Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Seda's Coming Out Story, Part II: "Don't You Miss Having a Dad?"

Yesterday, Seda shared her experience coming out to herself and to her partner. Today, she discusses the relatively recent process of coming out to friends, neighbors, and the world:

Thus began the most intense and challenging six months of my life. Through it all, Kristin and I stayed connected. We gave each other empathy, and cried in each other’s arms. We talked long into the night, almost neglecting the kids, in our efforts to stay connected, to understand and be understood. We both read all we could, and developed support networks online and, for Kristin, from the PPLP. I found a therapist who specializes in gender dysphoria, and surrendered my business for a job with our city’s planning department. And gradually, we began coming out to friends and neighbors.

This was a scary time because we were new in our neighborhood, yet the neighborhood was ideal for our kids. At least six of our neighbors have children near our own kids’ ages, and the kids play in a pack during the summer, moving from house to house and yard to yard throughout the day. We didn’t know how many of them would accept us and allow their kids to continue to play with ours. The burden of coming out with our neighbors fell mostly on Kristin’s shoulders, because we wanted to allow our neighbors to respond as they saw fit and it seemed that that would give them more leeway and comfort.

The next-door neighbors on one side came from Silverton, Oregon, where they just elected the first openly transgendered mayor in the nation. No problem.

On the other side, the wife/mom works for the Women’s Center at the local university. She immediately came to embrace me and say she wished she’d been getting to know me better.

A neighbor across the street said her cousin was transgendered.

We were completely embraced by our neighbors, and found, if anything, we were closer and more connected than before. We did lose a couple of friends who lived across town and could not reconcile their religious beliefs with the reality of a transwoman friend, but nearly everyone accepted me, and most came to say they like me better as a woman.

But the coming out process was not over, and now it was my turn.

My father died that summer, and in the fall I drove back to the ranch in Wyoming with my brother. I planned to come out to him during the drive. All through the states of Oregon and Idaho and half of Montana, I sat beside him, stewing on it almost constantly, finding any little excuse to put it off. Finally, on a long stretch of lonely interstate, I screwed up my courage and said, “I’ve got to tell you something really important about myself.” “What,” he responded, joking. “Don’t tell me, you’re gay.” “Not quite. The truth is, I’m a woman.” He was flabbergasted, and spent the rest of the drive trying to convince me I was mistaken. But that Christmas, he gave me two pairs of earrings he’d made himself.

At the ranch, I told my mom. She’s a Christian Scientist, and she looked at me and said, “Your identity is intact, and it doesn’t depend on gender.” I got up and hugged her.

My mother-in-law was shocked at first, and none too friendly. But after several months and a visit, she decided she likes me better as Seda, and our relationship is better than before.

Click here for my coming-out-at-work story.

All that remained was coming out to my kids. We did that after Christmas 2006, about the same time I started hormone therapy. They were six and three at the time. My eldest is fascinated with science, so we put it in terms of clownfish and parrotfish, both of which sometimes change sexes naturally. We told them that I’d always felt like I was a woman inside, and I was now going to start the process of changing, including dressing as a woman. Sam took it in effortlessly. For him, it was the same absurdity that everything is at that age, and was just something else new. Trin, the elder, drew a very sad face.

“What’s wrong?” Tears in his eyes, he replied, “Now that she’s a woman, Maddy won’t want to wrestle anymore.” Assurances that I would, indeed, continue to enjoy our wrestling matches comforted him. In the summer of 2008, I overheard him talking about me with one of his friends. “Don’t you miss having a dad?” his friend asked. “No. I like her better as a woman,” he replied.

As a transwoman, I don’t have the choice of being invisible that most gay and lesbian people do. The choice to present as I feel I am, instead of as society assigned me to be at birth, makes coming out into a continuous and very visible affair. I get strange looks, sometimes sneers, and the occasional weird proposition, like the time the woman said to me, “Two bucks to look under your skirt.” Nevertheless, I have found an incredible power in coming out. The courage to be who you are in the face of a society that disapproves gives others the same courage – and it changes minds as it crushes stereotypes and biases. But even beyond the social impact, and probably more important, is the personal impact – the way that coming out interacts with your deepest internal being. Coming out is social power – and it is also spiritual power.

I would like to thank Seda for sharing her story in Fannie's Room. Coming out takes courage, especially later in life when one's life and identity are already "established," so to speak. I share the sentiment of commenters here in that I too seek to better understand the experiences of our transgender brothers and sisters.

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