Coming out, and out, and out again

Transgender felt like a negative label. I drafted and redrafted before posting the Facebook status and changing my name. Everybody knew. It was a huge relief.

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It is an under-recognised fact of life for gender and sexual minorities that “coming out” is not a finite event. For most there is a clear – perhaps vertiginously clear – beginning; the first person you tell. There is a middle; the second, third, fourteenth person, your classmates or colleagues. Then… well, then it just repeats, and will until diversity is assumed rather than accommodated by society.

I first came out as transgender to my university flatmates. Then to my mum and step-dad, shortly followed by my sister and brother. I wrote my dad a letter and some others emails. But how to tell acquaintances, distant relatives? At times, coming out felt like a full-time community service.

I fully support the inclusion of the T in LGBT because we are all, to some extent, battling the same oppression. We are united yet distinct. I would argue, for instance, that coming out as transgender is more complicated than coming out as lesbian, gay or bisexual.

For a few years before starting hormones, I felt like the lone inhabitant of a gender twilight zone. I arrived there after realising that I needed to live as male. Interacting with people for longer than a minute meant having to come out. Otherwise, they assumed I was female, or perhaps fifteen years old.

In 2012, I dropped a coming out carpet-bomb via Facebook. I drafted and redrafted, before posting the “status update” and changing my name. Boom: everybody knew. I could focus on adapting to my new public identity. It was a huge relief.

Soon after that I embarked on hormonal transition and began to change physically. Coming out changed too. People now read me as the correct gender but when meeting someone new I find myself back in a closet. Granted it is a roomier closet, fitted with an array of male privileges, but a closet is a closet nonetheless. Now, I come out to be known for who I truly am, with a complicated history and biology.

I know I am not obliged to come out but I see it as a responsibility. There is a political as well as a personal aspect. The more we come out the stronger we make our communities and the campaign for equality. All of which, brings me to my central point. I need to come out to you, the reader, again.

I began writing a blog for The Independent under the pen-name Ben Smith. It was before I had come out to several close relatives and this was the reason I gave for adopting an alias.

I realise now that, in actual fact, I did not want to write under my own name because I was ashamed. Being transgender felt like a negative label, accurate yet awkward. I had yet to claim it for myself.

The past few months of transition have nurtured my self-confidence. My shame is a shadow of its former self, despite a healthy supply of fuel from mainstream society. I have learned to develop counter-tactics. I have trans* and queer family. I have allies. Their very existence negates shame and engenders pride.

I thought adopting an alias would allow me to write about transition. I now realise the alias itself part of the process. Letting go of it is a milestone.

Such way-makers are vital in the life-long process of coming out, to the world and to yourself. They provide perspective. They define progress.

I did not anticipate this point but I trusted myself enough to keep moving forward. I always wrote honestly, even as Ben, and will stick to the same path under my own name. I look forward to more progress, facing future battles in good company and enjoying being me.

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