finally in a place where everyone had always known me as a woman. She’d even taught her kids about “girls in boy bodies and boys in girl bodies”. I didn’t know how valuable this kind of unconditional support was, until I experienced it firsthand and found out what I had been missing.

People who love me for who I am
Left to right: People who love me for who I am

Being with someone who had been through her own journey of self-discovery, who had dated trans women before, who saw me unambiguously as a woman, I knew that she understood me. I knew that I was safe with her. When I finally reached a point where I had to find a therapist, a doctor, to take the leap into starting hormones, to file for my name change, to pick out my first bra, she was there with me. And when I decided to call up my mom and sister and explain that I’d really been her girlfriend all this time, she held my hand as they spoke those same words: “Don’t tell grandpa.”

Where does this all leave grandpa, anyway? He never knew I was gay – back when I was the other kind of gay – so it came as no surprise to him that I have a girlfriend now, that I have kids, that I have my own family. We still talk sometimes, and he loves to hear about how we’re all doing. “It’s almost like you’re the mom”, he said as I told him about Heather’s new job. Yeah, almost. I don’t have to hide anything about my new life, except for this one little detail that could tear everything apart.

I haven’t seen my family for over a year. Even if we had room in our finances and our schedules for a trip across the country, I don’t think I could do it, not while I’m still some secret they’re keeping. Not if I’d have to pretend to be someone else. For all the ridiculous fearmongering about how any mention of transgender people will just “confuse” children, I’m certain my sons would be much more confused to see their stepmom treated like a man, called by a name they’ve never known.

I won’t put us through that. I’m not going to act like Heather and I are straight, I’m not going to be a “stepdad” or a “husband”, and I’m not going to hide what my body has become. When I see my family again, I won’t be the person they want to pretend I am. I won’t be someone else. This is too important to compromise, so until something changes, I just won’t be there. I can’t do it.

The family he won't get to see

Despite how scary it is, how likely to end in disaster, I still want to tell him. I’m convinced that he deserves to know, even if he hasn’t necessarily earned it. When Heather and I get married, I want him to be there. The alternative, the ultimate passive-aggression of leaving him out of it all or waiting for him to die without ever knowing who I really am, is even more unthinkable. I want him to know that he has a granddaughter, that I’m making the most of myself and I’m finally, truly happy for the first time. He’s our last connection to the grandma we all miss so much, who never got to see me grow up, and I know she’d want to be a part of my life no matter what.

I still keep putting it off, and I don’t know why. Maybe I just want to have as many days as I can where I know I’m still loved and appreciated, even if it’s on false pretenses. Maybe I don’t want to have it confirmed that my own grandpa would hate me for who I am. Maybe I want to hold on to the hope that it might not be so bad. But every day he doesn’t know is a day I won’t get back, and that’s the price I’m paying for this secret.

It’s not that big of a deal… is it? I’m still the person he’s always known. The rest of my family treats me just the same – it hasn’t changed anything between us. It’s just who I am, and it should be the least important thing in the world. Why does it have to matter so much?

This can’t last, and we all know it. Everyone in my family has always valued keeping the peace above all else, and none of us are looking forward to blowing the whole thing wide open. But it has to happen. Some things are more important than peace, and too valuable to hide away forever. What am I waiting for? Just courage – the courage to put that missing piece back into my life, to wipe out that spreading ink blot of secrecy. This time, I’ll be the one to fill it in with the truth.

The last closet: Why I won't be home for Christmas

The last closet: Why I won’t be home for Christmas

“Just don’t tell grandpa.” It’s been my family’s constant refrain throughout the entirety of my out, public queerdom. It should be easy enough, right? We just… won’t tell him. But no matter how well you keep it, a secret won’t stay contained. It seeps from the black box where we tried to censor it out of our lives, growing little tendrils that infect everything they touch. Any other thing your secret would change is a secret now too. We always end up with more than we bargained for, until we’re desperately leaping across the chasms it leaves in our world.

My grandpa doesn’t know I’m a woman. How am I supposed to hide something like that?

Sure, it was easier when I was 19 and came out to my family as a “gay man”. As I tearfully hugged my mom and sister, I was so grateful just to be accepted that I probably would have gone along with anything in return. But it was my own cowardice too. It did seem safer, after all. What was the harm in letting grandpa – racist, Palin-loving grandpa who goes to church every morning and evening and gets mailers about the UN’s “homosexual agenda” – keep believing whatever he wants?

The holidays and birthday parties at his house, the weekly dinners together that had become a tradition for us since grandma passed away, the avoidance of politics as we barely concealed our disgust, everything continued as usual. It’s not like I ever had any boyfriends to hide, anyway. Maybe that should have told us all something.

By the time I first came out, I was well on my way to feminine territory. But breaking out of assumptions, especially big ones like what gender you are, can take some work. You’ve lived as a guy all your life, you find you have an attraction to men (even if not an exclusive one), you lean toward the effeminate, and that’s the role society offers you: gay man. It was just the nearest place I could find for myself. I wasn’t yet ready to consider that I might actually want to be a woman instead.

Timeline
Nope, nothing to see here

Sometimes I wish I were one of the people who had “always known” in some sense that they were really a man or a woman, the people who eventually have that epiphany all at once, and know exactly what their path is if they choose to take it. Sure, I knew what it would mean to be trans – and people who knew me online were already starting to see me that way – but I had to carve away at the space of possibilities until the only remaining option was too obvious to ignore.

So I spent two years putting myself together into what I wanted to be, for the first real time in my life. Two years of going by “he or she, either’s fine”, while being she’d and ma’amed in public more and more often. Two years of growing into something more than a gay guy. “Drag”, I jokingly called it. But really, it was just… me.

You’d think people would notice their child, their grandchild, their sibling becoming a woman right before their eyes. It’s obvious in retrospect, but you might not recognize what’s happening if you don’t know what to look for. For my little midwestern family, the idea that one of us could be trans wasn’t even on their radar. “Sex changes” were just some abstract thing that happened to other people, somewhere else, in the realm of Jerry Springer and Maury and bad comedy movies. When something is so utterly remote from your experience, you don’t even consider the possibility that it could happen in your own home. Not even if you see it every day.

And that’s how things stayed, with nobody really sure what was going on, not even me. I settled into what I had begun to call the “gender demilitarized zone”, not quite trans but maybe, definitely not a guy but still partially “he” for no reason other than the inertia of the years, not yet countered by enough of an opposing force to push me over the hump into outright womanhood.

Then I met Heather. We hung out in the same queer chatroom, but we hadn’t really noticed each other until we both ended up arguing with some guy who thought all LGBT people should come out, no matter the personal cost. She’d recently realized that she really was lesbian after all, and that things weren’t going to work out between her and her husband. And somehow, once we started talking with each other, we couldn’t stop. We marveled at having finally found someone we could talk to on the same level, who truly understood what the other was saying, who never ever got tired of being around us. We talked for hours each day, only parting when we had to, staying up late into the night, inexorably growing together. And she called me “she”. It felt so right, for both of us.

After just a few months of the closest friendship I’d ever known, we decided we had to meet. We counted down the days – 63, 62, 61… – until she arrived in Chicago for a long weekend together. We dreamed of what it would be like, of holding hands and holding each other, of looking out on the world from the top of the Sears Tower and promising we’d be together forever.

The top of the Sears Tower

I’m nothing if not oblivious. Maybe it runs in my family. Afterward, she told me she’d been afraid of telling me how she really felt and scaring me away. Me, I’d just never been in love before, not like this. I didn’t know what it looked like. I couldn’t put a name to it, even when it was right in front of me.

She ran to me and swept me up into a hug the moment she saw me, holding me tighter than I’d ever been held. It was like everything I needed in life came together as we embraced, bathed in the light of that moment we’d dreamed of, finally made real. We held hands and ventured off into the city, not caring where we ended up as long as we were together, stopping at whatever bookstores and sculptures and museums we encountered along the way. At the end of the day, we closed our eyes and leaned on each other in a dark room at the Art Institute, ignoring some black and white film about tunnels.

It wasn’t long before we found ourselves in bed, lips against lips against skin against skin for hours until the night descended. Neither of us expected that. We didn’t know where this was going, and it didn’t matter. If this was where we’d been heading the entire time, then it was right. I never wanted to let her go.

Before she had to go back to Florida, she asked if I would be her girlfriend. Sometimes, all it takes is one question to put everything in perspective. I was not a boyfriend, I would not be a boyfriend, and we both knew it. We were nothing like a straight couple. And I was nothing like a guy. I cried as she got into her taxi and promised her we’d be together again.

When you’ve already come out to your family as a gay guy, it can be kind of awkward to tell them you have a girlfriend now. It felt like taking something back, even if I was actually queerer than ever. But it would have been even more awkward to give them the full story, explaining the intricacies of gender identities and the true nature of our relationship. It wasn’t until months later, when I was about to move to Florida to be with Heather and her kids, that my famously non-confrontational mom finally asked if I was still gay. The most I could bring myself to say was “…yeah, just not only gay.” We were both content to leave it at that.

Adjusting to life as a stay-at-home mom was one of the hardest things I’d ever done, but it’s so normal for me now that I can’t really remember what made it such a struggle. My family was worried that this was a big step for me, being so far away from home for the first time. Really, it was better for me than I ever expected. I was with Heather every day, and I was finally in a place where everyone had always known me as a woman. She’d even taught her kids about “girls in boy bodies and boys in girl bodies”. I didn’t know how valuable this kind of unconditional support was, until I experienced it firsthand and found out what I had been missing.

People who love me for who I am
Left to right: People who love me for who I am

Being with someone who had been through her own journey of self-discovery, who had dated trans women before, who saw me unambiguously as a woman, I knew that she understood me. I knew that I was safe with her. When I finally reached a point where I had to find a therapist, a doctor, to take the leap into starting hormones, to file for my name change, to pick out my first bra, she was there with me. And when I decided to call up my mom and sister and explain that I’d really been her girlfriend all this time, she held my hand as they spoke those same words: “Don’t tell grandpa.”

Where does this all leave grandpa, anyway? He never knew I was gay – back when I was the other kind of gay – so it came as no surprise to him that I have a girlfriend now, that I have kids, that I have my own family. We still talk sometimes, and he loves to hear about how we’re all doing. “It’s almost like you’re the mom”, he said as I told him about Heather’s new job. Yeah, almost. I don’t have to hide anything about my new life, except for this one little detail that could tear everything apart.

I haven’t seen my family for over a year. Even if we had room in our finances and our schedules for a trip across the country, I don’t think I could do it, not while I’m still some secret they’re keeping. Not if I’d have to pretend to be someone else. For all the ridiculous fearmongering about how any mention of transgender people will just “confuse” children, I’m certain my sons would be much more confused to see their stepmom treated like a man, called by a name they’ve never known.

I won’t put us through that. I’m not going to act like Heather and I are straight, I’m not going to be a “stepdad” or a “husband”, and I’m not going to hide what my body has become. When I see my family again, I won’t be the person they want to pretend I am. I won’t be someone else. This is too important to compromise, so until something changes, I just won’t be there. I can’t do it.

The family he won't get to see

Despite how scary it is, how likely to end in disaster, I still want to tell him. I’m convinced that he deserves to know, even if he hasn’t necessarily earned it. When Heather and I get married, I want him to be there. The alternative, the ultimate passive-aggression of leaving him out of it all or waiting for him to die without ever knowing who I really am, is even more unthinkable. I want him to know that he has a granddaughter, that I’m making the most of myself and I’m finally, truly happy for the first time. He’s our last connection to the grandma we all miss so much, who never got to see me grow up, and I know she’d want to be a part of my life no matter what.

I still keep putting it off, and I don’t know why. Maybe I just want to have as many days as I can where I know I’m still loved and appreciated, even if it’s on false pretenses. Maybe I don’t want to have it confirmed that my own grandpa would hate me for who I am. Maybe I want to hold on to the hope that it might not be so bad. But every day he doesn’t know is a day I won’t get back, and that’s the price I’m paying for this secret.

It’s not that big of a deal… is it? I’m still the person he’s always known. The rest of my family treats me just the same – it hasn’t changed anything between us. It’s just who I am, and it should be the least important thing in the world. Why does it have to matter so much?

This can’t last, and we all know it. Everyone in my family has always valued keeping the peace above all else, and none of us are looking forward to blowing the whole thing wide open. But it has to happen. Some things are more important than peace, and too valuable to hide away forever. What am I waiting for? Just courage – the courage to put that missing piece back into my life, to wipe out that spreading ink blot of secrecy. This time, I’ll be the one to fill it in with the truth.

The last closet: Why I won’t be home for Christmas

Time to help one of our own

Ed Brayton, who founded Freethought Blogs and continues to run it with incomparable prowess, has just been through the rather terrifying ordeal of open heart surgery. He’s okay and on the road to recovery, but even with insurance, there are still plenty of out-of-pocket expenses to be paid. Ed is the reason FTB is here, and if there’s anything you can spare, please consider helping him by donating whatever you can.

Time to help one of our own