Coming Out (Part Two Of Four): Spooking, Disclosure And The Revolving Closet Doors


One of the many problematic aspects of treating gay and lesbian (mostly just gay) experiences and narratives as the archetype against which all queer experience is measured is how it causes particular models and tropes of queer lives to be applied indiscriminately across the many varying identities that comprise our community All kinds of important nuances, subtleties and distinctions can get lost in this process, and entire identities erased. Concepts, issues and experiences which are complex or problematic in very particular ways for certain kinds of queer lives end up being expected to fit into the same patterns, and have all the same implications and meanings and values, as how they operate in relation to gay lives.

There are lots of issues that end up being treated as exceptionally meaningful and central to queer experience, often being sort of central rallying points for the LGBTQ rights movement despite their lack of universality, and how they really don’t have nearly the same implications for everyone. Marriage equality, for instance, is treated as sort of the priority objective in the push forward for legal equality even while the narratives used to support it can be dismissive of other queer identities, such as those who are polyamorous or asexual. Non-discrimination bills will be structured around sexual orientation while choosing to leave gender identity and gender expression out of the wording. The “born this way” narrative is pushed in increasingly dogmatic terms at the expense of bisexual, pansexual and gender-fluid experiences. Narratives of gay self-acceptance often hinge themselves on the idea of bisexuality not even existing. The “just like normal people” narrative pushes aside butch, effeminate, drag and transgender identities entirely.

And the concept of coming out, its significance and what it means, is applied indiscriminately across the queer spectrum, failing to consider the vastly different implications it carries for people who are not gay or lesbian… such as how it means something almost wholly different for transsexual experience.

In the archetypal gay/lesbian narrative, coming out is a singular moment of triumph and courage. It is considered one of the absolute most central and defining rites of passage in the life of the queer individual. Before that moment, there is a closet… stifled, ashamed, scared. After that moment, there is out… accepting, brave, unashamed, proud, free. The closet is self-denial, pretending to be something you’re not. Out of the closet and you are finally freely expressing yourself and your actual honest identity.

For trans people, it does not quite work like that.

For us, there certainly is a moment where we come out to friends and family and inform them that we are transitioning, or plan to transition. But this is hardly a singular action that moves us out of our shame and inauthentic self into who we truly are. Instead, the process of transition itself will often construct a new closet of sorts. In fact, the whole “closet” metaphor, with an outside and an inside, doesn’t really make sense at all relative to transsexual narratives. This gets complicated because we’re juggling far more iterations of identity than simply a closeted self and an out self. We move from our closeted, ashamed, pre-transition existence into a transitional existence, but the transitioning self is not the honest identity -in fact it’s hardly any better than the closeted self we were a few seconds before- and the act of coming out while cathartic and important does not in itself grant us arrival at an identity that is meaningful and true for us. The goal is typically to end up living and being accepted as our identified sex, which is a further step along a continuum of experiences, and full acceptance within that identity will, by the nature of the world we live in, often largely be conditional on the degree to which we can disguise our transsexual history and experience and leave those prior identities, including the transitional one we constructed through the act of coming out. In a way, we come out so we can find somewhere comfier to go in.

Whether we choose to be stealth or not, we will attempt to present ourselves in a manner consistent with our gender identity. If binary-identified, this means that our presentation is not wholly concomitant with our history, and in the eyes of the world we are disguising who we “really” are. That isn’t true, of course, and the self we are presenting is our real self. But binary-identified transsexual identity is largely predicated on walking a tightrope between acceptance of ourselves as trans while also trying to maintain social and interpersonal acceptance as our identified sex. The concept of a closet is useless here.

What we end up with is an endless series of disclosures. Over and over and over again in our lives, we will again have to “come out” and disclose our gender status… sometimes called “spooking” in regards to intimate partners, due to their sad propensity to get spooked out of their wits by that fact. This act, disclosure in regards to sexual intimacy, presents us with a horrible, anxious, and extremely risk (not only emotionally, but physically) confrontation with “closets” every time we attempt to pursue relationships. We can of course simply be so open about our gender that everyone knows before any kind of courtship begins, but that carries its own consequences, such as the risk of people dismissing us as worth dating and writing us off before even taking a shot at getting to know us and see if we have any chemistry. It also presents us with the challenges and complications of people pursuing us strictly because we’re trans. Disclosure is an endless series of tough choices, each one carrying the risks of broken hearts (or broken ribs), unless we end up lucky enough to find ourselves in a loving, long-term relationship and can finally put it behind us. We’re constantly hovering in an anxious space between “in” and “out”.

Even beyond romantic and sexual relationships, there just really is no definitive “in”/”out” dichotomy for trans lives. Instead we’re constantly weaving in and out of various degrees of trust and understanding, various types of relationships with varying degrees of information we’ve chosen to provide people. Some may understand our bodies intimately. Some may understand that our sexual identity and gender isn’t quite so clean cut. Some may know that we’re transsexual, but not know our op status or when we transitioned or any of that. Some may be so close that we’ve entrusted them with our birth names and childhood photographs, all the intimate and painful memories and stories of our prior lives. And these degrees will shift and change over time. Some people will be pulled closer in to our circle, and some may be cut away. We’ll negotiate and renegotiate our precise boundaries and what feels right for us. We endlessly walk our tightrope, and move in and out of an infinite series of revolving closet doors.

Each of these individual acts of disclosure, of expanding or contracting our boundaries, carries unique and individual significance. Rather than there simply being one overarching state of “out of the closet and proud to be who I am!”, we need to negotiate in each interpersonal relationship or context the precise dimensions of our “closet”, of the information we’re prepared to disclose and the consequences we’re willing to accept. What it means to have a trans person tell you their gender status is very different than what it means for a gay person to inform you of their sexual orientation. The potential consequences are different, the implications are different, the level of trust is different, and the way it effects interpretation of identity is different. While a gay man’s personal identity in relation to his sexual orientation may be “gay” and adding “out” to that identity is only a solidification and assertion of who he proudly (rightly) presents himself as, a trans woman’s personal identity (and outward presentation) in relation to gender is usually primarily just “woman”, and disclosure of her transsexuality will potentially compromise the degree to which that identity is accepted… rather than disclosure of “trans” and “out” being something that strengthens the identity she presents, it’s something that qualifies, modifies and possibly undermines that identity. The disclosure is an act of trust… trusting that you won’t use that qualification against her, and decide that it supercedes and undoes the identity she’s presented to you, and feels herself to be.

As said, there’s not simply two states for a trans person, out and in, but instead a constant renegotiation of boundaries. For me, at this point in my life, I am almost as out as a trans woman possibly can be. I’ve even been willing to take the risk and sacrifice of allowing my gender status to be a public identity, something I share openly with a potentially infinite number of strangers. But at any point in the future I may choose to renegotiate. I could choose to go stealth. I could cease my blogging, or simply begin compartmentalizing my meatspace social and professional lives as wholly apart from my online presence, and choose to keep my trans status quiet in the former. My relative degree of “passing” privilege would allow this to be a real possibility, and doing this would allow for considerable validation of my gender and generally make things a bit easier for me, a little bit more like a “normal” woman’s life. It could make me happier. And indeed, even as I currently live, I’m not walking around with a neon flashing tranny sign above my head. As I maneuver through my life, depending on my interactions, the degree to which I am accepted as a woman, a trans woman,or not accepted as either, is in constant flux.

Now what if I did go stealth? This is where application of the meaning of closets in the archetypal gay/lesbian sense to trans experience becomes harmful. Under that narrative, the closet is said to represent shame, lack of self-acceptance, limitation, cowardice and not being true to yourself. But for a trans person, going stealth can instead actually be a case of asserting one’s true identity and refusing to have it be compromised by a history you never chose. You can place the “trans” behind you and simply be the woman or man that you are, and let that be your identity (and the whole of it). Interpreting all queer narrative through a particular lens ends up destroying these important distinctions and nuances, forcing narratives to conform to concepts that don’t make sense for them, and leading to negative contextualizations of what can be positive, individual acts of empowerment.

It’s often been argued that the closet metaphor is in itself destructive, that coming out of one closet is to place yourself in another. You remove a false “straight” identity, but instead box yourself in to the limitations of an equally socially constructed gay, lesbian, bi (or other) identity. I find this interesting… not in that I feel that it isn’t important and powerful to assert one’s sexual identity and refuse to hide it, but in that it illustrates the limitations of the closet metaphor, and points out how the metaphor is entirely about how we construct our identity. When you imagine the available identities as only a choice between two constructs, that’s not exactly as freeing as “coming out” initially presents itself to be. There are so many more than two possible iterations of sexual identity. The degree to which trans narratives smash the closet metaphor to little splintery pieces simply by trying to stuff into that limited metaphor such a multi-faceted set of experiences based so much on the inherent complexity of human identity- personal, interpersonal, cultural – and the many individual negotiations of it, is highly evocative of how limited concepts can sometimes become, even if initially useful.

The closet metaphor IS useful. Absolutely. It does mark what is an important experience in the process of self-acceptance and actualization in certain kinds of queer lives. But when these metaphors begin to be applied indiscriminately, without attentiveness to what they mean in different contexts… when we begin unconsciously allowing the entirety of queer identity to be dictated by what makes sense for very specific, archetypal, “default” (and privileged) types of queer experience, we quickly begin demanding that other lives and narratives conform to it.

Queerness is about nothing if not variance. We need to be able to understand the variance and nuance that occurs within queerness, and we need to be able to adapt our metaphors and concepts to accommodate our beautiful diversity. What is a closet and prison in one experience can be a protective set of boundaries, or a wardrobe from which to clothe and express a meaningful and comfortable identity, for another.

Comments

  1. embertine says

    I find your points very interesting as regards the trans identity, and I would add that actually the big gay coming out revelatory moment isn’t really a reflection of most queer people’s lives anyway.

    Partly because, as you’ve described for trans people, coming out is a continual process and it lasts your whole life. Heterosexuality is still assumed to be the default setting, and I know that most people who meet me assume I’m straight because I have long hair and paint my nails.

    I came out as bi to my mum last year (scariest thing ever, my hands were shaking so much I threw red wine all over her sofa) but my friends have known for years, most of them as long as they’ve known me. When I meet new people and we get to the stage of small talk when they ask about partners, I have to take a deep breath and brace myself for it all over again.

    And this is where I absolutely agree with you about the idea of the voluntary closet. I am not really out at work, just because the reaction of some people when they find out I’m bi is to treat me as some exotic hothouse flower and that distracts them from treating me as a person that they have to work with. Also, it’s none of their damn business.

    If that seems like deceit or cowardice, well, I’m OK with that.

  2. Anders says

    So it’s more like one of those Japanese castles where all the internal walls are movable rice paper screens. Given a little effort you can reconfigure the whole damn castle.

  3. TomeWyrm says

    Embertine, I wonder if the experience of “outing” myself is different because I’m a bisexual guy, or something else. Because I haven’t seen as strong a reaction to the revelation that I’m bi, as to that you describe. I usually inform people with a simple statement when something needs clarifying. And after the initial (amusing) aftershocks while perceptions change and assumptions are broken, nothing important actually changes. For instance I was with a group of het girls and they commented on a passing hunk. They didn’t know I was bi, and I agreed with their assessments. They were shocked for a few seconds until I said simply “I’m bi”, and moved on.

    I do strongly agree with the fact that it’s nobody’s business to be prying into your sexual orientation. I just happen to freely share mine because of the relative safety of doing so where I am… and the amusement I garner from the reactions to the revelation.

    ——

    On to my reactions to Natalie’s blog post:

    I’m a bisexual male, and I find it simpler to just let people assume I’m heterosexual. It works most of the time both because I am more strongly physically attracted to females (and my romantic orientation is quite strongly hetero), and because I just don’t broadcast much of anything. I’ve discovered I’m very hard to ‘read’, people (even my friends of many years) are shocked quite often by my statements of feelings, impressions, and thoughts. I never really came out of “The Closet” I just gained some additional self-awareness. Thanks to the new information, I get another thing I have to include in the ever-shifting tightrope walk of risk assessment/management I undergo every time I do anything with other people.

    The experience of (to borrow a computing term) setting individual permissions to access your personal data, speaks to me from personal experience. In some ways nobody sees the real me, just the bits of me or one of my masks that I choose to let them see. My close friends get a lot of information, and a pretty close look at a lot of who I am, what I’ve done, and even what I aspire to be. Being social for me is a constant evaluation of trust and risk. What do I dare show of myself, my proclivities, and my opinions? Should I prepare to cut my losses and run? Maybe it’ll be easier to just be my public face today. Do I risk being emotionally savaged by opening up and telling my best friend about my recent troubles, or do I continue to bear them until I break from the strain, overcome the problem, or mature enough to risk less?

    That I can go “stealth” and blend in with neurotypical het cis males is both a blessing and a curse. I don’t like pretending to be someone I’m not, but I can’t risk being wholly who I am. Either I beat myself up, or someone else does. I guess that’s the price I pay for being awesome; being different, because being the same as everyone else is just plain boring.

    ——

    Anders, that’s actually very similar to a visualization I’ve used for my own brain. A castle with movable walls, though mine is made of stone. The metaphor I use for the mental gymnastics I use in social situations is generally masks, though a more accurate one is actually stepping into another persona.

    • embertine says

      That I can go “stealth” and blend in with neurotypical het cis males is both a blessing and a curse

      Change males to females and THIIIIISSSSSS.

      I agree that perhaps it’s a gender thing – there is a lot less fetishisation of male bisexuality. On the other hand, a lot of people think you’re invisible or mythical, so there’s that!

      I gather the risk of violence is so much greater when you’re trans that I would say that going stealth is only sensible most of the time, even if it does contribute to trans invisibility.

      • TomeWyrm says

        Actually the most common stereotype I see is that I’m some kind of orgiastic obsessed promiscuous satyr. Next one is probably that I’m actually gay, because bi guys don’t exist. I still get a chuckle every time I think of mental institutions that maintained until recently that I was imaginary. I’ve made jokes about taking messages to the unicorns and – among my atheist friends – God, for them; because I was IMAGINARY!

        As for me, I’m not trans (Unless you were talking about Natalie. I’m very glad she’s okay with being publicly a trans-woman). In the great galaxy of terms with various shades of meaning in the LBGT universe, of the ones I’m currently aware, I can’t classify myself. The mental picture of ‘me’ is – quite honestly – f***ed up. I’m biologically male, that’s fine with me, I quite like my cock, just like I have a distinct fondness for those belonging to other people while not diminishing my lack of fondness for breasts and vulvas.

        But the mental me. The image I conjure when I think of my mental self? That’s a girl. Somewhere in the neighborhood of ten, lace-trimmed dress, wavy shoulder length hair. I’ve looked into SRS, and for some reason it just doesn’t appeal. Mental me is female, physical me is male… and for some reason that I should probably be amazingly thankful for, that causes no mental dissonance.

        I’m a guy whose brain is a girl. Not a girl trapped in a man’s body, nor any other scenario I’ve heard from the stories told by trans people about their pre-transition state. Then again that’s no less screwy than anything else about my hard-to-classify self.

        • Anders says

          This points to the need to develop a multi-scalar approach to GID. We not only have to consider actual orientation (Trans Man, Trans Woman, Genderqueer, Other options that doubtlessly exist that I’ve forgotten) but also intensity (TomeWyrm would have low intensity, Natalie would have high intensity) and degree – how far does a person want to go with transition. For some people, wearing women’s clothing and living as a woman may be enough, other want the whole kit. None of these terms are set in stone, but I think the underlying concepts may be valuable. YMMV.

          • TomeWyrm says

            I was about to make a point about intensity, when I realized it could actually be two (or a bunch of) different things. Such as the number of ways you are trans, and the degree to which you are those ways.

            Like my mental image of my body is male, while that of my mind is female. Unless I parsed the story totally wrong, Natalie’s are both female. Whereas I would probably not enjoy dressing in typically female clothing, with some caveats (but there’s always exceptions), while Natalie apparently does. Makeup bugs me more for the inability to scratch/touch my face than actually wearing or applying it (Theater is how I know of that particular experience. Stage makeup sucks under those stupid lights). There are lots and lots of issues, which any one metric would be hard pressed to capture the nuances of… though I guess that’s pretty much the problem with being queer: we don’t fit into neat little boxes very well.

          • Anders says

            The trouble is that the same person may present as different genders depending on context. They may go to work as a man but go out to party as a female. And there’s no easy way to describe that. We’ll probably have to settle for describing most of the population (ex. MtF and FtM, although I don’t know if they actually are the most common) and put a box with “Other – please explain” on the form.

          • TomeWyrm says

            Which is really all you can do with labels. Stick as big a portion of the group as you can into the box, and then basically leave the leftovers to hover nearby and sorta – but not really – fit. It’s why I try really hard not to use them – which is a bit of a problem for a habitual classifier :-)

          • Specify Other says

            The idea of intensity really resonates with me, because although I’m not sure of my identity yet (male-bodied but maybe genderqueer?), I think it may fit into that sort of situation. There’s a mind/body mismatch of some kind, but it’s something that has a fairly low impact on my daily life and mental health. Not that it’s not there, and not that I don’t feel the need to vent about it to a couple very trusted friends every once in awhile. But it’s well within what I consider livable.

            P.S. The D&D classing is awesome.

          • Laura says

            “The trouble is that the same person may present as different genders depending on context. They may go to work as a man but go out to party as a female. And there’s no easy way to describe that.”

            Yes there is! It’s called being genderfluid or, in the specific case that you mention, “bi-gendered” :)

            Of course, it’s kind of an umbrella term and it doesn’t account for all the possible individual variants. Some of us have triggers that send us into one mode or another, some of us switch randomly or depending on our mood, some of us, as you say, have very definite contexts in which we identify/manifest one way or the other (work = male mode, party = female mode, for example)…

            But anyway, the thing is that there _is_ a term for that :)

      • says

        I’m pretty fine with passing as straight most of the time (offline), too, but only because the alternative is answering the same “hilarious” questions about whether or not I have sex with plants every single time.

        • TomeWyrm says

          Wait… sex with PLANTS?! That’s a new one for me.

          I actually pass straight much less online because of the extra protection afforded of distance, semi-anonymity, and most importantly: an off switch. For IRL/meatspace, I just let people assume what they will, and correct them when it’s important. I’m an opinionated, obese, smart, queer, bisexual… there are too many incorrect assumptions to correct in my lifetime, so I eventually just quit worrying about it.

          • Anders says

            Forgot the :)

            My fondness of deadpan humor probably leads many people to think I’m worse than I really am.

          • TomeWyrm says

            Right… how exactly did my brain not parse that? I learned how to give, erm, more in-depth oral attentions using a banana. The tonsillectomy helped too :D

          • says

            Yeah… I’m asexual, some plant species are asexual, therefore I must have sex with them!

            I’m pretty vocal about these things online, but as you say, there are too many assumptions to deal with offline. Especially since I’m married, and there are so many cruel stereotypes about “sexless” marriages. It’s not really anybody’s business what we do in the bedroom.

          • TomeWyrm says

            You know, I envy you your asexuality. My libido has been nothing but a pain in my ass all my life. Even before I knew what it was, it was there making my life difficult.

            Most of the time I try to keep it locked in a box and thrown into my deepest mental dungeon, but it can still taunt me from there, still whisper suggestions and play naughty movies starring friends in my mind’s eye. Fighting a constant battle with yourself to behave like a rational human being instead of a set of sex-organs with a body as an afterthought to give access to locomotion, is an amazingly draining thing.

            Replace “rage” with “lust” and I found my theme song for how I feel about my libido a few months ago. Monster by Skillet (Yes they’re a Christian Rock band. Don’t hold it against them :-D) Sometimes it literally feels like a monster in my head trying to enslave me, to suborn me, and to eventually become me.

            ———-

            Right… um… that was dark and depressing… I’m going to go bury my brain in some of Maggie Finson’s fine literature and forget all about it for a while before I kick myself into working on that chainmaille diadem I was commissioned to do.

          • says

            …and I envy people who do have libidos. Being asexual is not as freeing an experience as sexual folks seem to think it is. It’s actually kind of a monstrous pain in the ass.

            The grass is always greener, even when it’s rainbow, no?

          • Anders says

            TomeWyrm – take some antidepressants. Not only do they kill your desire, they also kill your ability… believe me, I know. :(

          • TomeWyrm says

            I know I’ve had a couple different kinds of psychoactive drugs… that’s not the right word is it? Mind-affecting? Anyway, none of them did much to my libido, and I don’t like drugs anyway. If I don’t need them (even painkillers like aspirin), I don’t use them. I can handle my sex drive without drugs, but I’ll look into the antidepressants for if it ever gets worse. Thanks!

          • Anders says

            Psychotropic drugs. Yeah, they don’t have that effect on everyone. 5% of all women on fluoxetine (Prozac) get an orgasm every time they sneeze. I understand it becomes rather distracting (and I don’t think they are fantastic, can’t-speak-for-30-minutes orgasms either).

  4. MaNonny says

    When I’ve thought of “queer” I always figured it came with the assumption that [whatever is being defined as queer] isn’t a good fit with established norms, full stop. I think, therefore, that it is a good thing to point out that even within communities that identify as queer, there is a bit of assumption that you fit a label or mold.

    Labels are helpful in concisely clarifying political positions and/or pointing out why change is needed on a particular issue. However, labels will always fall short of a person’s entire identity, even when it does fit a part of the identify, which I think we forget more often than we should. To use an example you mentioned in the post, the label “gay” marriage has been used as shorthand for legal battles waging recently to increase rights for LGBTQ persons, when in reality we really should just be fighting for any consenting adults to enter into whatever financial/legal/emotional agreement they desire.

    It is messier to explain to people the full intent/situation (and it may not even be their right to know about it) in order to include EVERYONE (not just majority), so people use heuristics. I’m glad you have pointed out why this method falls short.

    • Anders says

      [I]n reality we really should just be fighting for any consenting adults to enter into whatever financial/legal/emotional agreement they desire.

      While I agree that this would be desirable, I don’t think it would be doable. The resistance against polygamy is still too strong and we would lose valuable allies and give our enemies a powerful propaganda weapon. It’s better to do it in baby-steps.

      Regarding your other point – you may want to restrict the usage so that those who only deviate slightly from the norm aren’t counted. Being genderqueer (for instance) carries with it certain connotations, such as being memmber of a discriminated group. I don’t follow the gender stereotype in that I watch My Little Pony, but to imply that I’m persecuted and discriminated against because of this is just silly.

      • TomeWyrm says

        …in reality we really should just be fighting for any consenting adults to enter into whatever financial/legal/emotional agreement they desire.

        Admirable goal MaNonny, but like Anders I think it’s not going to work that way. Polygamy is a highly hated topic in modern society, as are incest and a list of things that I could go on an on and on about (for instance the sexual offense/abuse/molestation laws being essentially property protection laws that serve to give society someone to punish, not actually protect the victims. Though they are slowly getting better). Many of which really aren’t nearly as harmful as certain people would like everyone to believe. Which I supposed is true of a lot of things.

        Just like feminism had – and still has – to take things slowly, so too do the LBGT activists. Change of this fundamental a nature takes time, or we just end up going backwards.

        • MaNonny says

          I know it won’t be that easy, and it won’t be instantaneous. Polygamy and incest are definitely hot button issues, but I think much of it has to do with the history of coercion. Polygamy is often religiously justified, and it has been used as a way to reduce women’s rights (women are property of men, so a man can collect as many wives as he wants; where are the woman’s rights to marry whomever she wants in return?). Incest was often a way to “racially purify” a family line or to abuse children. I think education about pitfalls (biological harm to children, psychology of being in these types of relationships), and protections for those who cannot consent (children, marginalized groups that are coerced) would ultimately be more egalitarian. But in the end, marriage is a legal document, and technically any two adults should be able to sign a legal document with each other.

          But, of course, “marriage” has other connotations (sexual relationships, emotional relationships), which is why it continues to make people queasy to let in people who’ve been historically excluded – people will have to reduce stigma that had been directed at a socially deviant group.

          In the end, I just advocate for some evidence for why consenting adults SHOULDN’T be able to do something that affects no one else but them (instead of “but it’s icky!”). I’m not for or against different types of relationships; if it’s not my relationship, it’s not my business, unless you can prove that harm is coming to someone due to the relationship and that their lives would, in fact, improve without it (i.e. we know that abusive relationships are physically and psychologically harmful). You know, skepticism and evidence-based policy.

          If anything, this highlights what I said about labels being useful to a point, but that doesn’t mean that all people are benefiting from advocating for only certain labeled groups.

          I don’t think I’m arguing against what you said, just venting. I guess I’m an idealist (sigh…).

          • TomeWyrm says

            Actually my favorite argument for “gay” marriage? Summed up very nicely in this image macro: http://i.imgur.com/YimBA.jpg.

            Marriage is a contract between the government and two adults. Religion doesn’t have any business butting into a legal contract.

            —–

            But really the point was the masses are stubborn, trust the status quo, and their religious whoever. Just because it makes sense, doesn’t mean they will believe it. Rational thought is something I don’t see a whole lot of where large groups of people, or the religious are concerned… it’s atrocious when you combine the two. Work at one achievable goal at a time to avoid falling flat on your face.

            —–

            Also, it’s my personal opinion that the dangers of sibling incest are severely overplayed… which is a giant can of worms that I don’t feel like going and grabbing reputable citations for right now. Parental incest on the other hand is nearly always a power abuse by the parent.

      • MaNonny says

        “Regarding your other point – you may want to restrict the usage so that those who only deviate slightly from the norm aren’t counted. Being genderqueer (for instance) carries with it certain connotations, such as being memmber of a discriminated group. I don’t follow the gender stereotype in that I watch My Little Pony, but to imply that I’m persecuted and discriminated against because of this is just silly”

        The way I defined “queer” above was a way to show that being deviant (i.e. outside of norms) is just an adjective, and it only carries stigma when people attach that stigma. I agree that particular types (or degrees?) of queerness, like you mentioned, carry stigma that can be dangerous for people labeled with it, and I never said it didn’t. In some ways, we are all “queer” in the sense that our entire identities don’t fit the restrictive labels given to us. I think I was trying to highlight this as a way to say that deviance is not necessarily a bad thing, or even avoidable, and that we should work to reduce stigma. I never intended to downplay discrimination against labeled individuals, rather I intended to highlight why discrimination of someone because of their label is frustrating and hypocritical.

        And on that point, your defensive reaction against being in the same category as (paraphrasing) “real queers” seems to be supporting the stigma behind queerness – you sound like you are trying to distance yourself from the label.

        If we could celebrate queerness/deviance social norms and diversity in general, and break down the stigma attached, I think this will help social causes for equality. But, I agree that most (conservative) people are not ready to accept this, since labels are so handy and ubiquitous. I understand why we are taking baby steps for equality, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

        • Anders says

          That’s not what I meant to say. My not wanting to be included in ‘real queers’ has to do with this: I know something of what LGBTQ people go through. They are faced with ridicule, they are faced with discrimination, they are faced with violence (sometimes lethal) and they are faced with society’s and their own misconceptions of themselves as freaks of nature. That is a tough row to hoe. I don’t want to appropriate that narrative for myself. I don’t want people to think I seriously compared the few jokes that comes when I come out as bronie to that. The difference, both in quantity and in quality is so large that I don’t want anyone to think, even for a second, that I place those jokes in the same league as what LGBTQ go through. I have not earned that.

    • MaNonny says

      Reflecting a bit, I now realize that some of my strong reactions stem from my own biases against the institution of marriage. It just doesn’t seem to fit my partner and me. I come from a place of wanting the whole system overhauled with the right to give each other rights as we see fit (it seems, for now, to be a one-size-fits-all (well, for heteronormative cis-gendered people) system right now). The rights/responsibilities within marriage are so complicated that you can’t really find a comprehensive list in one place (the best I have found is a list that says what you get with marriage that you don’t get with domestic partnership … and it’s hundreds of items long). Also, I personally don’t like the idea of signing a legal document that doesn’t clearly state what I am agreeing to. So, I don’t mind the idea of turning the whole institution on it’s head, but hours of discussions with my friends and family have shown me that not many people (that I know) see it that way.

  5. says

    I found this very powerful. I only finally escaped my revolving closet doors a couple of years ago – two years this March! And yet there is still a constant process of coming out again and again. Sometimes I find that very empowering, and sometimes I find it frustrating.

  6. Anna says

    I am constantly asked when I came out by people including other trans people. I pretty much explain things like Natalie did that its constant process of coming out and choosing when to be myself. I find the being myself frequently means NOT coming out.

    I don’t think the gay community understands the constant coming out. I need to go to school, I have to bring my old transcripts in my male name, I have to come out. When I changed my name I had to come out to about 2 dozen stangers changing all my ID, including business insentive cards and such. I will have to do this again when I change my gender marker on my ID. I have to tell all my potential relationship partners. I have to explain it to every medical person who takes my history and asks why im on estrogen and progesterone.

    Frankly its very exhausting. It was actually easier when I passed less well since everyone assumed anyway. Now I get to feel acceptance as who I am by passing (which is frankly an amazing feeling) then I have to kill it by pointing out my history.

    Honestly I think the closet metaphor sucks for trans people. I was always the person I am I just am now living in a more comfortable fashion. Coming out of the closet implies deception and I dont feel I was being deceptive I was being pressured to conform to expectations thrust on me. Coming out as trans just seems to try to push me back into those expectations instead of freeing me from them.

    • Anders says

      Not an event but a process. Not coming out of a closet but being a corridor with many doors – all may be opened but none have to be. And not coming out as much as shedding, shedding the identity that was assigned to you.

      Tell me if I’m just being pretentious. :)

      • TomeWyrm says

        The hall of doors sounds like a good metaphor for me, though (being a computer geek) I prefer the metaphor of user control. In PC-land you identify yourself to the computer as a username, with some level of authentication. Usually a password. Then you can be placed in groups with certain permissions to files of directories(folders) or given individual ones.

        For instance there might be a “church” group, who don’t get to see the tax files, but do get to see the bible study transcripts. While the “family” group gets to see neither, but gains access to the games. You can give the ability to look at files, but not change them; or the ability to do both. Some groups have the power to change permissions for other groups, and the computer admin has the ultimate authority.

        Upon reading your metaphor, and re-reading Anna’s post, I was struck by the mental image of having to make duplicate keys for the locks on your many hallway doors; and also of sometimes having to take those keys away.

        • Anders says

          Something like a dropbox?

          A large house with many rooms. Each room contains an aspect of your identity. You give different keyrings to different people. A very select few get to see all the rooms. Most people get to see a few rooms, depending on who they are. And strangers see only the facade.

          We’re dancing around the same concept and it’s not likely that we are going to find a perfect metaphor. Better to diversify the metaphors so we can use this to illuminate this aspect, and that metaphor to explain that aspect.

        • TomeWyrm says

          The problem with mixing metaphors is that it negates many of the bonuses for using the metaphor in the first place. My personal metaphor is “masks” which are actually more complete personae. Some are special purpose, some have more traits that are the same as the core me, some have traits which are nearly opposite. Some know things, others don’t. It’s more a defense mechanism from bullying than a metaphor for the life process of someone with lots of very personal secrets. But it is what I use, because it is what I have. When all you have is a hammer?

          I rather like the hall of doors as a general purpose metaphor for people that have lots of different things they want to share with certain people, but not others, or even not at all. It’s simple and easy to visualize.

    • TomeWyrm says

      That sounds almost like what one of my immediate family goes through. She’s got a basket load of systemic autoimmune diseases. Has to constantly explain to everyone about herself, nobody understands, of course. She has to explain to doctors why she’s taking 20 different supplements and pills, she has to explain to anyone with food why she can’t take what they’re offering. Has to apologize to friends for being too exhausted to get dressed, let alone socialize.

      A surprisingly good metaphor was put forth by Christine Miserandino. Which made explaining her condition(s) to friends MUCH easier. It’s called the Spoon Theory

      It’s a neverending uphill slog in territory where you’re the alien, the outsider, the one that must be accommodated, the one who must be explained away.

      • Egal says

        Hey, bro. Dude. Dudebro.

        I get that you’re trying to help with the queer experience, being part queer on your bi side and all. I do. Your intent is pure, that’s nice. It’s hard to care, because:

        Explaining the trans experience to trans people is a shitty thing to do.

        It’s made more shitty:

        a) because trans people get this all the time, this assumption of a collective experience. “You’re trans!? I KNOW JUST HOW THAT IS, I have a friend/sister/cousin who–”
        b) when you’re likening our (nonexistent) collective experience to the experience of a disabled person, basically erasing both unique experiences at once. “Being trans is just like being disabled, I know, even though I’m neither.” Fuckin’ A.
        c) when you’re a cis dude, which means you’re in a position of greater power than you realize, and you probably do this mansplaining thing a lot.

        In conclusion, you’re being a jerk. Heads up on that.

        • says

          Okay, look, I appreciate what you’re trying to do and say here, but you’re being a bit harsh to the cis folk in this thread. Yeah, this stuff is worth talking about, and it’s worth challenging those conceptions, but we don’t need to do it such a way that we’re chastising our allies for trying to learn / understand.

          • Egal says

            Okay.

            I appreciate your fighting the good fight. I really can’t project patient educational opportunity over my anger right now, so I’ll find another forum. Sorry for cluttering yours.

        • TomeWyrm says

          First, you should probably read my other posts. I’m not cismale. I may not suffer any gender dissonance, but my body’s got a penis and mental me has a vulva. Heads up on that.

          Second, I was making a note on the similarities of two experiences at they were explained to me and provided additional information so other people could draw their own conclusions. There are interesting similarities among the myriad differences that lead to greater understanding. I was not EQUATING the experiences, I was COMAPRING them and noting similarities if that was unclear.

          Though I am an ass sometimes, so thanks for the heads up anyway!

          • Egal says

            Okay. Hang on, just to be clear.

            Mental-you’s got a vulva, or mental-you is female?

            (You know these two things are different, right?)

          • TomeWyrm says

            Yes I know they’re different, and I’m currently applying my head to my desk with great vigor for slipping up like that, especially here.

            The correct answer to your question is actually “both”, though I should have said “woman” or possibly “girl” to be less easily confused.

  7. says

    I hate closets.

    They make me choke, like I can’t breathe.

    For the first time in my life I feel forced to live even part of my life in one. I fucking hate it.

    These posts keep making me cry.

  8. Cynthia says

    Funny; I learn as much from the comments as I do the column. And the thing I’ve learned the most is that there are people like me out there, somewhere. Can’t tell you how much better that makes me feel. And this column was extremely enlightening. I’m one of those stealth people – I look like I fit into the box, but that’s because I don’t let most people into my box.

    I like my masks, because I choose to wear them. And the image of sliding rice paper screens is perfect! That’s just what I do. The difference is I’m mostly happy here, in my box with the changing screens. I’ve got one person here with me and that’s turned out to be all I need. We live a very happy life, sliding around the blocks others throw up and doing what works for us.

    The amount of courage it takes to just be who you are at any given moment makes your life seem exhausting to me. And that you choose to share it with us is astounding. Thanks seems far too small a word, but it’s all I’ve got right now. Give me time and I’ll find some better way to express my gratitude!

    • TomeWyrm says

      That’s the awesome thing about activist blogs. The comment threads are full of amazing people, with their own stories and opinions that they are willing to share. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. But almost always enlightening.

      Finding contentment with your life – and especially being different – is amazing, and I’m glad you’ve found it. So many people don’t for some reason or another.

      As for me personally, I’ve always found the masks to be more exhausting than just being who I am. With as many masks as I seem to have, trying to keep straight who knows what, and how I need to act around them is draining to a degree I try to minimize by sharing as much as I can manage while still feeling relatively safe.

  9. Cara says

    I forget where I first heard this metaphor, but I’ve believed for years that there isn’t one closet, there are many closets. Even gays and lesbians who have a strict attraction to their own gender can have more than one closet: when one is out to friends but not anyone else, out to some friends but not others, out at work but not to family, out to family but not at work, and a billion other variations. For trans people, it gets so much more complicated. I’m atheist, trans, female*, and gay*, and in any given social situation I’m often unsure which of those aspects of my history and identity I feel like disclosing. Do I come out as lesbian so I can ask the bookstore clerk if they even have any lesbian romances? Do I interrupt the theology discussion at the trans support group to say that I don’t believe in their god? It makes my head spin.

    *There are some qualifiers I’m eliding.

  10. Anders says

    A wardrobe, with different pieces of clothing representing different aspects of your personality. You wear one ensemble when you meet your parents, another when out with your friends… only a privileged few get to see the entire wardrobe.

    This is fun! I can do this all night.

      • Anders says

        Thanks.

        Before I fell ill I did research in neuroscience (mental fatigability after brain injury). A lot of the work involved finding good metaphors and analogies for the phenomena we were studying, both to help us understand them and to help us connect with our patients. Saying something like “Concentration difficulties, that’s like trying to work on something when the phone rings every five minutes – you’re forced to start from scratch over and over again.” and have the patient say “Yes! That’s exactly what it’s like!” is very rewarding.

        The important thing to remember is that an analogy is not the real thing. Never become so attached to an analogy that you can’t abandon it if the situation calls for it. No analogy is true. Some of them are useful.

        If you want more analogies, just give me a holler.

        • TomeWyrm says

          That is a really good one for attention/concentration difficulties. One that’s actually been true for me on occasion… Being the operator and phone directory for a social circle is a major pain when you’re trying to get work done.

          My personal metaphor for my memory is that my card index (think library) has a resident gremlin who likes to shuffle cards around occasionally. Also works for my language aptitude, because sometimes the word just isn’t there. I can explain the concept using related terms, but the actual word is just flat-out gone until I hear it or badger my brain enough to think of it on my own.

          • Anders says

            Our hypothesis was that the mental fatigability was really a manifestation of an underlying concentration difficulty, so it was crucial that we had a good language for it.

  11. Dave, the Kwisatz Haderach says

    Wow, only on part 2 of 4 and already I’m learning more than I would have thought possible. I should probably keep my mouth shut til I can be more sure I won’t put my foot in it, but I just wanted to say hi, and thank you for sharing your story (and thanks to the commenters too, fascinating discussions).

  12. Ace of Sevens says

    When my girlfriend first went public that she was transitioning, she had a friend that insisted it was just like when she came otu as bi and totally knew what she was going through and couldn’t be persuaded otherwise.

  13. Jack Skellington says

    @ TomeWyrm- “Mental me is female, physical me is male… and for some reason that I should probably be amazingly thankful for, that causes no mental dissonance. I’m a guy whose brain is a girl.” THIS, THIS, THIS. My words coming from your mouth (or keyboard as it were)!

    I use the metaphor, for myself, of a video game. There are many people I know who will only get to certain levels and never beyond, while very few others will beat the game and collect the expansion packs as they come.

  14. says

    Thank you for saying this. It makes so much sense so concisely, and is a great article for.me to point inquiring minds to.

    I’m intrigued by the last bit about how coming out is restrictive for all us queers. My comings out tend to range, depending on my estimate of a person’s experience with queer people, from “…my girlfriend…” to “lesbian” to “queer” to “cis but not femme, like people who are somewhat on the female side but who are also flexible.” And the last, most complete description, actually feels important to me even though that may sound like a ridiculous mouthful. I used to not get why people wanted to use so many descriptors like that. I wouldn’t, if I didn’t feel like “lesbian” invited too many assumptions. I don’t conceive of this problem as a second closet, but now the analogy makes a lot of sense.

  15. Anders says

    And for the D&D nerd the best metaphor may be – Transitioner, a Prestige Class

    Requirements
    Skills: Diplomacy 4 ranks, Disguise 4 ranks, Heal 4 ranks
    Feats: Strong Will
    Special: Must make a Diplomacy DC 20 check against a doctor, to make him agree to start the process

    Game Rule Information
    Base Attack Bonus: +3/4 – while not warriors, trans people learn a little about self defense to ward off creeps and transphobes
    Hit Dice: d8 – same reasoning as for BAB
    Saving Throws: Will – as the transitioner progresses in the prestige class hir confidence soars
    Skills: Bluff, Craft, Diplomacy, Disguise, Gather Information, Heal, Hide, Knowledge (local), Move Silently, Profession, Sense Motive and may choose two skills freely from the list on p.63 of the PHB.
    Skill Points: 4 + Int Modifier

    Class Features
    All of the following are class features of the transitioner.
    Hormone Replacement Therapy:At 1st level, the transitioner gets access to hormones that make hir more passable. This gives a +4 (quality) to Disguise checks when trying to pass as the preferred sex.
    Bottom Surgery: At 7th level, the transitioner can choose to undergo bottom surgery. This costs 20 000 gp, but the extra confidence this grants gives a +3 modifier to Will saves. Not all transitioners choose to undergo surgery and this does not hamper their progression in the prestige class.
    Legal Sex Change: At 10th level, the transitioner can have their official sex changed. Ze is no longer subject to outing when having hir official papers checked.

    Note: I understand that transitioning is extremely important to trans people and I do not wish to mock them. If anyone is offended by this exercise in nerdery, I apologise. And I will not be miffed if Natalie chooses to remove this post.

    • Anders says

      Note 2: There should, of course, be many more Class Features but I simply don’t know enough about the field to be able to make a guess.

    • TomeWyrm says

      Anders… you just officially Made My Day. You turned the trans process into a D&D prestige class… It’s… AWESOME

      • Anders says

        Thanks. I just hope that no one is offended and wish that I knew more about the process. Three class features is pretty sucky for a prestige class.

        Damn. I forgot voice training. Err… +2 to Diplomacy checks to talk yourself out of misgendering? I’m just pulling things out of my ass here.

      • TomeWyrm says

        Actually, it would probably be +2 or 4 to disguise checks involving speech. I play Pathfinder now, but 3.x it was Disguise was opposed by Spot… but Bluff gave a synergy bonus for acting in character. Maybe it’d be Bluff? I never did use the social skills much in a core environment. They got houseruled to death, or I was the hermit wizard and silent social pariah that cast spells to let the others do whatever it was needed doing (I was actually a battlefield controller and buffer/debuffer more often than a proper evoker; as in blow stuff up with fire and lightning)

    • Egal says

      Yeah, congrats, you’ve successfully summarized the normative fiction for a binary transition.

      Do one for gay guys now, don’t forget to include marriage in Canada, precariously legal adoption, and a teary coming-out to your mothers. Make sure it requires lots of expensive things and subtextually excludes the experience of people of color! At level 10 they all become designers and move to San Francisco.

      Meanwhile, back in the real world and seriously now. Regarding “You must be so brave!” “Wow, I’m impressed at how strong-willed you are!” and variants thereof.

      Rereading the actual article, up there, about coming out, and asking yourself honestly whether that continual coming-out is an act of bravery or just plain self-preservation, might be more productive than using it as a platform for your stereotyping.

      • Anders says

        Like I said, I’m sorry if I offended anyone. This was dreamed up at 4 a.m. on too little sleep, too much caffeine and a need to keep the bad thoughts at bay.

        Now, if you find this this metaphor offensive you could tell me what’s wrong. Or you could find another metaphor. Or you could craft one of your own. You have no obligations towards me or anyone else to do any of these – I’m listing a few options, that is all.

        • Egal says

          I told you what’s wrong, twice. Just because I’m offended doesn’t mean I’m not worth listening to.

          Recap, point 1: ‘all trans people have the same class progression’ erases everybody who doesn’t level-up your way. Ouch.

          Recap, point 2: ‘trans people are so brave!’ is not only degrading, you’d get why if you reread a bit. So it’s also a tad bit disappointing, ’cause it’s like you didn’t even read the piece.

          • Anders says

            Thank you for explaining it in words of one syllable. This is an entirely new field for me, so I don’t have the glossary yet. When you speak to me, you have to imagine a person who became seriously interested in this three to six months ago. And has pathological procrastination issues.

            Addressing the issues – they are both easy to fix, although the D&D system doesn’t really do flexibility well. But there are examples from Pathfinder that I can issue. I don’t know where I said trans people are especially brave here, I said their self confidence soars which is not quite the same thing.

            So I could probably fix it, but I don’t really see the point. Even if I do I’ll just step in it again.

          • TomeWyrm says

            @Egal
            Might I suggest something? Instead of simply complaining, offer suggestions for improvement?

    • TomeWyrm says

      If you’d like to continue hashing out the class, the Endless Thread over on Pharyngula might be a better place. You might even pick up a few D&D players, or DM’s that think it’s a neat idea. If I could ever find a group that actually roleplayed I would currently be jumping at the chance to refine the class. Possibly design it as a feat tree, or maybe a set of alternate class features.

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