Saturday 18th July 2015 was the first anniversary of the day I changed my name to Blake.
That day, I was repeatedly misnamed by someone who, it turned out, did know my new name, but was drunk and had forgotten. She apologised, and I let it go. As I get further on in my transition, I am increasingly aware that changes take time. I also re-met an acquaintance who was not aware of my transition, so I had to come out to her and her boyfriend. 73 days on T, and explaining why I changed my name: wasn’t it OBVIOUS? No, it wasn’t. So I explained.
Coming out is not something you do once. It’s something you have to do over and over again. You get to the point where you feel like the world should have absorbed this information by now, where you just want to yell, “Don’t you get it? Do I have to explain again?” And then you explain again. And again. Coming out is, increasingly as you become more secure in your identity, telling people things that you feel should be obvious. It can be increasingly painful to realise that something which is so clear inside you is not so clear on the outside.
There are also different stages of coming out:
On May 9th 2014, I came out as genderqueer, and asked people to use singular ‘they’ to refer to me. This didn’t feel right for me, however, so on June 12th 2014 I came out again, this time as a trans guy, using ‘he/him/his’ pronouns. On July 18th 2014, I changed my gender-neutral birth name to Blake, because it helped others, and myself, to see my true identity; [oldname] was a ‘she’, but as Blake, I’ve always been a ‘he’.
The first time I felt like I was coming out was in April 2013, when I awkwardly admitted to the wonderful Klara of Barberette that I wanted an androgynous haircut; later on, she was one of the first people to accept my need to look more masculine (not that I’d had the courage to talk about it to many other people), and to help me achieve that. There are all kinds of coming out.
Coming out doesn’t mean you’re out. If people know you’re out, then you’re out; if they don’t know, then you’re in. If you or they aren’t sure, there are stages in between. There are also different levels of ‘outness’ – I recently had to ring each of my grandmothers, and tell them that I was taking testosterone, so that they won’t be so shocked when my voice drops an octave and my beard sprouts overnight (if only). I did most of my coming-out on Facebook, since it seemed like an efficient way to get the message to most of the people I know; unfortunately some people didn’t see the post, some people forgot, some people didn’t understand and some people don’t have Facebook. If only there was some kind of universal sky-writing that made it possible to come out to everyone you know and everyone you will ever meet, all at once, so there would be no need to keep on telling people…
Then there are the comings-out that just aren’t worth the effort.
Yes, when someone in a shop or a café calls me “ma’am”, it hurts. I can tell you exactly how it hurts: it feels like a sharp little beak is pecking at the top of my heart. But it’s not worth explaining it to someone I’m probably never going to see again; coming out as trans often confuses or embarrasses the person you’re coming out to, and it can be stressful for the trans person as well. Coming out to friends is anxiety-inducing; coming out to people you’ve just met who use the wrong pronouns is awkward. It always leaves an embarrassed silence in the conversation; I feel like I should prepare a joke or a distraction to cut short the difficult moment:
Me: Please could you pass the water?
Person (to friend): Please could you pass her the water?
Me: Thank you; actually I go by ‘he’.
Me: You called referred to me as ‘her’. Actually, my pronouns are ‘he/him/his’.
Person: OH! I’m really sorry!
Me: LOOK! A BEAR!
At least the ‘sudden distraction’ technique is better than my current default of over-explaining/turning it back on myself:
Person: OH! I’m really sorry!
Me: It’s fine. I’m just trying to get more confident with correcting people; I’m not very good at it.
This always leaves me feeling down.
For some really good advice on pronouns, see this Robot Hugs comic. I understand the urge to apologise repeatedly for messing up on pronouns; I’ve experienced it myself. But this almost certainly isn’t the first time the person’s had to come out, and it almost certainly won’t be their last. It may not even be the first or the last time this has happened to them today. Let’s try to minimize both the awkwardness and the length of the interaction – apologise, and then let’s move on and talk about something more interesting.
I’m working on accepting that, for now, coming out is something I’ll have to keep doing. Soon, I hope, with the T, that will change. Above all, I would remind other trans people that having to keep coming out is not a reflection on you. Being assumed to be something you’re not doesn’t mean that you’ve somehow ‘failed’ to project who you really are, or that you don’t deserve your identity if others can’t see it. These are thoughts that I have regularly; this is part of why being misgendered feels so bad. But these thoughts aren’t true. Just because most people see in stereotypical pink and blue doesn’t mean that there aren’t other colours in the rainbow. Keep on being you, even if that means keeping on coming out.
*I realise that I’m extremely lucky in being able to be out to everyone in my life; many trans people don’t have this privilege, as they would be disowned or endangered if they were open about their identity.*