The Complications of Coming Out

It’s October 30th 2014 and I’m at a client’s site working on repairing a computer for them. Fresh Air is on in the background and Terry Gross is interviewing Jill Soloway about their show Transparent. Transparent is a show I’ve heard about from primarily trans people who criticize the fact that the show, like many others, casts a cis man as a trans woman. I have not watched an episode to this day and on the TV, Terry and Jill start discussing gender. Jill identifies as non-binary. I had never heard that term used before but it hits me like a ton of bricks. The clients I’m working for are nearby so I try to keep my cool but really all I want to do is find some privacy so I can research more about what non-binary means. I finish my work as quickly as possible, rush to my car and sit there on my phone for a good hour pouring through Google search results for non-binary, then I move on to terms like demigirl, genderfluid, and genderqueer.

That night I tell my partner I’m genderfluid. She’s surprised I’m just learning about non-binary people now. We had a conversation about her potentially being non-binary a few months ago where she used expressions like feeling masculine, and terms I hadn’t yet learned the context of. It was a conversation I didn’t realize I wasn’t understanding. She thinks I’m trying to copy her in some way. Later when I tell her I want to go by the name Harley Quinn, she retorted that, “It makes me think you just want to be a comic book character.” Our relationship didn’t last much longer.

I keep my name to myself for a year after that despite coming out to many close friends. It takes me a long time to process how deep those words of hers cut me. I know I don’t want to be a comic book character but that criticism eats away at me. Harley Quinn is a character I love, she is a powerful woman with no fear, who has gone through a lot of abuse at the hands of a man who’s supposed to care about her. It’s a story that resonates with me because I want to be a powerful woman, I want to have no fear, and I too have suffered abuse at the hands of a man who was supposed to care about me.

Eventually I find a safe space of supportive people online who play video games together. I join under my dead name but am fully open about my gender and sexuality. I think I want to use she/her & they/them pronouns, but the first time I hear someone refer to me by “she” I know that’s all I want to hear. Soon I work up the courage to tell them the name I want to go by. Everyone instantly accepts it, and many people tell me how much they love it. This finally gives me the confidence to tell other people in my life.

It’s Spring 2010 and I’m almost through my first year of college. I’m talking to one my best friends, she’s telling me that she’s not a man; and soon she’s going to come out publicly. She’s big into jokes. I’m a kid who has high functioning autism (I didn’t know that yet) which often makes me terrible at reading people; and although I am accepting of LGBT+ people, I’m extremely under-educated on most of it, especially trans issues. I tell her that I’ll accept her no matter what, but I’m not sure if this is a joke because, “you’re always telling jokes.” She soon drops out of school and comes out halfway through our two-year course. I don’t understand why she doesn’t finish with school before coming out, or just continue with school while transitioning. Later in life I will learn just how naive my line of thinking was. Mutual “friends” say things to me like “I don’t care what he is. I’ll accept him, but I’m not gonna use a different name or call him ‘her’.” I don’t really understand because that’s not what acceptance is. She’s made her wishes clear, why won’t they respect them?

Her and I grow apart after she drops out. She’s working third shift and I’m working second shift while going to school. I’m also dealing with having just left the hardcore christian, conservative, abusive home I grew up in, as well as being on the autism spectrum without realizing it. We still see each other from time to time, and we end up staying in touch over the internet on and off for a few years after school. I realize sometime later that she was attracted to me, but due to internalized transphobia I didn’t notice.

One rather lonely night relatively early on into realizing I was non-binary, I decide to tell her that I want to transition too. We hadn’t talked in months yet I send her a text saying, “I’ve realized I’m trans, I need hormones, and I have no clue how to get them.” Hindsight makes me realize this is an incredible amount of shit to dump on someone, especially someone who was still learning how to be comfortable in her own transition. She’s sends a short text back saying, “Please don’t talk to me about this”, along with a link to the website she was getting her hormones from before she could find medical help.

Over the next couple of years it slowly dawns on me how little I was actually there for her as she was going through one of the hardest parts of her life. She came out to me early, I was clearly someone she trusted, and I was to caught up in my own shit to be there for her in the time she most needed someone. Then I thought I had the right to dump my own problems on her with no warning. How I handled our relationship shall remain my biggest regret in life, and even saying that feels selfish of me.

There are some strange conversations that happens when you come out to cis people as a trans woman. The first question you almost always get is some rendition of, “So you’re gay?”. They never actually mean, “Are you gay?” What they mean is “Are you attracted to men?”. In my case, yes I’m really gay but no I’m not attracted to men. Society is so warped by homophobia and transphobia that most people don’t even fully understand the concepts, even after you try to lay them out.

Sometimes you will come out to someone expecting it to be a hard conversation but they instantly accept you. It can kind of blow you away. You’re thinking maybe I underestimated this person. More often than not, later down the road you find out that there are exceptions to their acceptance. They will think or say things like, “Yea I’ll accept your gender, but I’m never gonna be comfortable with not using your ‘real’ name, it’s just who you are to me.” People put no thought into how much this can hurt someone as they are essentially rejecting the very core of who you are and they clearly put no time into actually learning about what it means to be trans.

As I write this, I’m about to reach the third year anniversary of the day I heard that episode of Fresh Air and realized I was genderfluid. I’ve since started using multiple names with those I’m closest to as I feel it better represents the many facets of my gender. I have yet to gain access to hormones or put much work into my voice, despite wanting to, due to extreme anxiety, lack of transportation, and money.

If there are trans people in your life, be there for them, offer to help them in any way you can, and stick to that commitment. Don’t push them into talking about things they don’t want to, or rely on them to educate you. Be proactive, educate yourself, arrange to spend time with them. Don’t give up if they sometimes say no to spending time together, or if they have to cancel plans you’ve already set. You can make a huge difference in how easy it is for someone to become comfortable with themselves.

About the Author: Hana Quinn is the current faceless voice behind our Patreon. She joined Hypatia to learn how to code, and is hard at work on her first text adventure game.

When Things Go Wrong

Transitioning is hard, even in the best of situations. But there are plenty of things that can go wrong, and when they do, it can be devastating. My name is Rowan Marie Hand, and I am a transgender woman. This is my story.

It’s the year 2000. I’m 16 years old, and I just watched a certain French film about a young boy who wanted to be a girl (more accurately, it was about a young girl who didn’t want to be a boy). It was playing at the local theater, to a nearly empty room. The movie itself wasn’t a masterpiece of cinematic genius, but something in it resonated with me. That was the first time I realized that there were others like me, and that there was hope.

Back up a bit. The year is 1995. I’m 11, and I’m at my friend’s house. She and her little sister want to play dress up. I “begrudgingly” agree to be their model, and they gleefully put me in a pretty dress, inexpertly applied makeup, and a costume wig. I make all the appropriate noises of protest, but in my heart I am elated. Here I was, dressed like a girl. But this can’t be right. I’m a boy, aren’t I supposed to hate this?

A little more. It’s 1989. I’m 5 years old, and in kindergarten. It’s play time, and the boys and girls all have their toys to play with. I want to play with the girls, because their toys look like more fun. But the teacher scolds me, and forces me to play with the boys. I have fun anyway, but I am a bit resentful that I couldn’t play pretend with the dolls like I wanted to.

One more time. It’s 1984. A baby has just been born. The doctor takes a cursory glance at one tiny part of the baby’s anatomy, and triumphantly proclaims, It’s a boy! Everyone is happy and everything is perfect and fine. I’m just an infant, I don’t know what the heck is going on, so I cry. Little did I know that that moment would shape the rest of my life in many ways, some of which are irreversible.

Now let’s go forward. 2002, a year and a half after I saw that movie. I’m in 12th grade at a private boarding school. I’m in my boyfriend’s dorm room, and I’ve been mulling over things in my mind for a while. I did research, found the right words, and now I knew what I was. And it was time to share that knowledge. “H?” I inquired, getting his attention. “There’s something I need to tell you.” He raises an eyebrow. “I’m… I’m transgender.”

H looked at me for a full minute. He seemed lost. Then he broke into a grin, kissed me, and said, “Does that mean I’m bi, and not gay?” He was a great guy. But, as happens sometimes, he moved back home at the end of the school year, and we never saw each other again.

That summer, I came out to my mother, who said she’d known for years. I cried, she cried, it was all very emotional.

Three years forward. I’m 20. Both my parents, and my sister, know now. I’m in therapy, in accordance with the Harry Benjamin Standards of Care, and my therapist just wrote my letter of recommendation. I have everything in order, and I travel to an endocrinologist (hormone doctor) in Philadelphia to get a prescription for Estradiol. He asks me a few questions, about children and marriage and where I want to go with my life, and at the end of it all, he says no. Not in so many words, but the gist is, “you’re not trans enough.” All that time spent in therapy, all my yearnings and desperate needs, dismissed by a man with a clipboard.

I was devastated. My identity, my life, was invalidated by this man who knew nothing about me beyond the stereotypical questions he asked. I cried the whole ride home. After that day, I decided if I couldn’t transition, if I couldn’t be a woman, I’d just be the best man I could be. And so began the long, dark period of denial.

I spent the next seven years in agony. I grew an impressive beard, lamented over my hair loss (and covered it with an endless series of bandannas), and immersed myself in “man” culture. I smoked a pack a day, drove fast, and overall I was kind of a jerk to people. I had a few girlfriends, a few boyfriends, but nothing was fulfilling. I went to tech school to learn how to work on cars, hated it, but stuck with it because it was a man’s career. I was suicidal pretty much constantly through that period, but I kept going through sheer stubbornness.

Finally, in 2012, I had that ray of hope. A friend of mine, who was also transgender (and one of the few people who knew “my secret”), came up to me and asked if I was okay. I insisted I was, but he pressed, saying that I’d seemed really down and hurt, and he asked if there was anything he could do. I broke down, and admitted that I was miserable, and that I wanted to die. Then and there, he made a pact with me: we would transition together. I shaved the beard that day, and never grew one again.

We made our appointments, for the same day, at a well known LGBT clinic in Philadelphia, and I quit smoking. I didn’t want any complications with the hormones, and nicotine was a known risk when taking Estradiol.

The day of our appointments came, and I got dressed up in a nice outfit, a cheap wig, and too much makeup. I drove us down to Philly, found parking, and we checked in at the clinic. I was vibrating with nervous energy as I waited for my name, my long-preferred but never-used name, to be called. Eventually, the door opened, my name was called, and I went in.

In the exam room, we went over my medical and sexual history, I was asked a few questions, and I had the opportunity to tell my story about the endocrinologist. The doctor gave me a shocked look, and said, “we’re sending you home with a prescription today.” Elated hardly covers my mood at that point.

I had some blood tests done, and came back to the waiting room with a prescription for Spironolactone, a common testosterone blocker, to start me off. I was to come back for a check up, and to get the other prescription, for Estradiol. Estrogen. The “girl hormone”.

My friend’s experience was similar, though he had to come back to be taught how to inject his testosterone. We both left with our heads in the clouds. As we drove home, we kept breaking into song and laughing. This was one of the best days of my life.

The next few months were a blur. As the HRT (hormone replacement therapy) did its job, I started to notice the first little hints of development. I reveled in the changes, even when they hurt. Growing boobs hurts, did you know that?

But not all was well. Unbeknownst to me, or to anyone, there was something inside my body just waiting to tear everything down around me. And every day that I was on HRT, the danger grew.

For over a year, however, everything was great. Maybe not perfect- as it turned out, I had some psychological issues that were being masked by the nicotine, that came up after I quit smoking. But I dealt with them, got on medications to deal with them, and everything went back to relative normalcy.

Until, that is, the night of December 1st, 2013. I had just come home from a friend’s house, where they were throwing a party, and I was in the bathroom getting ready for bed. Sitting on the toilet, I suddenly felt the right side of my body go numb and limp, and I pitched forward onto the floor.

Luckily, I remained conscious, and was able to pull myself across the floor, and into my bedroom, where my phone was. I dialed 911, and told the person on the other end what I had feared: that I was having a stroke. I pulled myself to a sitting position, my right arm lying useless by my side, and I screamed for my dad, who was downstairs. He came running, and I explained what had happened, tears in my eyes. He stayed with me until the ambulance came.

At the hospital, I met a neurologist, who told me that I, indeed, was having a stroke. They injected me with a drug they called a “clot buster”, and I almost immediately felt a tiny amount of feeling return to my limbs. It hurt. A lot.

I spent the next week in the hospital, being tested and poked and prodded. Some of the staff called me Rowan; some did not. I tried to stay positive, and found it easier than I expected. I realized that I had no expectations for my future any more, and every day I woke up alive was more than I could hope for.

I got some answers. I had a small heart defect, a “patent foramen ovale” that was basically a hole between the atria of my heart. This hole let a clot slip through, a clot most likely caused by the high dose of Estradiol I was taking at the time. They took me off HRT immediately, which I protested but not too loudly, and gave me Warfarin to keep my blood from clotting again.

The following two weeks were in rehab, where I learned how to walk again. By the time I left, I could walk, albeit clumsily, without a cane. My hand was still fairly useless, and remains significantly limited to this day.

Eventually, I got back on Spironolactone, and later a low dose of Estradiol, this time administered through a patch, not a pill. Not once during my hospitalization, recovery, or after, have I had any desire to go back to that sick parody of masculinity I had been living before I transitioned. It simply was not an option. I continued my transition, seeing the stroke as nothing more than a bump in the road. But I have been very careful to avoid any such bumps since then.

That was four years ago. Since then, I’ve started living as a woman full time, I’ve had my name legally changed, I’ve had tons of laser hair removal and hair transplants (which were woefully inadequate- now I wear a weave), and now I’m living as authentically as I can. I am who I want, need to be. Nothing will ever take that away from me. Nothing.

About the Author: Rowan Marie Hand is a married 30-something from Pennsylvania, where she lives with her husband and their pet roommate. She is a published author, an accomplished seamstress, and a prodigious doodler.