International Transgender Day of Visibility was last week and I wish I could say that I came out to the rest of my oblivious peers on Facebook, but I didn’t. I’m out as nonbinary to many people in my life and have few qualms about making a statement about my gender on Facebook but haven’t. I haven’t had a conversation about my nonbinary identity with my parents yet, and out of respect for them, I’m waiting. I’ve posted genderqueer, beyond-the-binary content on my page, including my featured Boobed and Not-So-Dangerous post on Neutrois Nonsense, but I haven’t directly stated that I’m not a girl.
It’s a really kickass and affirming thing to be out to the world and not carry the daily weight of others’ false ideas of your gender, but I want to write about the opposite now: how it’s also okay and valid to not be out sometimes. There are some really good reasons people remain quiet about their identities.
There are many reasons folks remain quiet about their actual identities but I’ll focus on mine. To begin, here’s the question that inspired this post.
Who are you doing this you for?
I scribbled this question in my work notebook last month while thinking about the identities and titles we adopt and why, including the compromises we make with ourselves and others, whether they are necessary or not. While reading Gender Failure this fall, I was moved by something I’m pretty certain Canadian artist, musician, and performer Ivan Coyote wrote; while I haven’t been able to refind it in my book yet, I’m pretty sure I didn’t imagine it.* Ivan Coyote,who uses they/their pronouns, mentioned they go by “she/her” when working with young women in schools. Why? Because they want “girls” who may not actually fall within the binary as cis-girls to see who they could grow up to be. Or to show cis-girls that they could grow up to do nonconformative things too. That moved me, Les. The idea that we can adjust how we identify to lend a hand or hope to our younger selves is powerful.
Did I completely imagine that passage? Even if Ivan Coyote doesn’t identify as she/her to young women, I think it’s a lovely and bittersweet to edit our public presentation (title, not appearance) to ensure young people can find gender role models. I’m a pretty comfortably frank queer and genderqueer person (with some exceptions, as I share), but it took years to get here, Les. My younger self wouldn’t have imagined I was trans. My 12 year-old self couldn’t have guessed I’d end up here. Maybe if I’d known of more nonbinary and queer people, I would have seen more of a future for myself. But I wouldn’t have found it by looking for trans and nonbinary folks. I didn’t know what being nonbinary was.
A few weeks ago, I posted a piece that I tagged “lesbian” and for days afterwards I felt uncomfortable. I’m not actually a lesbian-identified individual. Those days are gone. I tagged the piece lesbian because the girl I was seeing in the poem identifies as one and I wanted to honor her identity and acknowledge that some lesbian-identified folks on this site might identify with some of the content. But tagging it that way made me feel a little sick for days afterwards. Like I was lying about who I am. Like I was pandering for likes when I’m actually just here to write to you and read other lovely humans’ writings.
I think it’s fine for some trans and nonbinary AFAB folks to hold onto their “lesbian” tags but I’m not sure if it’s right for me yet. I want to be able to offer a hand to my younger self, if she ever goes looking for help, but I’m unsure if I can bear the weight of “lesbian” right now, even for her. My muscles no longer hold that weight.
Who am I out to as queer?
As far as I know, most people in my life know I’m queer. Most passersby probably know I’m queer. My parents, siblings, extended family, coworkers, classmates, and employers know. If my dog understands romantic relationships, she probably knows. It’s not an issue. And if it was, I wouldn’t really care. I’m out to my family and I have their support (although coming out to my parents was initially rocky), and that’s all I care about. My core support network is solid. Nobody else gets to affect my sense of self. No one can make ya feel inferior without your consent, so says Eleanor Roosevelt, but we often give consent. I don’t anymore. Anyone’s possibly negative opinion of my sexuality means nothing to me these days; I don’t give anyone that power over my sense of self.
Is it harsh to say I don’t care what people think of me? I do for many other areas, but not this.
Who am I out to as genderqueer?
Most university coworkers, friends, and even some faculty
Most good friends (if not, it’s because we haven’t spoken in awhile)
FB friends who pay attention
As of last week, my current coworkers in the Contact Center; I shared in the blurb about me in the newsletter that I prefer gender-neutral nouns (person, friend, coworker, scamp, etc)
Who am I not out to and why?
As a nonbinary human, my parents. Anyone else, it’s probably because I’m not out to my parents. I try to restrain myself from running around yelling “I’m not a girl, please don’t ma’am, miss, or lady me!” As I mentioned, I’d like to post a statement about my gender on Facebook and request to be addressed in gender-neutral ways, but can’t just yet. My mom’s on Facebook and I haven’t told her or my dad. I don’t want her to feel shocked, hurt, and angry at finding out I’m queer from the Internet rather than a conversation. I know I’m playing with fire by maintaining this blog—my mom could probably find this one following a link to my poetry and photography blog from my Facebook.
This is my guilt: knowing I’ve invested so much time in gender exploration but haven’t shared key aspects of my identity, including/especially preferred ways of being addressed, with my parents.
But I think I also deserve to feel safe and comfortable.
Why not come out?
Sometimes it’s just not relevant to the conversation or matter at hand to share one’s sexuality or gender with another human. Who the heck cares what my gender/sexuality is while talking sports or the prison industrial complex? Unless somewhere in that conversation I feel I’m being mis-identified and feel safe enough to say something, I don’t see a reason.
Other reasons to not come out?
Safety. Sometimes having a roof over one’s head or food is more important that coming out. Not for everyone, but for some people. I don’t think my parents would kick me out for being nonbinary, but I’d feel much more comfortable having our conversation after obtaining my own place. I don’t want to feel dependent upon them for basic needs when I come out. If the conversation is difficult, it’d be more comfortable for everyone probably to be able to part ways then rejoin for further conversations after some dust settles. It’s difficult to advocate for yourself if you feel like you are going to lose something important—shelter, relationships, safety, etc.
There is strength in taking care of one’s self. There are multiple ways to practice self-care as a trans, nonbinary and/or queer person, and sometimes it involves waiting to come out, or not coming out at all.
I love and respect my parents and I don’t think my coming out will be disastrous, but I know it will be difficult, Les. It will take time before things smooth out and we all feel comfortable enough talking about gender and my own not-a-girl identity. I hope to come out soon. Hopefully within the next few months. And while I feel guilty for waiting to share such important information with my parents (perhaps I’m overestimating how difficult this conversation will be), I’m glad that I’m trying to take care of myself. I’m glad that I’m trying to prepare myself for our conversation.
Next year, I’ll post something on International Transgender Day of Visibility. I don’t plan on waiting until then to finish coming out.
*If I was mistaken about the Ivan Coyote thing, please correct me, Internet. Why/where did I get that idea?