It’s October 30th 2014 and I’m at a client’s site working on repairing a computer for them. Fresh Air is on in the background and Terry Gross is interviewing Jill Soloway about their show Transparent. Transparent is a show I’ve heard about from primarily trans people who criticize the fact that the show, like many others, casts a cis man as a trans woman. I have not watched an episode to this day and on the TV, Terry and Jill start discussing gender. Jill identifies as non-binary. I had never heard that term used before but it hits me like a ton of bricks. The clients I’m working for are nearby so I try to keep my cool but really all I want to do is find some privacy so I can research more about what non-binary means. I finish my work as quickly as possible, rush to my car and sit there on my phone for a good hour pouring through Google search results for non-binary, then I move on to terms like demigirl, genderfluid, and genderqueer.
That night I tell my partner I’m genderfluid. She’s surprised I’m just learning about non-binary people now. We had a conversation about her potentially being non-binary a few months ago where she used expressions like feeling masculine, and terms I hadn’t yet learned the context of. It was a conversation I didn’t realize I wasn’t understanding. She thinks I’m trying to copy her in some way. Later when I tell her I want to go by the name Harley Quinn, she retorted that, “It makes me think you just want to be a comic book character.” Our relationship didn’t last much longer.
I keep my name to myself for a year after that despite coming out to many close friends. It takes me a long time to process how deep those words of hers cut me. I know I don’t want to be a comic book character but that criticism eats away at me. Harley Quinn is a character I love, she is a powerful woman with no fear, who has gone through a lot of abuse at the hands of a man who’s supposed to care about her. It’s a story that resonates with me because I want to be a powerful woman, I want to have no fear, and I too have suffered abuse at the hands of a man who was supposed to care about me.
Eventually I find a safe space of supportive people online who play video games together. I join under my dead name but am fully open about my gender and sexuality. I think I want to use she/her & they/them pronouns, but the first time I hear someone refer to me by “she” I know that’s all I want to hear. Soon I work up the courage to tell them the name I want to go by. Everyone instantly accepts it, and many people tell me how much they love it. This finally gives me the confidence to tell other people in my life.
It’s Spring 2010 and I’m almost through my first year of college. I’m talking to one my best friends, she’s telling me that she’s not a man; and soon she’s going to come out publicly. She’s big into jokes. I’m a kid who has high functioning autism (I didn’t know that yet) which often makes me terrible at reading people; and although I am accepting of LGBT+ people, I’m extremely under-educated on most of it, especially trans issues. I tell her that I’ll accept her no matter what, but I’m not sure if this is a joke because, “you’re always telling jokes.” She soon drops out of school and comes out halfway through our two-year course. I don’t understand why she doesn’t finish with school before coming out, or just continue with school while transitioning. Later in life I will learn just how naive my line of thinking was. Mutual “friends” say things to me like “I don’t care what he is. I’ll accept him, but I’m not gonna use a different name or call him ‘her’.” I don’t really understand because that’s not what acceptance is. She’s made her wishes clear, why won’t they respect them?
Her and I grow apart after she drops out. She’s working third shift and I’m working second shift while going to school. I’m also dealing with having just left the hardcore christian, conservative, abusive home I grew up in, as well as being on the autism spectrum without realizing it. We still see each other from time to time, and we end up staying in touch over the internet on and off for a few years after school. I realize sometime later that she was attracted to me, but due to internalized transphobia I didn’t notice.
One rather lonely night relatively early on into realizing I was non-binary, I decide to tell her that I want to transition too. We hadn’t talked in months yet I send her a text saying, “I’ve realized I’m trans, I need hormones, and I have no clue how to get them.” Hindsight makes me realize this is an incredible amount of shit to dump on someone, especially someone who was still learning how to be comfortable in her own transition. She’s sends a short text back saying, “Please don’t talk to me about this”, along with a link to the website she was getting her hormones from before she could find medical help.
Over the next couple of years it slowly dawns on me how little I was actually there for her as she was going through one of the hardest parts of her life. She came out to me early, I was clearly someone she trusted, and I was to caught up in my own shit to be there for her in the time she most needed someone. Then I thought I had the right to dump my own problems on her with no warning. How I handled our relationship shall remain my biggest regret in life, and even saying that feels selfish of me.
There are some strange conversations that happens when you come out to cis people as a trans woman. The first question you almost always get is some rendition of, “So you’re gay?”. They never actually mean, “Are you gay?” What they mean is “Are you attracted to men?”. In my case, yes I’m really gay but no I’m not attracted to men. Society is so warped by homophobia and transphobia that most people don’t even fully understand the concepts, even after you try to lay them out.
Sometimes you will come out to someone expecting it to be a hard conversation but they instantly accept you. It can kind of blow you away. You’re thinking maybe I underestimated this person. More often than not, later down the road you find out that there are exceptions to their acceptance. They will think or say things like, “Yea I’ll accept your gender, but I’m never gonna be comfortable with not using your ‘real’ name, it’s just who you are to me.” People put no thought into how much this can hurt someone as they are essentially rejecting the very core of who you are and they clearly put no time into actually learning about what it means to be trans.
As I write this, I’m about to reach the third year anniversary of the day I heard that episode of Fresh Air and realized I was genderfluid. I’ve since started using multiple names with those I’m closest to as I feel it better represents the many facets of my gender. I have yet to gain access to hormones or put much work into my voice, despite wanting to, due to extreme anxiety, lack of transportation, and money.
If there are trans people in your life, be there for them, offer to help them in any way you can, and stick to that commitment. Don’t push them into talking about things they don’t want to, or rely on them to educate you. Be proactive, educate yourself, arrange to spend time with them. Don’t give up if they sometimes say no to spending time together, or if they have to cancel plans you’ve already set. You can make a huge difference in how easy it is for someone to become comfortable with themselves.