By Lyana Farooqi
Yes, the issue of coming out. Is there a stereotypical coming out story? If so, insert it here. I think the biggest illusion about coming out is that it's a one-time event. Coming out is a process. It's a process that lasts from the minute you first tell someone until the day of the zombie apocalypse (or your death but zombies are cooler). Imagine everyone you've ever met and will meet again. A lot of people isn't it. Imagine having to get one piece of information to all those people. Not just any information either, it's personal, unique and makes you extremely anxious to talk about it when you have very little idea how anyone will react (including your closest friends and family). The threat of rejection is larger than you want to acknowledge, the anxiety is draining. You aren't even close to some of these people (a quick example: a parent's colleague. In most cases they would not be a family friend or know you that well). Coming out isn't always telling people explicitly. Sometimes it's just being visibly out. Perhaps easier for trans people to achieve than those revealing their sexual orientation. I just want to get across that there is no single, correct way to come out, and that the two most important factors in any decision of this nature should be safety and your own mental wellbeing. It is also necessary to point out that once you've told someone, you aren't, or shouldn't be, held to every word that you said at the pain of embarrassment or questioning. Sometimes people need to figure some things out, and giving them the time and space to do this and then supporting whatever decision they make (with regards to their identity) is definitely the right thing to do.
Some people like labels. Labels provide them with a sense of who they are. It is important to realise that not everyone does. These people are not ashamed of their identity and are no less them than I am me, or you are you. People don't fit nicely into categories or boxes. Labels are for clothes, not people (to borrow a commonly used phrase). Having said that, labels can be useful as they provide an easier explanation for an identity rather than trying to detail individual feelings or ideas. Like most things that relate to being trans or non-binary, it just comes down to the individual and what they're comfortable with.
Coming out and making the decision to be visible is far from perfect. All your problems are not suddenly solved, you find many new problems and extra stress you didn't plan for (maybe like when the person you fancy likes you too in year five and you end up with that awkward holding hands boyfriend/girlfriend thing that doesn't benefit either of you in any way and adds an extra burden in that you both have to pretend it's worthwhile because you feel all 'grown-up' - I wouldn't know). Having digressed, I want to point out that in most cases, coming out is definitely worthwhile. It's like jumping off a building and growing wings just before you hit the ground. It's terrifying but so very liberating, and afterwards, you can fly. Okay, maybe not quite but it's a good analogy. Flying would be quite fun, but jumping off a building has its dangers. That is the life of being visible as a young trans person. Describing being out is near impossible. Every day brings more experience. You always have potential situations you may need to come out in at the back of your mind. Shopping for clothes and specific items can be stressful. Every public outing is a potential pitfall. Being out isn't a magic spell that makes living your life easy, of course, your life is better than before, better not easier. Generally, people don't notice it. Sometimes you get people looking at you more than they should, I personally find being in trains anxiety-inducing. Some of the looks are probably exaggerated in my head, I'm already nervous about going out, even just the tiniest bit because no matter how comfortable you are with yourself, there's always that apprehension about going out and pushing boundaries by being you. Sometimes there's awkwardness but more than anything that just frustrates me. Some people, probably because of a complete lack of knowledge, act awkwardly around you and it's not even related to the situation, like please let me pay for this novelty toy or food item without questioning my gender with your eyes. Very rarely you get some people that give you the courage to keep going out. Holding a door open for someone at a shop and they make a point of emphasizing the term of address in their "Thank you, Miss!". Or a pensioner leaning on his stick and saying "Young lady, you should follow your mother's advice and acquire a coat, you'll catch your death out here!" as I walk down the street in short sleeves and my favorite skirt. A shop assistant once helped me pick out all the clothes I wanted and told me how much she loved my nails. Sometimes it's the little, timely reminders that you are valid and that people see you and that it is still good in the world that are enough to get you through the next day, week, the next month and several after that. Each one is a reason to go out again and to keep living freely. I want to close this piece with someone else's writing because it describes being out better than I ever could.
"The thing about trans people is, we feel very normal. It’s the way we are, it’s only when people say you’re not normal that you feel that way. I’ve always been extremely feminine, I always felt that way. I can’t say that I ever felt like a boy, I just had to live as a boy for the first (16) years of my life. Trans people are the same as everyone else, our ideals in life are to be happy, to be respected, to be comfortable."
Nikki Hayden - a trans woman writing for the Guardian's 'Transgender Stories'