I have a slightly complicated life. Yes, I am transgender and I am totally out about it, but with some discretion. I don’t want to be a distraction from what I’m doing, but I don’t want to be dishonest with myself either. When I did come out as trans in 2011, it was the same time that I reawakened my interest in writing poetry. Well, it’s no use writing what no-one reads, and you don’t get better by not sharing and working on it with others. So I joined the Poetry Society, adopted a mentor, and started going to monthly meetings. With more than half my portfolio addressing transgender issues, what to do? It would be very odd to go in different modes, and much more difficult to come out late in the day. For me, Andie the girl is the inspiration and the poet, so she got the job. My friends in poetry probably don’t need telling that there is a reason my skeleton is crafted by testosterone, but as a writer, I am a girl. Late middle-aged, but a girl (I’m still catching up on a lifetime).
I am also a musician, amateur, a little above average, but very busy with it. We amateur musicians can be rather promiscuous. Why play in one orchestra or band if you can play in three? It’s good for variety in music and style as well as socially. But it does mean you can never come out to just one group! You might jump in the deep end and tell the whole of one group, and then find that one person doesn’t want to understand, or talk to you personally, and as a member of another band or orchestra starts to gossip there instead. Suddenly there are sixty more people hearing things about you, and you don’t know who they are or what they are passing on to whom. Great.
Well, one friend who does now know, was very kind in asking what I would like them to say if asked about ‘the bloke with the trumpet who wears nail varnish’. In case it’s useful when you are coming out as transgender, or you can improve on it for me, here is what I said.
A good question, though not an easy one. One or two people have asked, and I just reply that I ‘have a transgendered personality’ – or some such. That’s honest: I am transgender, and have lived that way for a year now. Nail varnish is left over from my female days, bracelets and rings are a way to feel at home with myself. I want to have my ears pierced but that is very obvious (and I can’t choose to put my ears in my pockets!)
The misunderstandings I want to avoid are that (a) I am gay – no, I’m not (few male to female transgender people are) and (b) I’m about to ‘have a sex change’ (wrong terminology, and again, no). Transgender is about sense of identity and self, so I don’t and can’t shy away from it any more. If it would help, I’d stand up in front of the group and explain. If I did, it would be something on the lines of:
“All men have a female side, and all women a masculine side. I am not even in the middle of that distinction, so whatever I look like now on the outside to you, I express myself as easily if not more so, as female. The biological or psychological distinctions of gender that we’ve been taught, are in no way adequate to express how hundreds of thousands of people like me actually feel about ourselves, which itself can be very different. Repressing those feelings all your life is deeply damaging and stressful. But being completely open about it always feels like a tremendous risk, because people often don’t want to understand just how much we do know about gender diversity. I am entirely comfortable with myself and happy to talk to anyone about it, and answer any questions that you wouldn’t mind being asked about yourself. I don’t want to be a distraction, but neither do I want to be the focus for uninformed gossip just because someone doesn’t have the courage or openness to talk about it or try to understand.”
When I am living as female I just blend in, so I do want it to be clear that I’m not some awful cross-dresser or drag queen: not within a million miles. But I have my man days too out of respect for those I know can’t cope with me yet.
So the short answer is “Oh, he’s just transgender. That means he feels he’s really more female than male inside, and lives that way as best she can.” (yes, pronouns are difficult!)
Maybe you can suggest better what people like me can do when life isn’t completely ‘out’.