Saturday, April 12, 2014

Leaving the Safety of the Closet

For those of you enmeshed in the queer community, you know almost everyone has their "coming out story". Most of us love to share, love to commiserate and celebrate and reminisce. Of course, we all know that coming out is a continual process, not a singular event, but it's still fun to share the stories of that first memorable time. I don't really have a true coming out story because I was never really in the closet to begin with. I was extraordinarily lucky to grow up in a supportive community in which I had the safety to openly explore my gender and sexuality throughout my adolescence.

Sure, I have some funny anecdotes to share around the coming out campfire. Like the first time I explicitly told one of my Aunts that I was dating a woman and she happily responded that "bi" meant I could have one of each(!) and proceeded to gleefully introduce me to the "nice Jewish boy" on the treadmill at the JCC. Or the time I completely failed to convince my grandmother that the label "queer" is not derogatory, that my chosen identity label is not self-deprecating, and no, I can't just call myself a Lesbian instead.

Similarly, coming out as Genderqueer never included one big pronouncement. I've always been a bit genderfluid. As a kid I loved sports and mud and roughhousing, and I also loved pretty dresses and long hair. I especially loved to combine the two--who says you can't climb a tree in a princess gown? When I wore a ridiculously huge corseted ball gown to my high school's senior prom, it wasn't an act or a farse or a lie (I loved that dress!). But no one was surprised when I cut off all my hair sometime during college and started wearing mostly men's clothes, and that's not a lie or a costume either. By the time I had enough queer theory in my lexicon to understand what the gender binary is and how I don't fit into it, I was happily claiming my label(s) to anyone who would sit still long enough to listen.

I am genderqueer, I am Trans*, I am non-binary transgender, genderfluid, transmasculine, androgynous, gender non-conforming...and I've always been "out" about all of those things. BUT. I've also always been safe. I've always had a female name, female pronouns, an identifiably female-sounding voice. Most of the time, I'm read as a soft-butch lesbian. I've been lucky enough to be able to immerse myself in communities where appearing stereotypically lesbian is safe and accepted, and I've coasted on that. I've been calling myself genderqueer for years, but I've always "passed" as (butch, lesbian) cisgender female.

I'm done passing now. I'm in the process of actively changing my name and pronouns, and I'm going to be openly, obviously, and publicly gender non-conforming in every sphere of my life. And for the first time I'm a little bit scared to "come out". For the first time, I honestly don't know how people are going to react, and I'm not certain of my community's unwavering support. I don't know what my family is going to think of my new name. I don't know how brave I'll be when correcting my professors or my employers on my preferred pronouns. I don't know whether I'll still feel welcome in all of the women's only spaces I've enjoyed for years (like gendered sports teams and my beloved alma mater)

I've always been defiantly proud of my fearlessness: I've been the LGBT spokesperson, the ambassador, the one who isn't afraid to answer question and teach the gen/sex 101 to unsuspecting bystanders. So its been really hard to admit that I was scared to take this next step. And it is scary, but it's also empowering. And I'm ready.

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