I never had friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone? –the Narrator in Stand By Me (1986).
I left high school like I was shot from a cannon. Three months later I moved out of state, returning only rarely for family gatherings, and three years after that I was married and completely disconnected from my entire graduating class. Last month I rejoined those classmates for only the second time in 30 years. The first time, ten years ago, I wore a jacket and tie. This time, boots, skinny jeans and a dazzling1 topcoat. True, I sported long (permed) hair and earrings in 2005, but even I had no real inkling at that point that in 2015, I would return on the other side of gender transition.
As I flew out to my the reunion, I knew that I would be asked when I had come out. Should I tell them 2008, when I basically decided that I was going to dress the person in the mirror how I damned well pleased?2 Or perhaps 2009, when I started to pay a social price for doing so. Maybe it was 2014, when I petitioned the court to change my name, or the same year, when I engaged the power of social media to reintroduce myself. The answer could be any of these, or all of them taken collectively.
The expression “coming out” as applied to LGBT people originally drew upon the traditions of social initiation, wherein the debutante enters womanhood. The metaphorical closet (of denial, social isolation, etc) was apparently layered on to the concept over time. Either way however, the sense of a distinct moment is present, with one mode of living giving way to another. It is very understandable, therefore, that to the person who has never gone through the process, coming out might be imagined as a single event.
This has not been my experience. To be sure, coming out has a beginning to which one might point, but if there is an end, I have never personally encountered it. Part of this might be occupational–I work as an Emergency Room doctor. I have no practice3 to which patients return. I am in the business of meeting strangers. Further, being transgender is far more visual than, say, being lesbian. One’s sexuality does not often come up in professional conversations, but the social transgression of not passing means that every new encounter involves an element of personal disclosure. Whether a gift that keeps on giving, or a nagging eternal pain in the ass, coming out is something that I continue to do far more than something that I have done.
Fortunately, it has gotten a little easier. When I first began, I did not understand, let alone know how to convey my story. All I had really done in coming out was to enter a phase of exploration with no clear destination in mind. I disclosed by getting dressed, but I often had no clue how to answer the questions which my self-presentation generated. The result was a seemingly endless sequence of embarrassing moments and awkward conversations. A polished quinceañera I was not. Eventually, however, I figured out who I was and how to talk about it. Perhaps it would have better for all parties involved, in retrospect, if I had sorted everything out first then come out in one dazzling fell swoop, but alas–this is not how I roll.
Still, the reunion was a bit of a debut for me. I had never previously come out to so many people simultaneously and in person. I admit a little nervousness heading into the weekend, but by the time I arrived at the party, I doubt my psychological state was too much different than that of anyone else there–I was proud of who I have become and eager to see how my classmates also had flourished. And flourish they have. What a great group of people! Life in 2015 was unimaginable for me in 1985, but no less so for them. I found the whole experience warm and mutually affirming. Reunions are a bit surreal anyway–for a fleeting moment our erstwhile importance to each other was rekindled, only to have it recede again in the weeks and months to come. Still, it was just like old times.