Coming out is a major part of most, if not all, transitions and it is very impactful on us and the people we choose to be authentic with. The first person I came out to was a guy I worked with who was gay and drag queen. He felt very safe and the confidence I gained from telling him about me made it easier to move on to other friends then family. After I transitioned to full time, I stopped coming out to people and moved into stealth mode for years before I decided to reveal that I was transgender publicly. I am still coming out to people who don’t know me and there are people around me that I can still come out to. In all of this coming out, I never really fully appreciated how the person we are coming out to actually feels about it. Recently, I had a chance to put the shoe on the other foot as a friend came out to me.
This person we will call Joe (not his real name) has been a friend for close to 10 years and despite living in different cities he has always popped up on Facebook with a comment from time to time. It is actually really funny that when I went public with being transgender, I thought he was one of the people who might distance themselves from me. I was very wrong on that point. He did not leave and as usual he gave his opinion on a post from time to time. One night we started a small discussion on Facebook that went a little beyond the casual comments. It ended with Joe asking if he could call me and I was kind of excited to actually talk to my old friend on the phone. At this point, I still didn’t know what was about to be revealed to me. Maybe it should have been obvious but I was just happy enough to get a phone call as it seems almost all of my friends text nowadays and sometimes it is just nice to hear their voice.
Joe began talking and it was casual stuff but it did become clear that he had something he wanted to tell me. I could tell it was a little hard to just come out with it and I may have made it harder as choose my words carefully not to give anything away to the roommate in case she could hear me. My roommate doesn’t know about me; a coming out for a future time perhaps. Anyway, Joe steered the conversation to the fact that he was following what I was up to and mentioned ourtransmission. At that point, I put some pieces together and I was almost expecting him to tell me that his son was trans. I was wrong as it was not the son at all but rather Joe. In that very surreal moment I was kind of shocked and had lots of stuff just going through my head. On reflection, I would realize that the feelings I felt were probably what happened in the heads of people I have come out to in the past.
The first thing that entered my mind was an image of Joe as I knew him in the past. I had been picturing him with a beard as I had never seen him without one and right away I knew he no longer had that part of him. I also could tell that his voice had softened somewhat and it made sense to me. When he first spoke, I had assumed it was just a symptom of age but realized then that it was happiness I was hearing as Joe told me about his authentic self. I am a bit of an expert on transitioning so I should have had a leg up but there was some confusion. For instance, do I call him her yet though maybe not as he is still living in boy mode. Also, it is a secret still so maybe if I use female pronouns I might slip and out him by mistake. I settled on the male pronouns for the short term and once Joe is Jolene (He didn’t tell me his authentic name yet) I will switch them or if he asks me to.
Being transgender, it was easy for me to come to terms with the confusion that Joe’s coming out to me caused. However, for cis people, it is normally not always so easy for them to sort it out and for them to make the right choices. Sometimes they just can’t wrap their mind around it and more often than not, they may instead surprise us with just how well they can accept it. One of the friends I came out to early in my transition was a hockey loving man’s man type and I was certain it was curtains for our friendship. He processed what I revealed to him and quickly told me that it doesn’t change the person inside and the person inside is the one he is friends with so nothing changed in his eyes. He didn’t care what ‘meat suit’ I wore, just as long as I remained that awesome person inside that he became friends with. It sure would be nice for our community if everyone had that attitude.
This event taught me that it is easy for us to get upset when people don’t react the way we want to when they learn we are transgender. However, we really do need to give them time to process and wrap their minds around what we told them. In most cases they will come around. However, there are those that simply will never accept us and no matter how much we try to educate them, some will not learn. Of course, until we know for sure that the person we are coming out to is that sort of person, we need to put the shoe on the other foot and remember that it is not always all about us and by being empathic and patient we will, in the long term, save more friends than we lose.