I’m out. Are you out?
It’s an odd word that carries such a lot of baggage in our community. Being out, having a public acknowledgement of being trans, that is. It seems as though it should be a very simple thing in which you either are or you aren’t, but sadly there’s a lot more more complexity to it than that.
From where I am sitting, being out is and always has been about not having the stress and worry that I might be outed by someone else if I was trying to keep anything to do with being trans a secret. In the years before going full-time I came out to my circle of friends for that reason, in the event that someone found out it would kill any unpleasantness or gossip stone dead when they met with an “I know, so what?” response. And after transition I have remained unbothered about the fact that my being trans is not a secret. I talk about it a lot in a few places such as when writing here, my trade union activism, or my support group, but elsewhere it’s just part of who I am that people know about. Just getting on with life has been the order of the day.
For some people though the opposite is the case. Being trans is such a terrible source of shame that escaping even the label becomes core to their identity. Once they consider their transition “done” they will seemingly go to any lengths to erase any trans identity, and often by my observation put themselves in a far worse closet than they were in before transition. Which is their choice, but when it adversely affects other trans people it becomes something that is not appropriate. I and many others like me will support our trans siblings in their choices all the way, but internalise your distaste for it to the point at which it becomes outright transphobia against other trans people and expect to be called out on it.
So I’m several years post-transition, getting on with life, but still out. Except I find myself in the odd position now that there are a whole swathe of people who know me or know of me to whom I’m not exactly out. As someone who has carved a whole new career post-transition as a technical journalist I now have a much larger online community who know me as Jenny who writes about tech than I do who know me as anything else. To them I’m not Jenny who transitioned and used to be someone else, nor am I trans Jenny, just Jenny. It’s not that I’ve sought to remain in a closet to them, just that my trans status is not relevant to the relationship I have with them: I don’t write about being trans in the places they read my work. If any of them stumble upon nGendr, then hello, and Now You Know.
This is an odd situation to be in, because to what extent do I talk about trans stuff on my public social media presence? I am desperate not to retreat into some ghastly online closet from which I could so easily be outed, but that said I don’t think it’s appropriate to spam them with reams and reams of my Inner Trans Musings and retweets of those of others. So until now I’ve opted for a discreet approach, talk about it occasionally in general terms, but not incessantly. It’s been interesting to watch some of them figure it out for themselves, and also pleasing to find that those who have do not have any issues with it. Trolls don’t bother me, but it’s always better not to have the problem in the first place.
The whole situation leaves me with a slight discomfort though. I believe that trans people will gain acceptance through dignified visibility, and as a result I will never become one of those who erase it. But here I am consciously moderating what I say on the subject, and I’m not entirely sure I’m comfortable with that. It feels too much like a sort of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which is rather cowardly.
I’ve therefore decided to tackle the subject head-on. Not to spam my tech followers with too much trans stuff, but to be more out in that arena and consequences be damned. No longer be afraid to post pictures with me in them, have the #GirlsLikeUs hashtag clearly visible in my profiles, and to post a little more openly about things that really matter to me. The closet door that might have opened before me has been avoided, and it feels good.
How you deal with your trans identity is your choice, we all have different life circumstances and I’m rather lucky to be in a place in which I can be open about it. We all talk about it a lot while going through the transition process because it rather fills our brains, but as that fades into the past there is still room to be open about it. It’s part of who I am, and there’s no shame in it being part of you, too.
Picture of flag waver at Portland demo for Orlando nightclub bombings: sarahmirk [CC BY-SA 4.0 ]