So, in my working life, nobody knows I’m trans.
I’ve never been one of those people who came out easily. Every time I’ve done it (because it’s a never-ending process), it’s come out arse-backwards in one way or another.
It might not come as a surprise that trans people don’t exactly get treated well in a professional setting. When I asked to change my name at university a few years ago, my request was treated with ignorance, hostility and, most cuttingly of all, the assumption that I would come to regret my decision.
So, I’ve been more than a little reluctant to unveil the real me.
In my personal life, things haven’t been smooth sailing either.
I first came out as trans to a small group of friends when I was sixteen. Their responses ranged from “I knew there was something different about you” to “I have an aunt who used to be a man”. This was briefly reassuring. But then there was a lack of response.
My preferred name and pronouns were ignored completely. I began to realise that the people I had surrounded myself with had seen my tortured admission as nothing more than a passing whim. When I left school, I lost touch.
If someone comes out to you, never ignore it. Sure, it might not matter to you. But bloody hell, it mattered to them. They probably replayed every single way that conversation could have gone wrong in their head. They’ve probably spent weeks building up to it. And after they finish telling you, they’ve got to go and tell someone else. Then someone else. Then someone else. And on it goes- for the rest of their lives.
So, I saw what little value I had to my friends.
I had no intention of coming out to my family. My mother believes sex outside marriage is a sin, being gay is a choice and that “transgender” is a noun. My father was more easy-going, but would have insisted that my mother needed to know, and that I couldn’t upset her.
I upset her when I cut my hair. I upset her when I mentioned changing my name, let alone doing it. I upset her by deflecting even slightly from what she wanted.
I couldn’t let her know I wasn’t a girl.
So I moved away from my family, tried to be more like myself. I was closeted still, but I felt, this time, like I had surrounded myself with the right sort of people.
Admitting my queerness came easily at first. Some knew what I meant, had always wondered, and were willing to buy me a drink, talk over it. They were good friends: they were there when I needed them.
Others outed me to other people, stopped inviting me to things. They were bad friends: I’m glad I had the chance to find out when I did.
I had a partner of a year and a half. I told him.
It was bad. It got worse, stagnated and never got better again. To him, my life would be easier if I just sucked it up and pretended to be a woman.
I was a decorative object for his arm, and that was an end of it. I had upset him by telling him how I felt, and although he couldn’t forgive me, he would at least accept me as long as I made more of an effort to grow my hair and wear makeup.
It sickens me now to think I put up with that for two more years. But being “other” has a funny way of screwing with your self-worth.
It wasn’t the only relationship my being trans had buggered up. My dysphoria with my first girlfriend was so bad I couldn’t have sex with her. My emotional difficulties made it impossible to handle being in a relationship with someone else when I first started college.
All the trans people I knew were in relationships with other trans people, or were poly, or ase. I had no idea how to approach relationships from a trans perspective.
I tried the internet. I declared myself non-binary transgender on my OKC profile, and was subjected to daily microaggressions. People opened a conversation by asking what genitals I had, whether it was just a “cool” way of saying bisexual, or by expecting an in-depth political discussion.
I nearly managed to make connections with people. But it either ended with me realising that they were taking everything too seriously and were no fun, or were having too much fun and weren’t taking me seriously.
Then, without wanting to, I met someone.
I was trying to get a girlfriend. Pretending to be a woman and trying to get a girlfriend, in the hope that a queer woman was more likely to “get” it than anyone else.
But then when I started on my PGCE course, I met a really nice arse.
The really nice arse was pleasant enough. I like a good arse. The person it was attached to was a bit of a busybody, mind. Kept turning up and asking if I was going to be doing Sociable Things. The owner of the nice arse became irritating in that his constantly being about made it kind of hard not to think about the nice arse.
Things came to a head when the owner of the really nice arse tried to buy me coffee. I insisted on paying for it, but the damage was already done. I spent the next hour and a half desperately trying not to think about not only the nice arse, but its owner. Also, the fact I didn’t drink coffee, but had still accepted one from this arse-owning moron was slightly bothersome.
The owner of the really nice arse captained a sports team. I joined the sports team. I went on a social with other members of the sports team. Consumed beverages. Ended up consuming a few too many things with bubbles in, and said I was going home. He offered to take me back to his for whisky and conversation.
Of course I went. And we had the whisky, and the conversation, and things got shared. He has AS. He’s been watching me and cataloging my stims (repetitive actions that people use to calm themselves down or otherwise feel good). Talking to him was exposing and frightening and honest, and told me that he wasn’t just the owner of a really nice arse. He was a person worth speaking to. Let’s call him J.
It got late, and I got tired, and he ordered me a taxi. As we said goodbye, he stood on the doorstep.
“I don’t really know, but were you wanting a kiss?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Sort of, yeah, but it’s not that important. It’d be nice, but if you don’t want to, that’s fine.”
“Okay. You should know that I don’t really do one-night-stands or anything.”
He said something else. It was one in the morning and I’d had quite a lot of things with fermented sugars in. I wasn’t, if I’m honest, listening. I looked as attentive as I could and came to the conclusion that I would not be getting my kiss.
“Okay,” I nodded.
I got my kiss, which was a surprise. Again, I wasn’t paying attention to begin with, but I got there. Then I went home.
It suddenly occurred to me that I should have been listening to him before I (unknowingly) accepted that kiss. It was somehow contractual, and I hadn’t read the Terms and Conditions.
I spent the next few days trying to figure out what they were. There was always the possibility that he didn’t remember the fact we’d kissed. So, I invited him over on Saturday, and we talked it through.
There was someone else. Not in a meaningful way, but in a he’d got stupidly drunk and it was before he even thought I might like him so they shagged kind of a way. I was like, “But it’s me, though, isn’t it?” and gave him the option to go for a beer and let things take their inevitable course.
So then, almost out of nowhere, I had a boyfriend. Which was good, because J is awesome and a nerd, but bad because he may have been under the impression that I was his girlfriend.
Three weeks later, walking through a shopping centre, we were talking about a friend of mine, who J had assumed to be female. I just tended to avoid pronouns when talking about him, because at that time I wasn’t sure how he identified, as his presentation was very fluid.
J went on a rant about how people shouldn’t get upset when you use the wrong pronouns if they haven’t told you. I felt, as you might understand, like this was particularly relevant. So I grabbed him by the shirt-front and turned him to face me.
“What’s the mattter?” he asked.
“I’m not female,” I replied, desperate. “I’m not male either, but I’m not female.”
That was the moment. That was the moment I would look back on as the one where everything fell apart. I knew, because I’d been there before.
“Okay. I sort of knew. I like it, in a way, that you’re not female.”
No refusal, no condemnation, no stupid questions, no denial. Just accepting my gender identity like it’s the most average thing in the world.
He doesn’t know other trans people. He never identified as queer. He’s just a decent human being who accepts he can never empathise, but isn’t going to treat me as something I’m not.
I’m not saying J is special. It’s early days. But he helped me realise that I am worth something, not dressed up to look like something else, not as an accessory, but as who I am. He treats me like a human being.
I don’t want to be treated differently. I understand why NBs get called “special snowflakes” but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to torch the morons alive for saying it. Because I’m not special. I’m ordinary, just like everyone else. And I’ve finally found someone who makes me feel ordinary.
If J feels like that, he can’t be the only one. Good people who don’t expect a cookie every time they’re nice to a queer person.
Trans people don’t have to choose between being authentic and being loved. I know this now.