Monday, February 15, 2016

With to Without

Everyone has secrets.  "Skeletons in their closets."  Some have entire cemeteries.  My secret was so terrible that it almost killed me.  I was Trans- I was born in the wrong body, and I had to hide that.  I couldn't reveal it to anyone, lest I Suffer the consequences.

Until I finally told everyone my Truth.

Professor Jennifer Finney Boylan​ appeared at St. Joseph's University Feb 11, 2016.  I arrived late to the presentation, arriving during Q&A.  I was there e a couple of minutes when something she said while answering a student's question hit me like a 2x4.

She said that (paraphrasing) the biggest change in Coming Out wasn't changing gender, but from being someone WITH a big secret to being someone WITHOUT a big secret.

Professor Jennifer Finney Boylan at St. Joseph's University

I'd never thought of it that way, but she is absolutely correct.

I lived with my secret since I was four years old.  Why was it a secret?  In the 60s, 70's and 80s, being transgender in small town America was akin to a death sentence.  I was undersized to begin with, so that was hard enough.

So I held onto my secret.

I started dressing in my early teens.  I used the money from my paper route and later from Burger King to send away for clothes via mail order.  I used water balloons for breasts, as I didn't have the money for breast forms from the Michael Salem Boutique ads I'd see in the back of the Penthouse magazines I would occasionally find.  As I knew my brother would regularly come rooting through my room (our rooms were adjacent) I quickly learned to be VERY good at hiding not just my Secret, but physical items as well.   My parents sold that house in the 1990s, and I wouldn't be surprised if the current owners occasionally found clothing hidden in places I'd forgotten.

The, right around my 17th birthday, I stopped.  I was so ashamed of what I was doing.  After all, like most males of my generation, I'd been taught that men are superior to women.  Women are second class citizens.  And the popular media supported that assertion, of course.  That's a discussion for another time, though.  In any case, I purged all of my feminine clothes.  I put them all in trash bags and drove them down to the Burger King where I tossed them into the dumpster late one night.   And then I went about proving myself a Man.

Funny how right around that time is when suicidal thoughts started whispering into my head.

And so I kept the Secret.

And keeping it influenced my life's direction.  The following were the results, directly or indirect, of keeping my Secret:

  • Joining a Fraternity.
  • Drinking FAR too much into my 40s, and all the damage that caused to my life and careers
  • Desire never to have children
  • I'm told I exhibited misogynistic behavior.  I don't believe I did, but I will not deny it.
  • Playing VERY male stereotype characters in role playing games
  • More fights than I can count
  • Self-Hatred
  • Insecurity

And so much more.  That is far from a complete list, but you get the idea, dear reader.

On Halloween 2008, I dressed as a woman and went out to a party and to a bar.  It was my first time ever setting foot outside a house dressed that way.  I remember driving home from the bar, and all the repressed thoughts and desires coming back to me.  When I returned to MIL's house (where Wife and lived) I stayed dressed, taking pictures of myself for at least another hour.  After all, I'd never ever do this again, so...

Picture from that session.  I've never posted this anywhere before now

But I did.

Again and again.

I started a myspace account, a flickr account, and, eventually, a Facialbook account, all under my female persona to cultivate that growing aspect of my life.  Online, I met people who shared my secret.  Good people.

So I had hide the secret even deeper.  I drank more.  I became less patient with everything (and I was never that patient to begin with.)  I lashed out in anger.  I was so very ashamed that I could no longer stop my female side, now named Sophie, from emerging.  I needed to be Sophie.  And once a month, for a blissful few hours, I could be.  During those times, I met amazing people, many of whom are now among my dearest friends.  I could be ME around these people.

Veteran readers know the rest of the story.

Fast forward to 2014.  I began telling my closest friends, one by one, about my Truth.  I finalized plans to come out at work.  I made a pair of videos to send to friends.  Then, on March 24, at 10:30-ish PM, I sent out the message on Facebook, telling everyone.  I was so nervous!  I couldn't sleep that night!  Eventually, I received 73 messages of support.

I spent that week at the Keystone Conference in Harrisburg, PA.  I came back to the house where I was staying on Sunday March 30.  And then I went into the book store for the first time as Sophie, just to get it out of the way.  The next day, I started work as a woman.

Ready for my First Day at work as Sophie.

My secret was gone forever.

How did that feel?  Well the weight of a secret as old as me was lifted.  It vanished. I felt light as a feather.  I knew that I had a VERY rough road ahead (putting it mildly) but for the moment, I was giddy.  I was finally at Peace.  No more Secret.

It's really hard to put into words how free it made me feel.  I was... unburdened.  I could now move forward with my life.  I could start on the same footing that everyone else was born with.

I am nearly fifty years old.  I came out when I was 47.  Assuming normal life span, I spent over half of my life hiding what I felt was the worst possible shame.  I lied to everyone, especially those closest to me.  Especially to myself.  My dear friend, the beautiful Jenny North recently told me "We fool ourselves first before we fool others."  And she was so right.  I fooled myself into believing that I could hide my true self inside of me forever.  I fooled others into believing I was male.

I was the fool to hold onto the secret that long.  It nearly killed me.

I understand why so many hide being Trans.  Really I do.  In my case, I had nothing left to lose.  And as Janice Joplin sang, "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."

Jennifer Finney Boylan was absolutely correct.  I wonder how many in that room of college students could truly grasp that.  I know that every LGBT person did.  I did.  When she said it, I looked down at my feet.  I felt like laughing.  Or crying.  Or both.

Everyone has secrets.  "Skeletons in their closets."  Some have entire cemeteries.  I still have secrets that I will take to my grave.  But when the lying stopped, when I could face the world and say "I AM! I AM!  I AM!", that's when my life truly began.

Be Well.

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