by Ève Jutras, Alcatel-Lucent employee in Canada
This personal story is part of the National Coming Out Day campaign. Except for the author’s, names of the persons from this story have been changed to protect their privacy.
One year has now passed since I started transitioning from Male to Female (MTF). A lot has happened and I still have many challenges to face in the future. Many of them are fears of rejection, violence, discrimination, loss of employment, being denied access to health care and losing my kids. Why would somebody bother transitioning? My only answer: Being True to Yourself by Actualization! Like a good friend of mine says as a mantra “It’s all about Being Authentic!”
At the start of my transition, I was so anxious to bring into being what I call “Cultural Transgressions”1. An act that goes beyond generally accepted boundaries, by making steps on the other side of your gender, which require courage and determination2.
Every small step I’ve made on the other side made me recognize that, up to that time, I have been “trying to fit” as a normal guy, having a normal, job, a normal life, being a perfect dad. And every part of this is because of what culture, society tells you that since you have male genitalia, you have to behave, think and look like a man3.
Trying to be normal
At any rate, these steps of authenticity made me discover that most of my life, I’ve been hiding. Hiding what, you would say? Essentially hiding my feminine traits, whether they were Secondary Sexual Characteristics (physical), ways of thinking, behaving, desiring… I was hiding it all so that I would not:
- be bullied by the other boys at school because I looked too feminine
- be rejected from potential lovers because I was not masculine enough
- be left behind by sports teams because I looked too effeminate
- be denied employment because I was not matching the typical male stereotypes
Semi-consciously I was performing, simply following (IMHO — like most of us) the “discrete and polar genders” that our culture imposes. But guess what? The more I participated to that play, the more my personal interior became unhappy. This feeling of Self-Estrangement, made my mind inform me directly how I really felt about conforming to society’s gender norms. Some changes were badly needed to be done.
According to recent surveys, statistics show that an astounding 41 percent of transgender people in the United States have attempted to commit suicide, compared to a 1.6% in the average population.
There are so many things a closeted transgender would do to display a perfectly normal, well balanced and oiled individual, but deep inside the individual is still feeling this complete dissatisfaction about oneself. By the same token, besides crimes and overt forms of discrimination, there are so many other forms of systemic Transphobia4 that a gender non-conforming person is being targeted at when not hiding (or being out). In both cases the Trans population is more prone to have desires to disappear from life and society.
Passing or not passing?
Last Sunday, I was at my preferred grocery store… Why preferred? Well, nobody knows me there so all the employees as well as patrons call me Miss or Madame and I love it! As a result, a couple of months ago, I decided not to go anymore to the other grocery store (which is closer to my home) where employees are used to seeing me as the male customer who had shopping there for the last ten years.
Employees at that place are still seeing male traits in me, and avoid using any gender when they greet me.
Let me backtrack to last Sunday at the grocery… There I am humming along in the cosmetics section (which is quite extensive at that place). While turning into the eyelash aisle, I hear “Salut monsieur!” [Hello sir!] from about 50 feet behind. Since I am always in “en femme” at that store, I don’t look back – thinking “that must be directed at somebody else”. Naturally, I pursue strolling a few more feet and I wonder; “Hey I know that voice!” I look back and see my neighbors Frank and his wife Sandra (together they make a very “typical” heterosexual couple). “Ouch! They got me!” This is the right occasion to come out, so I say hi and go towards them perfectly understanding that it is clearly unmistakable that I am dressed as female with makeup.
At that moment I brought up an event that happened at their house recently. I gave them a chance to talk over that, and then ask them: “Did you also notice a change at my place too?” There followed a very quiet 5 seconds… It was evident by look on their face that they were troubled and could not say anything. As soon as I said I was transsexual along with some background info, the wife said “This is it! It is a woman in the wrong body!” She then pursued, “You have no idea how Frank was traumatized when he saw you wearing women’s clothing outside about a month ago…” They jumped at the chance to ask questions and I happily answered them. She even said that I looked nice. Now that they know, it is very likely that they will tell the other neighbors. In that case, I don’t have to do anything… The news will propagate by itself; and from that point on, I don’t even think of what the neighbors would say when leaving my home.
The “T-girls” Boat Cruise
During the summer, I was invited by a group of three Trans friends to join them in a boat cruise on the Rideau river system in Ontario. The trip lasted for 12 days and we had to go through 96 locks (48 one way). Despite the fact that we all looked feminine it was very easy for tourists looking at the boats in the locks and also other boat cruisers to decipher our appearance and conclude that we were transgender – as the four of us were at different stages of transition. We did not receive bad reactions, and concluded that the general population is nowadays more tolerant in this region of the country.
Going out just like anyone else
My daughter asked me to accompany her to do some school shopping at the store where she works. It just happens that one of the owners has known me as a man for at least fifteen years and one of the employees is the daughter of a woman I dated six years ago. You can surely imagine how afraid I was of their judgment. I accepted my daughter’s offer so that my fears would not control me and there we went. As we walked in the store, and were welcomed by employees; I seemed to completely pass as a woman accompanying my daughter. After a few minutes I decided to go check out a few things in another aisle of the store, the other owner asked my daughter if I was her girlfriend… Once my daughter told her I was her dad, the lady could not believe I was transsexual. This would not have been possible without my increased confidence as well as medical support of hormones that are now providing desired results in my transition.
Some people would probably ask, “Why don’t you just live your gender in your mind, or part time and stay the guy you’ve always been socially?”
Well, Gender Dysphoria5 is not something that is easy to deal with. First of all, neglecting who you are and not living it in your body with the same uniqueness as the rest of the population enjoys, creates a great deal of psychological discomfort (distress).
The way in which I can explain my discomfort (or discontent) is the fact that my body is physically male but I am experiencing a female gender in my mind. It is somewhat like the ‘hard-wiring’ between my body and mind has not been done the same way most people are. This kind of experience brings to the forefront a Cognitive Dissonance where two or more cognitions are in conflict.
The need of Self-Actualization and Inter-Personal Recognition
How does someone comes to terms with psychological distress caused by Gender Dysphoria? “Self Actualization”6 is the key! To be content with yourself is to be yourself… to be yourself is consequently being an agent of change with hopes to be recognized and respected by others for who you are, as you are with dignity.
Self Acceptance and coming to terms with how one feels and what needs to be done is an immense personal accomplishment that must occur first. Coming Out to others is a very delicate action that has to be made with a lot of thought and practice. Being Authentic with oneself and others is the final attainment of the personal and inter-personal journey into Self-Actualization.
Being entirely yourself as Trans and an integral part of community / society reflects true diversity, but requires a complete overhaul in how society tries to categorize its constituents with inclusion, dignity and respect.
- Here the word Transgression comes from Latin transgressus, by combining trans— (“over-”) + gressus (“step”). [return]
- This is the core theme of Paolo Coehlo’s book The Alchemist: “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”. Another interesting book, The Secret, explains that the law of attraction is a natural law which determines the complete order of the universe and of our personal lives through the course of action of “like attracts like”. [return]
- The same applies to women with one caveat I would say; since World War 1, women have explored their gender and liberated themselves from some of the straightjackets that culture brings. Where men have this huge fear of being identified as Homosexuals, they would simply not explore at all… On the other side women are now feeling the competitive pressure to be extra-feminine and the fashion industry is completely taking advantage of it. Thanks to all LGBT people that are out and claim that they are who they are and it is not at all about a ‘lifestyle’. [return]
- In a recent Study, Twelve categories of Transphobic microaggressions were identified: (a) use of transphobic and/or incorrectly gendered terminology, (b) assumption of universal transgender experience, © exoticization, (d) discomfort/disapproval of transgender experience, (e) endorsement of gender normative and binary culture or behaviors, (f) denial of existence of transphobia, (g) assumption of sexual pathol-ogy/abnormality, (h) physical threat or harassment, (i) denial of individual transphobia, (j) denial of bodily privacy, (k) familial, and (l) systemic and environmental. Source [return]
- Gender Dysphoria refers to the persistent unhappiness that some people feel with their physical sex and/or gender role. [return]
- Carl Rogers similarly wrote of “the curative force in psychotherapy — man’s tendency to actualize himself, to become his potentialities… to express and activate all the capacities of the organism.” Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person (1961) p. 350-1 [return]